Napoleon: Total War Review (PC)

Let's not beat about the bush - Napoleon: Total War, for all intents and purposes, is a good game. That's not to say we thought it was going to be bad, but we're mildly surprised because this is a remarkably solid experience for something with it's background.

If you factor in the state of Empire when it was launched, and the fact that Napoleon is out with barely a year gone by, one can't help but be initially suspicious of it as an entity. Let's not forget that Creative Assembly aren't exactly known for releasing perfect games off the bat either. This "premium standalone expansion" however is one finely crafted experience, and easily one of their better titles. Perhaps it's because it is mainly based of the Empire code, and has benefited from the year of improvements since that game's release, or perhaps this is the game they were secretly making all along. Whatever the reason, you would have to be really finicky to find real game-breaking technical faults with this title.

New uniforms really help set the scene, and looking kinda flashy too.
The new battle effects are really atmospheric.

As a reviewer, one of the more difficult decisions to make is whether or not to let context influence a review. You could be reviewing one of the greatest games ever made, for example, with the only catch being was that it was developed by Hitler. Whilst Napoleon's case is no-where near extreme, this is a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 scenario: A similar, standalone product being released not long after the previous game, at a price that's in that grey area which isn't quite full retail but not a cheap add-on either. The debate about whether Napoleon should be considered a true standalone product, or simply a rather large expansion, will probably be one that will rage for eternity. Since the quality of this product however is surprisingly good, we're willing to let this slide.

Napoleon's single-player experience is more 'episodic' than Empire and most previous Total War releases. Taking its cue from the 'Road to Independence' introduction campaigns, Napoleon's main campaign is split into several episodic arch's covering the general's dealings in Italy, Egypt and Russia. This give's the game a more focused and engaging appeal, and is a welcome change from the eternal grind that is the 'grand' campaign. Even though each mini-campaign can be rather lengthy, if CA had simply stopped here, there would be more grounds to argue against this being a more stand alone game. However there is also a full 'Grand Campaign' mode where you can play as France or one of the major Coalition factions during the core period of the Napoleonic War, 1805 - 1812, so there's plenty to sink your teeth into. They've even revamped the 'historic battles' section, so that instead of following Napoleon's career through campaigns, you can follow it through his major engagements instead.

The main campaign lets you step into the shoes of one of History's greatest generals...
It's funny how, despite the advent of firearms, it all comes down to one big scrap at the end of the day...

As a result of almost constant consumer feedback to Empire, and the extra development time, there have been several improvements to the engine for Napoleon. In order to compensate for the shorter time span, turns have been changed so that there's now two a month, instead of two a year, and production and research times have been adjusted accordingly. The enemy battle and campaign AI have also been improved, so that players can have a more challenging experience. Graphically the game has also been enhanced - one can really get a feel for early 19th Century warfare with the improved smoke and lighting effects, camera shakes, and general enhancements. A lot of this depends on your system of course, but if you've got the power, you won't be disappointed. Many of the improvements are subtle, so you may not notice them right off the bat, but the result is one of the most enjoyable Total War experiences to date.

Unfortunately, there will be no multiplayer impressions in this initial review, as much as we would have liked to test out some of the more eagerly awaited features. In their eternal wisdom, someone at Creative Assembly or Sega decided that is was a better idea to give us special 'Dev' code which could only be played against the developers or other Journalists with the same code. By the time we received this, however, it appears that most other journo's had finished with the game, and being the weekend there were no Dev's to play. All we can say at this point is that we are terribly sorry for the omission, and that we will update this review at a later date with impressions about the Multiplayer.

From what we can tell so far, having talked to other people who have also played the game, the new multiplayer features really do add an interesting new dimension to the game. The Multiplayer campaigns especially seem to have been worth the wait, and the drop-in battle system, whilst intriguing, still needs some work done to it.

The Campaign map has also been tweaked, but is relatively the same.
Extra unit balancing has made combat more realistic.

It's a shame though, as even though this is such a good game, there's still something not quite right about it. Despite being a more polished experience, it's also slightly truncated: Building tree's have been changed or cut, the other theatres have been taken out completely, as well as a whole host of 'little' things you may not necessarily notice. In a sense, CA have gone back to basics and simply focused on the Europeon continent, which they're good at. It's clear though that this is the game Empire was supposed to be, not necessarily in theme, but in technical construction and presentation.

By all rights, some of the benefits seen in Napoleon should be bled back into Empire, if only to justify the tensions and pain many gamers went through during Empire's early days. For technical reasons, that sadly will not be possible, and the announced cancellation of further post release support is worrying. Still, we think you'll be able to enjoy Napoleon for what it is - a finely crafted, dynamic, and engaging strategic game. Whether or not you can forgive CA for 'pulling a Valve' is up to you, but please don't blame the game itself - this is a worthwhile experience and well worth the money in reality, if not in principle.

Top Game Moment: As always, winning a particularly difficult and challenging engagement through strategic brilliance.

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 01, 2010
Yep it sure is great. I liked it. Improved BAI (battle A.I.) sure is improved. Battles are tough. I always play them on highest difficulty setting as with any previous TW. So, I can honestly say that this one is toughest thus far. Not often, BAI makes some bad move, which is either that he comes to your line and then starts slightly rearranging his troops while under fire from your own troops (but he stops and starts shooting relatively quickly unlike with previous ETW; and it doesn't happen too often), or comes too close with his general so your arty can kill him. But general runs away outside the arty range as soon as you start shooting at him. But if you wait long enough for him to come closer, and then direct your arty fire on him, he wont have too much time to run away the range. 2-3 arty pieces and it should be enough.

But, great BAI anyway.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 01, 2010
"However there is also a full 'Grand Campaign' mode where you can play as France or one of the major Coalition factions...". Not strictly true. The Coalition Campaigns (aka: Grand Campaign) don't include France. This nation may only be played in Chapter 4 of Napoleon's Campaign.
The BAI, as Kres pointed out is very flawed. I've seen structures burning at the start of a battle only to scroll over and see that the enemy AI has set up artillery behind houses, blasting them to hell to get at me. There are many new strategies for the player to use with their troops, including the General and the Advisor is only to happy to let you know what they are. A pity then that the enemy AI doesn't listen as well. I've come across small groups of enemy just huddling in trees doing nothing, easily vanquished. They also have a strong tendency to form square when there are no cavalry in sight but line infantry is. Almost like panic mode sets in.
Naval battles are still as dynamic as ever, and for those who think them boring I say they haven't yet worked out the strategies and tactics needed to manage those man-o-wars. Difficulty bar has been raised, though and the ships can be huge (122 gun).
Overall, a splendid game and a great addition to the present iteration of the franchise. As an expansion this is more along the lines of "CoH: Opposing Fronts" - almost a complete game unto iteself, but still relying on it's parent for substance and form.

Hopefully we'll be seeing some Civil War action next.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 01, 2010
Hm well I've put good hours into the game and I didn't really notice that many problems with BAI Herod. Yes you are correct with misplaced arty pieces (very rare IME). But previous TW BAI was always shooting its own troops with arty as they would just move through arty pieces and they would of course keep shooting, killing them in the process. In NTW, that hardly ever happened. Maybe once I've seen it.

Also didn't ever noticed square formations taking place unless you were charging on them from multiple sides. Cavalry or not. But that didn't happen too often.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 01, 2010
Oh, compared with M2TW and ETW the BAI is much improved, however I've found path-finding still an issue. When I order large number of troops forward with a right-click (not the UI movement arrow) it sends said units in every direction of the compass.
That still hasn't been fixed from ETW, and is a real bug bear when you are being pounded by arty.
If I order my cavalry to ride from one flank to another, they will quite happily run in front of cannon and firing infantry. Once I lost a whole formation just trying to move them. Using SHIFT+R CLICK to manually path find is laborious and they won't run.
On the whole, though the BAI is very good...and quite often damnably hard to beat (Battle of the Pyramids is harsh). I like the re-introduction of the Ambush...great catching a marching column of troops from both flanks.
The square formations do crop up quite a bit for me, but generally only in the Campaign battles, and quite often with no cavalry within sight. In which case the game becomes: "Napoleon: Total Squares":)
Planned to play for an hour yesterday, and 3 hours later I still couldn't resist pressing the "End Turn" button just once more. That's something I haven't felt since the first "Medieval: Total War".
Just finished the Italian Campaign, now onto Egypt (apparently with Diplomacy disabled).

And what's this about no post-release support? That will upset many, including me.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 02, 2010
Shift + R Click works, but you need to shift + double r click if you want them to run. At least I believe that worked to me.

Yeah, having to watch where your troops will move to not get shot by your own troops / arty is annoying at times. Might be the only bad thing at the moment IMO. It does happen if you're not careful.

I finished Egyptian campaign. Not too difficult, but took a few restarts. I then started playing individual battles which are cool, until you come to Russian battle. I seriously felt like that can't be won, unless you're russian, and gave up after first loss. Highest difficulty setting of course :)
By benny180 (SI Core) on Mar 04, 2010
Just started playing this game today, i do miss medieval,but i like the naval battles, theyre very intense!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 05, 2010
"Intense"? I thought they took place on the ocean...not a tent to be seen:) You must have an Egyptian copy there benny.
As for the "Battle of Borodino", Zerk, I have tried several times to do what General Devout pleaded with Napoleon to do: attack the right flank of the Russian line. Instead we are placed as Napoleon had placed his army, all ready for a bloody frontal assault. To transport your army to the left to engage the right flank ryesults in massive casualties from cannon and cavalry. So you must follow Napoleon's flawed plan, which resulted in massive casualties on both sides and a technical stalemate (as the Russian army was allowed to withdraw).
By bodo008 (SI Newbie) on Aug 10, 2010
Really nice game. After I will finish "Empire" which is actually never ending, I will start this one. If the engine from Napoleon will be used for Empire this will be much more better... but also this will never happen. Therefore, our only hope is Shogun :) for a greater game