Napoleon: Total War Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Release date:
Febuary 23rd, 2010
Creative Assembly
1 - 2
Real-Time Strategy

Napoleon: Total War

Dominate Europe in a sweet hat

Review by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
May 5th 2010

Here's a stand-alone expansion pack of Empire: Total War, meaning you don't need anything else to play it besides a decent PC. It features the smallest and most beloved of world conquerors, Napoleon Bonaparte. If you've played Empire, you'll find the same basic gameplay with a number of new units, tweaks, and a whole lot less bugs.  Actually, if you've played any of the Total War series, this all might seem a little too familiar.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, a man would seize his destiny and become the most feared name throughout all of Europe: Napoleon. The main campaign covers his rise to power and subsequent efforts to dominate all within his reach. Opening and ending movies on each leg of the journey unveil his history, along with voiceovers sprinkled throughout the war. As interesting as this all is, I could have done without the outrageously false French accents that should have stayed in Hollywood.  You can also assume the role of Napoleon's greatest foes in further story campaigns. Though in either case you'll be under a forced time limit that didn't let me play quite as I wanted.

The turn-based overworld map hasn't changed much since Rome: Total War, which is a shame because after so many games in this series, it still feels like an afterthought.  Cities are mainly army-producing machines, and defensive tactics, such as securing your boarders, are severely limited.  As your empire grows, it becomes more and more difficult to manage, with bloated information screens that don't tell you a whole lot of pertinent info, and no easy way to get an overall sense of what you need to be doing with your vast territory. I'm not going to suggest they should just outright copy Civilization VI, which does such things with ease, but they should have at least replaced or refined the model they've been relying on as a crutch since Rome.

Massive real-time battles are the game's major thrill, and in this it delivers. With an array of forces at your command, you can order them around individually, gather them up into formations, and implement the same tactics that led to success on a real battlefield. In one battle, I once began in a narrow valley, which would have meant death in an older era, but my cannons tore into the troops that came charging down, leaving a swathe of bodies behind.  Realizing the failure of its charge, the AI attempted to circle around and strike me from either side, then plowing down the middle when I was distracted.  Only I had mounted units waiting just behind the curve of the hill, and when his troops came, I charged him instead. It became a battle on three fronts, and I had no trouble directing more than a dozen battalions.  Though if you do find this overwhelming, there's an option in the campaign for a buddy to lend some online co-op assistance.

Sea battles are a bit slower.  They feature a few big ships and a lot of cannon fire. Managing your direction and the wind in your sails is what it takes to succeed here.  The level of detail here is incredible. You can zoom in close to see the full crew of this ship on deck, struggling to follow the captain's command, or getting blown through the air when a cannon ball rips through the hull. With its methodical pace, this isn't something you'll want to dive into again and again, but with the way sea battles are sprinkled throughout the campaign, they make a welcome diversion from land-based warfare. Of course, both battle modes can be played separate from any campaign, with historical missions to fight, or online brawls to take part in.  The sum total of which means Napoleon: Total War has more than enough content for its asking price.

Rich in historical detail with thousands of tiny soldiers left in a bloody heap from a barrage of rifle fire, this is a game for armchair generals that played with plastic army men as kids and imagined something far grander.  Sadly, it's not also a game for budding world conquerors, as the turn-based strategy remains undeveloped. If you want to raise massive armies and crush all in your path, this is the game for you. If you want to dig deep into the nuts and bolts of running an empire, I'd recommend looking instead to the robust Europa Universalis series.

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