Napoleon: Total War marches into stores in an attempt to conquer your hearts. With the shadow of Empire looming behind it though, can it succeed? (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.
Top Game Moment: As always, winning a particularly difficult and challenging engagement through strategic brilliance.
NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR VERDICT
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.