Napoleon: Total War
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “One must change one’s tactics every 10 years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.” The talented team at The Creative Assembly would be wise to heed the words of their latest game’s namesake. Like the European conqueror, The Creative Assembly’s signature blend of turn-based conquest and real-time battle ranks among the elite in its field, but as Napoleon: Total War demonstrates, persistent legacy issues have started to weaken the game’s standing.
The centerpiece to the latest chapter in the Total War series is the Napoleonic campaign, in which you assume the role of the French conqueror as he develops an influence through theaters of war in Italy, Africa, and Europe proper. In addition to managing armed forces, players must juggle diplomacy, building construction, trade, and technology research in classic Total War fashion. Much like the Road to Independence campaign in Empire: Total War, each scenario takes place on a smaller tract of land without sacrificing the map scale players are used to with the series’ famed global theaters. Concentrating on smaller segments of land is a smart move, as it allows the developers to deliver much more varied terrain for battles and stress the importance of maintaining supply lines for frontline armies. If your platoons stray too far from home or march through uninhabitable land, units won’t replenish and attrition will compromise their effectiveness.
The challenge of meeting the objectives in each campaign is heightened by the strict timeframe in which Napoleon must triumph and the variation in tools at his disposal. The African map, for instance, robs you of all diplomacy as an invader in a foreign land, tasking you to make your way from Cairo up to the heart of the Middle East under the constant barrage of insurgent resistance. These enjoyable twists forced me to leave my comfort zone and employ new strategies to accomplish the goals laid out before me.
The campaign’s pièce de résistance is the European theater, where every prominent nation is gunning for your head as you stretch the French influence across the continent by adopting protectorate nations, pillaging fallen cities, and threatening those who oppose your expansionist goals. Managing a large empire is a delicate proposition, and unfortunately the diplomacy options aren’t up to the task. As in past Total War games, negotiations with opposing and allied factions still don’t offer meaningful feedback, leaving you to guess in frustration as to why your cease-fire agreement or request for military access is being rejected.
The campaign culminates in the near impossible finale at Waterloo, which challenges you to succeed where Napoleon failed in a battle tilted heavily in Britain’s favor. It’s not easy. After a dozen unsuccessful tries, I sullenly resigned myself to Napoleon’s fate in the face of the overwhelming odds.
Another game mode features 10 historical battles that let players relive some of Napoleon’s biggest triumphs. Players can attempt to match Bonaparte’s military process by mimicking his tactics, or strive for personal glory with more unconventional strategies. These battles were sculpted with real-world tactics, and they feel more rewarding and realistic than the more spontaneous skirmishes found in the campaigns that are sometimes plagued by dumbfounding AI. In a couple campaign battles I watched in disbelief as the opposing general ran for the hills toward my army before the infantry even clashed, making it extremely easy to cut the head off the opposition and break their morale before the cannonballs started flying. None of these flaws reared their head in the historical battles.
If the questionable enemy AI drives to you auto-resolve almost every battle like me, Napoleon offers another solution. The new drop-in battles now allow a human opponent to take the reins of an opposing army in your campaign provided the number of troops is relatively even. Players interested in pick-up matches can join the queue through a multiplayer menu, but be forewarned. The matchmaking doesn’t convey any information about your army’s composition or the battle terrain beforehand, so you won’t know what you’re getting into until you accept the match.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Napoleon: Total War is the multiplayer campaign, a Risk-like mode that pits two players against one another in the European theater, each vying for unquestioned reign over the continent. The mode thankfully includes customizable settings that allow you to turn on or off real-time battles and adjust the difficulty for both players before the match starts, which helps to speed up the turns and even the playing field, respectively. Since one turn in a game this detailed can take a player a considerable amount of time, Creative Assembly smartly allows the other player to peruse the map, check out building queues, and even schedule more construction while wait their turn. Our campaign ran relatively lag free, though the game hiccupped and froze a few times in between player turns.
Napoleon: Total War may not rewrite history, but its subtle gameplay refinements, tactical variety, and new multiplayer campaign do more than enough to offset the litany of legacy issues hindering this otherwise impressive strategy game. If Creative Assembly wants to match the strategic legacy of the famed French general, however, it’s time to address battle AI and diplomacy feedback before they compromise the franchise’s integrity.