Still kind of a big game.
Here we go, this is it. With Napoleon: Total War, Creative Assembly has the most stable Total War to date and the one brimming with the most potential for some truly amazing future installments. It has everything going for it and it’s very much evident here in this standalone sequel/maybe an expansion/a $40.00 sequel thing but still maybe a standalone expansion. Creative’s been a bit vague on how they’ve tried to sell this latest Total War game, but when it’s all said and done, it’s a great one.
With Napoleon taking place roughly around the same period when Empire’s clock came to a halt when you reached the 1800s, both games are going to wind up playing the same. It’s true, there’s nothing radically different here, but there are so many minor tweaks and new gameplay additions that they add up into something perceivable and substantial.
On the campaign map, Europe’s much bigger here than in Empire, with many more regions filling up the landmass. Smarter implementation of bridges and rivers add a good tactical layer to where you plant your troops and all in all, if Creative’s thinking about taking the war back into a global scale again, this is the Europe they’ll want to carry onto a sequel. The same can be said for the gameplay tweaks. The two weeks turns initially seems like a way to keep the game within the Napoleonic Era, but it alters all long-term plans. Creating huge stacks within a single turn isn’t possible; it takes two turns just to churn out some linemen. Everything simply takes longer; building structures, recruiting fresh troops – it requires a greater amount of foresight. This also means spies have a greater use as saboteurs, because of the greater amount of time it takes to repair structures.
Wait, there’s more. The ability to liberate certain regions can result in useful buffers between you and the hostile nation you are encroaching upon. The shorter turns also let seasons come into play. Watch out for the winter months, because Russia is essentially a giant mass of attrition. It’s death waiting to happen. Unless you’re crazy enough, you’ll holdout until spring arrives.
Diplomacy’s also received some much-needed options. You’re able to instigate wars between other nations and propose trade embargoes. The AI’s also a lot more receptive to your offers and they’re more open to propose their own diplomatic dealings with you as well. It’s very possible to peacefully coexist with all the other nations, even if you’re France. Pretty much the entirety of Europe hates you on the outset, but hey, be nice and they’ll be nice back in due time. You know, though, with game called Total War, it’s inevitable you’re going to get into a fight somebody.
One of the more obvious differences between Empire’s and Napoleon’s real-time battles is the speed. Napoleon goes a much faster pace; linemen reload and fire away at a much faster rate and with the pathfinding working in a way that doesn’t require all your men to be lined up to fire, they result in much quicker fights. It’s definitely a lot more exciting and combined with the increased deadliness of artillery and the smoke effect that chokes the battlefield, Napoleon’s real-time battles are filled with much more panache and a lot more intensity.
That new intensity also comes from the AI. It’s significantly improved. Whereas Empire’s got caught in panicked bouts of indecision, the AI in Napoleon commits to its actions and divides up its tasks to the best of its abilities. It still definitely has a lot of problems; artillery doesn’t take terrain elevation into account, which can result in it blasting at a chunk of rock for the entire battle. Its misuse of cavalry is a fairly common sight, as they try to break right into your center line, resulting in total massacres. Issues aside, they’ll flank, they’ll reallocate troops and they’ll even stay back and let you make the first move when deemed appropriate. While not nearly on the level of human opponents (And honestly, when will that ever happen? My guess is not in our lifetime.), the battle AI results in fights that are tactically engaging, even if victory is usually a sure thing.
The AI on the campaign map, on the other hand, is a lot more refined. We saw the results of what five gigantic patches did for Empire; it did open up some new problems, but the end result was a competent campaign AI. Napoleon’s AI seems to have built on top of that quite well. Besides all the logical stuff; it’ll make smart diplomatic offers, back away when necessary and divide and conquer when appropriate. This doesn’t just affect you either, warring nations will fight amongst each and not all turns from other nations directly affect you. The end result is a world where it doesn’t feel like you’re the center of attention, where the entire world doesn't revolve around you. Sure, if you’re France, everyone will appropriately be out for your blood, but only when appropriate. The AI’s also protective, sometimes overly so, resulting in them taking less risks and sitting back. This does result in lulls in a few turns, but it’s also sensical. Admittedly, it’s not the most fun when the AI doesn’t always take the aggressive initiative, but at least what they’re doing makes sense.
Or, you can ignore all the new AI improvements and take it all online. The campaign multiplayer comes as a fully functional package in Napoleon and for many that’s going to be a dream. Even more, drop-in battles let humans take up the army of the opposing side in real-time battles, assuring in some unpredictable conflicts. This is definitely the largest online component the Total War series has ever received and despite a few stability issues that have yet to be ironed out, it’s going to extend the lifespan of Napoleon tenfold.
The only real catch with Napoleon is its smaller scope. Outside of the brief Egyptian campaign, it’s a game with a sole focus on Europe. Compared to the global scale of Empire, it does feel smaller, but with the smaller scope comes with a greater focus and that includes the visuals. The visual variety on the campaign map is increased due to the new seasons and the real-time battles are filled with a greater amount of detail; artillery fire actually scar the battleground and the mentioned smoke effect is such a welcomed effect that it’s a wonder Empire shipped without one. Some of the improvements are pretty minute, like the character portraits taking on a much more painterly look, but they’re very much appreciated. Sound has largely been untouched. The brand new soundtrack has lost those lovely guitar serenades, but it’s still enjoyable to listen to and adds a lot of bombast to your epic encounters.
Even with its smaller scope and its similarities to its year-old predecessor, Napoleon is a better, more polished game. You’re still going to get tons of hours of playtime even with the limited number of nations available for play. The new multiplayer modes, the better AI and all the sheer number of minor improvements results in a game that’s very, very engaging and very much fun to play. All that’s left is to take what Creative’s got and go bonkers whenever they decide to go completely medieval, Rome or whatever on our asses.