by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Step into a time machine
Playing Cossacks 3 is like stepping into a time machine and experiencing what real time strategy games were like before the genre slowly declined into the annals of PC gaming. You build a town, send peasants to gather resources, recruit an army and throw it at the enemy in the hopes of defeating them before they conquer you. It’s straightforward and to the point, yet ultimately becomes hobbled by its inability to innovate.
Cossacks 3 is less a sequel and more of a remake of GSC Game World’s first title, Cossacks: European Wars, originally released in 2000. Set in the late 17th and 18th centuries, the game is an old-school RTS through and through, with its base building, resource management and combat evoking games of old. Single player is designed around different campaigns that are framed around different European wars in that time period, though it lacks characters or story. It is so straightforward, so simple, that I couldn’t help but become drawn into its trappings.
My favorite aspect of Cossacks 3 is undoubtedly the building up of your town and army. You select villagers to perform various tasks, such as gathering resources or building a new mill for food, while managing your growth and making sure you have enough defenses in case of an attack. It’s fun to plan each new town or outpost, and there a number of options to choose from when researching new materials or buildings. This is made more enjoyable by how good everything looks, from the environments to the buildings to the soldiers themselves.
That said, the difference between nations is minimal, as there are only very slight differences between the units. As a result, you can play as any faction with little fear of being at a disadvantage, though it is disappointing that they are not more distinct from one another. As a result, battles revolve around a rock-paper-scissors dynamic between the units, as cavalry cut down archers and marksmen but are stopped by pikemen, who in turn tend to die very easily from getting shot.
Combat is based around forming regiments with your units and arranging them in the proper tactical formation. Simply group up 36 units of the same type, such as pikemen, recruit an officer and a drummer and select one of the formation options available and you have yourselves a regiment. Different formations have different strengths, with the square formation resulting in fewer casualties from artillery due to being more spread out, while arranging regiments in a line gives them an advantage against charging artillery.
Annoyingly, there is no easy way to form regiments, requiring you to repeat the same process over and over to manage an effective army. As battles are fought between hundreds of units, this can take quite some time.
Best laid plans
When battles actually begin however, it becomes readily apparent that for all the tactics and formations that you have planned out, the AI will simply rush forward at each battle. This goes for the enemy AI as well, with large formations becoming giant balls of death with little organization. Not that this makes the game difficult, as the simple rock-paper-scissors dynamic means that battles can be easily won with the correct unit type. Watching your carefully laid plans fall apart in an instant is depressing, as the AI defaults to free-for-all charges time and time again.
The poor AI extends outside of battles as well, as they frequently send wave after wave of units against your settlement with no tactics in order to force you to drop everything and defend. This would be fine if the attacks weren’t so often, with longer games resulting in the enemy simply overwhelming you through sheer numbers.
There’s comfort to be found in Cossacks 3. Despite its problems, it manages to replicate what made RTS’ of yore enjoyable with its vast armies and settlement building. Unfortunately, questionable UI choices, a lack of variety and poor AI result in an experience that leaves a lot to be desired.
Simple gameplay, good visuals
Little variety in units and armies, poor AI