Cossacks 3, by Ukrainian dev GSC Game World, is touted on their website as a “remake of the best 2001 strategy” and I had hoped that it, with its impressive scope and “classic” gameplay would be my way back into real-time strategy. What “best 2001 strategy” means remains a mystery to me. Sorry, the language barrier is nothing to sneer at.
The Age of Empires influence is very apparent in pretty much everything about Cossacks 3. From the city building, to the resource management, to the slow massing of armies, it all comes in a very early-noughties flavour. I had forgotten how much I missed base-building, one of the things I loved about Dawn of War (my last great RTS love affair); and luckily Cossacks 3 hasn’t gone down the MOBA/Company of Heroes route with no free base-building, no large armies and no tank battalions! Alright, I apologise, Dawn of War 2 clearly wasn’t made for me, but I guess DOW3 looks pretty good.
There is great satisfaction to be had in seeing your city under construction and slowly come together, all flanked by neat rows of infantry, cavalry and cannons. It really is a very pretty game if only it weren’t for the music, a relentless rollercoaster of faux classicism (I will switch it off if the brass section sounds like it was sampled from a primary school keyboard). These neat rows of soldiers don’t come easily of course, this is sixteen years ago. The game suggests in its grammatically questionable tutorial that one needs a drummer and an officer to make an organised squad. I say that’s for pansies. Once you’ve created your squad of a hundred pikemen hit CTRL-1, and forever they are bound to the 1 key. Then right-click drag them into formation like your Total Wars or Battle for Middle Earths and voila. Yes, squads this large are completely unwieldy but there’s no cavalry unit this side of Kiev that can handle that many sticks to the face.
Which brings me onto the combat which, visually, I don’t recommend unless you exclusively choose to use ranged units. Here Cossacks 3 shows how “classic” the gameplay really is, as every close combat unit tries to sardine itself into the exact same metre squared. It’s a total mess. Every unit seems to only have one animation cycle and just stabs and stabs away with the ferocity of Gollum at a prison shanking, with seemingly no regard for the beautiful formations I had drawn only minutes earlier. That aside, I like the simple rock-paper-scissors aspect to the fighting. Pikes beat cavalry beat musketmen beat pikes etc. and every faction begins with 3 types of foot soldier and 3 types of mounted unit. This approach has made for a very a simple, very balanced, if a somewhat bland game.
I foresee a plethora of DLC (or expansions, for those who played Cossacks 1) for Cossacks 3, be it new buildings, units or factions. If you miss the AoE approach to RTS and want something to play with your friends that is sure to get better and better in the coming months, this is your game.
But a game that is a good potential vehicle for DLC does not a good game, as the community decided with Evolve. So, given the pleasant visuals and impressive battles, grating audio and janky animations I’ll give this a 6 but this game is clearly clutching at nostalgia heartstrings and would warrant a significantly higher rating for anyone still talking about the “good ol days of real-time strategy”.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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