The number one thing to note about this review of Napoleon: Total War is that I was not able to try out the multi-player. The version reviewed, although a complete game, was a pre-release version. If you were looking for a review of the online component of the game, I suggest you go elsewhere (after reading through my review of the single-player, of course). Personally I don’t think of the Total War series as particularly focused on multi-player, although obviously it does have a following.
Napoleon: Total War is a succession of last year’s Empire: Total War as opposed to a completely revamped experience. The jump from Medieval to Rome, for example, was gigantic. The jump from Empire to Napoleon is comparatively small. Many of the differences are balance issues, fine-tuning of combat, additional battle conditions, and of course, a brand new setting.
For me, the trip back to Europe from America (in Empire) was very welcome. Perhaps it’s because I know where the major cities are on the map, perhaps it’s the fact that the UK is actually on the map, or perhaps it’s just that Europe is more varied than the vast plains of America, but I really feel it lends itself to the Total War series a lot more. Napoleon’s history is similarly more interesting to me than the conquest of America, but again this is much more of a subjective facet of the game. As always the history is well told and accurate, and adds a lot to making it feel like a true conquest.
Speaking of which, if you’ve not played a Total War game before, the name of the game is total conquest. You’re presented with a lovingly-rendered map of Europe with your armies and cities littered across it. From here you make tactical decisions about conquering all of the other armies, cities, and factions on the map. It’s all turn based, so there’s plenty of scope to micromanage your population and army positions while you progress over the map, taking hold of more and more land and cities.
The catch with Total War is that when your army meets another, there’s the option to play that battle in real-time. These battles aren’t just your standard unit-rush; you actually have to use tactics and outsmart your enemy. A good player will be able to use a smaller army to outmaneuver and beat a much bigger but more disorganised army. These battles look spectacular, and even more so in Napoleon. Each unit is actually made up of soldiers now, as opposed to clones, and with Anti-Aliasing turned on they look great. With it off, it’s very jaggy, but you’ll never need to zoom that far in on a unit anyway. The maps are beautiful, and reflect the part of the campaign map that your armies met upon; as does the weather.
As each turn in the campaign map is passed, two weeks pass. As you get into Winter, it begins to rain more. Your gunpowder becomes damp; cannons become much less useful. There are plenty of nuances like this in the terrain, which is great for strategy aficionados. There are also at-sea battles for ship fans (I know you’re out there), which are obviously a bit less of a clusterfuck thanks to there only being a handful of units/ships on the map at once.
Unfortunately, although I enjoy the RTS battles, I’m just not good at them. I can’t seem to think of anything past the very basic “flank the enemy”, and even then I send most of my men running headfirst like a fool. As such I tend to hit the “Autoresolve” button when a fight happens, meaning the computer automatically decides the outcome of the battle. This tends to allow me to spam unit numbers, meaning that I vastly outnumber the enemy; if I let the computer do the fighting for me, I don’t have to worry about organising large numbers of units on the battlefield.
Despite being utterly bad at the game, I rather enjoyed playing Napoleon: Total War. I will say that I haven’t finished the campaign yet- I honestly don’t have time for that. It’s gigantic. The final section allows you to take complete control of Europe, which is just way beyond the amount of time I have to play the game. For those who’ve got a passion for strategy, or those who enjoy it and have a lot of time to spend on it, the campaign has a lot to offer. If managing the citizens and forming alliances and treaties is your thing then maybe Civilization would be a better choice for you, but honestly if you’re more interested in the military side of things I can highly recommend Napoleon: Total War.
Napoleon: Total War is one of the best things to happen this year for fans of military history and strategy in the gaming community. If you’ve got any interest in Napoleon’s campaigns at all I’d say give this one a go, even if you’re not usually a fan of strategy games. There’s enough of a tutorial to get you going on the turn-based stuff, and the real-time stuff, while complex, can be taken one step at a time via the tutorials and easier beginning battles. It’s way too big for a busy metropolitan gamer, and it won’t run well on most PCs, but when you’ve got it going, it’s one of those games that can really drain your day away.