An RTS remake that aims at nostalgia dollars
Cossacks 3 – as described by its developer GSC Game World – is an RTS game that harkens back to the golden age of the genre. This is more or less true because Cossacks 3 is a remake of 2001’s Cossacks: European War but with an updated graphics engine. Cossacks 3, as mentioned earlier, is an RTS with a solid balance of economy management, building, army macro and micro, and tech tree upgrades. The game sets its scope on 17th and 18th century European warfare with many playable nations, each with their own unique units and buildings. While this may be more than enough to appease old RTS veterans, is that enough to make this game stand out in a modern context? After having some time with Cossacks 3 I have found my answer and I honestly wish I had something more unique to say about the game.
As mentioned above, Cossacks 3 is a remake of Cossacks: European War, with the main difference being an update to the graphical fidelity of the game. For the most part, the performance, at least in a graphical sense, was very pleasant. The game ran at smooth 60 fps for me despite the number of particle effects and units shown on screen, and the animations are solid, with unit movement and unit actions being very smooth and concise. This is nice considering that in a strategy game you’re more than likely to be zoomed so far out that it would be difficult to see individual units. Unit and building design is the strongest thing about the game visually. The game features multiple playable nations and these nations have different building and units that fit the nation’s historical context. While performance is smooth and each playable nation’s respective units and buildings are nice, the rest of the game looks average at best. The terrain for the most part never really looks different despite the map being randomly generated in multiplayer and random play, so you will see the same bland green environment a lot through your playthroughs. Also things in the landscape such as fauna and geological objects feel very underwhelming; most environmental models feel very flat and have no movement. This isn’t a big deal, but when you’re looking at the same modestly toned green landscape some subtle animations in fauna would’ve made the visual experience a bit better. The UI, while not terrible looking, lacks any distinctive charm. Cossacks 3 looks objectively solid, but other than some of the nation’s exclusive units and buildings the game lacks anything that really stands out when it comes to common units, UI, and environment.
Cossacks 3 has a pretty steep learning curve not uncommon in RTS games of this era, despite this the game’s basic mechanics aren’t hard to learn after a few random map game modes or if you’ve played games similar in nature. The tutorial of the game is horribly paced due to game mechanics. The first tutorial took me around half an hour to complete and that was mostly due to how slow moving everything the units moved, which is a weird juxtaposition to how relatively fast it is create units early on. Overall, learning the game isn’t that bad, it is by no means the hardest RTS to pick and learn but it does take some finesse to get things down in a timely and efficient matter.
As far as strategy games go, the game is a pretty standard affair. You collect resources, build, amass an army, and kill things, rinse and repeat for the most part. There a several things that make Cossacks 3 stand out gameplay-wise. The biggest of these features is presented in the way you choose the formation of your units. This allows players to choose what battles formations they want specific groups of units to be arranged as. This can be clunky however, because of the way the UI is set up and the overall messy nature of setting up ranks. Unfortunately, while this is a cool feature in single player, it hardly does anything to change the tide of war too much. This brings up the my biggest problem with the game: the AI. Simply put, it’s pretty incompetent and doesn’t really provide much of a challenge. As long as you know the basics of what units counter other units, you can probably beat any AI opponent no problem. And like I said at the beginning of this review, I am no RTS veteran, so that came as a shock to me. Even pumping up the game’s difficulty doesn’t really do much to incite challenge because the game’s AI stays the same. The only thing that really changes when you dial up the difficulty is the amount of units it seems to spawn. This isn’t really more challenging and is just a cheap way of making the game more “difficult.”
In multiplayer however, the game becomes significantly more challenging. All of the gameplay mechanics that get reduced because of crappy AI is mitigated when you are fighting an intelligent opponent. Unit formations, economy management, and micro decisions actually become important and that’s when the game becomes fun. This where the game really shines and so far I have had no complaints with the online play other than a few glitches and disconnects on my opponent’s part. However, while that solves the AI problem it still doesn’t solve the problem of a clunky UI, grindy late game and unit imbalances. While Cossacks 3 does have cool ideas, the execution is less that great most of the time, and it seems as this comes from the fact that the game is a remake of 2001 title.
I’ve played Cossacks 3 for hours, and throughout my playtime and the main issue that kept coming up was how whenever the game started to become fun, I realized how lukewarm the overall experience was. This is definitely for only the most dedicated of Cossacks fans who are nostalgic for a time when a new RTS franchise came out every year. Unfortunately, a pretty new graphics engine and solid multiplayer doesn’t hide the old mechanics, average visuals, and lack of charm. Just because this game is a remake and a modestly priced one doesn’t excuse a forgettable average experience. The golden age of the genre that GSC Game World describes in its description of the game is a time long gone, and neither nostalgia nor an average game are enough to bring it back.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: GSC Game World ; Developer: GSC Game World; Players: 1 ; Released: September, 2016 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.