When Empire: Total War released at the beginning of 2009, it was met with some disdain from long time followers of the franchise, due to bugs, glitches, crashes and other technical issues. Napoleon aims to resolve some of these problems, while adding enough new content to make it a worthy purchase.
This standalone expansion is another smaller-scale addition to the franchise, like Viking Invasion for Medieval and Rome Total War Alexander for RTW. And really, Napoleon is perfect for the series. A warmongerer who set out to strike up an empire of epic proportions, you control France and the emperor himself in three distinctly different campaigns; Italy, Russia and Egypt. Each mini-campaign is quite a bit more linear than the Grand Campaign seen in Empire, but this does make it slightly easier to control your armies.
However, the campaign AI is, yet again, a bit lacking. Unless you are willing to crank the difficulty all the way to the top, the individual nations remain fairly passive, and it’s almost always up to you to instigate a battle. This isn’t such a bad thing; after all, your objective is normally the capturing of a key city far away, but given that CA is going for a more historically accurate approach, it would have been nice to see a little bit more aggression.
The campaigns are also very linear here. You cannot simply decide on any old nation and seek out to crush it. You are constantly being tasked with precise and timed objectives. You also have frustratingly little control over your policies, and the lack of significant other nations makes trading even more important, for better or worse. However, its not just the opposing armies that pose a threat now; riots and rebellions are more common and attrition can wear your army down quickly if exposed in the field during the winter months, or if you are caught out in a desert. This adds a nice new dynamic, and an extra angle to think about the game from tactically, and most importantly, stops all Total War veterans from doing their favourite thing- creating a massive army and steamrolling the map. New abilities like the ability to set ambushes are another really cool touch.
The real time battles remain as gorgeous and satisfying to watch as ever. Nothing quite beats seeing a barrage of rockets or cannons open up from the crest of a hill, or watching a line of marksmen infantry pick off cavalry from a distance. Better yet, the battle AI has been noticeably improved. your opponents now have the ability to que up commands, and will no longer run around the battle aimlessly in an infinitley dense dot of coding malfunction. Smoke effects are also more dynamic this time around (although still no blood).
The maps also appear to be much more engaging and rewarding to a tactically thinking player. Whereas Empire featured mostly flat maps, with the occasional building or un-scalable mountain, Napoleon has slightly larger maps with thin mountain paths to launch flanking attacks from and high precipices to set up your artillery.
A major feature of the game is the all new multiplayer campaign. This part of the game is very well set up; turns are taken consecutively, and while the other player take his go you can manage taxes, build up structures; anything, really, that does not effect the movement of armies. Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if you had to wait for one player to fight his battles before fighting your own, which is where the magic happens. Whenever a player on either side enters a skirmish, the other player takes on the role of the enemy, whoever that may be. This virtually eliminates any potential AI quirks and gives a much tougher, more realistic challenge.
There’s even a drop-in battle system which allows anyone to jump into your single player campaign and take on the role of your opponent, and vice versa. Of course, this feature is optional.
Graphic are a gorgeous as ever, and have taken on a slightly more artistic tone. More vibrant colours and a map that can be deformed by cannon fire helps to really immerse the player, as does the terrific orchestral score. In Napoleon it also seems clearer exactlly how each musket ball travels, so you can see when you hit the target.
If you have never enjoyed the Total War games, then Napoleon isn’t going to change your mind. However, anyone who enjoyed Empire, or is interested in the subject matter at all would do well to pick up this superb game.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Easier to manage campaigns, nice artistic style, lots of cool units, marginally smarter AI, drop-in battles and multiplayer campaigns are a blast
New HUD is cumbersome, jerky animations, some familiar bugs