Viva La France!
The Total War series appeals to a very hardcore set of strategy gamers who love its unique mix of real-time strategy and Risk-like turn-based gameplay. If you’re one of those gamers, chances are that you’ve already purchased the latest game in the series, Napoleon: Total War. If you’re new to the series, you may be wondering what sets the Total War franchise apart from other strategy games and if the latest entry is the right game to start off with. If you’re not interested in strategy gaming, I suggest you turn back now; this game is probably not for you. But, if you love games that are more about tactics than twitch reflex, then Napoleon: Total War will consume your life in a way that few others can.
Like the previous Total War games, Napoleon: Total War is a turn-based strategy title with battles that are resolved in real time. In each of the several game types, you’ll take turns spreading across the world map, claiming towns, building new structures, and researching new advances in technology – although research plays a much less significant role than in the previous entry, Empire: Total War. When you encounter a hostile populace, you can choose to resolve the conflict via diplomacy or military action. Once you enter into a battle, gameplay shifts to a real-time strategy conflict in which your tactics will often be the deciding factor in the outcome.
Like all the other games in the series, Napoleon’s battle gameplay consists of massive clashes that require a keen mind rather than fast reflexes. Armies are controlled with a mix of traditional RTS mouse gestures and hands-on control. The basic “point and click” command method handles the basics of gameplay, while a host of keyboard shortcuts and action buttons on the HUD offer up more precise options. You can bind unit groups together with keyboard shortcuts, cycle unit formations with button clicks, steer the camera with the FPS genre’s W,A,S, D key formation, and otherwise manage almost any aspect of combat you can think of.
Your units have both special powers and various unit formations that are all helpful in very specific instances. Being charged by a group of hostile soldiers waving swords? Use the “fire and advance” method to keep fresh gunmen cycling to the front line. Being flanked by a Calvary unit? Command your infantry into a square formation so it can fend off attacks from any side. Knowing how to properly command your units is key to success – having a huge numerical advantage over your foe is no guarantee of victory if you don’t know how to use units wisely. That being said, enemy AI can sometimes make questionable decisions. In one battle, the enemy general immediately charged my frontlines and was mowed down, leaving behind a sloppy, leaderless enemy force that I quickly mopped up.
Regardless of whether or not your enemy is making silly tactical mistakes, Napoleon: Total War’s real-time battles are thrilling, thanks to the crisp graphics and solid sound effects. The game’s engine is capable of displaying a huge number of units at once, and the level of detail increases nicely as you zoom into the heart of the battle. With the camera zoomed out, you can take in the entirety of the battlefield and the see the positions of the various squads on the field. Up close, the individual soldiers sport incredible detail; from the uniforms to the weapons they carry the various factions look distinct enough that you can tell them apart even in frantic melee combat. Paired with earth-shaking cannon sound effects, cracking gunshots, and nicely acted unit voice work, Napoleon’s battles feel every bit as urgent and dangerous as those in a first-person shooter.
While the heart of the Total War games has traditionally been the Grand Campaign mode, Napoleon goes a slightly different route, offering up modes called Napoleon’s Campaigns, Campaigns of the Coalition, and Napoleon’s Battles. Napoleon’s Campaigns is a story-driven mode in which players relive some of the general’s most famous military victories. Campaigns of the Coalition allows players to command Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, or the Austrian Empire in battles against the French. Finally, Napoleon’s Battles forego the turn-based overworld and drop you straight into RTS combat scenarios based on real military conflicts.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the Total War formula is the new multiplayer options. You can choose to allow human players to drop into your single-player campaign and control the opposing army. Because the game can charitably be described as “deliberately paced,” The Creative Assembly added in several options to speed up multiplayer games. You can set the game to auto-resolve all battles and adjust difficulty levels for each player individually. During the other player’s turn, you can still schedule construction in your territories, check on building queues, and busy yourself with a few other activities that limit the amount of time that would otherwise just be spent waiting.
The multiplayer mode also offers up cooperative gameplay in which two players team up and communicate with one another via voice chat; another first for the series. While my multiplayer experience was smooth, I’ve heard other players complain of some minor lag issues and the occasional freeze. Battles simply end if one player drops out, so it’s best not to get into a multiplayer game if you’re not sure that you’ve got the time. There’s also an option that allows a second human player to drop into your game and control an enemy army – an excellent addition to the formula for those gamers who delight in messing with their friends!
There is a ton of content to be found in Napoleon: Total War, and there should be something in it to appeal to all types of strategy gamers. I am particularly fond of the naval battles, in which positioning and working with the wind is key to victory. When two massive hundred-gun ships go head to head, the slow battle to get into firing position while keeping your profile as small as possible is amazingly nerve-wracking. The gorgeous water effects and detailed ship destruction doesn’t hurt, either. That’s the part of the game that worked best for me. For you, it might be the complex effect of building different structures or the huge-scale land battles that send hundreds of soldiers marching towards one another with rifles at the ready.
The scope of Napoleon: Total War is somewhat smaller than previous games in the series – Research and Diplomacy have been de-emphasized, likely because of the shorter time frame in which the events in the game take place. Even so, Napoleon: Total War is such an immense title that any fan of the genre should check it out. If you’re not typically a strategy gamer, there might be something in here to convert you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The environments look incredible, especially the stunning naval battles. Many units look a tiny bit stiff, however. 4.3 Control
Like everything in the game, controls are complex but give you tons of options and flexibility. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Nice unit voice work, sound effects and music complete the sensation of the epic battles. 4.9 Play Value
With huge campaigns and multiple gameplay options, you won’t be finished with Napoleon until the next Total War game is released 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.