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Hero or Tyrant?
Whether you see Napoleon as a genius who laid the foundation for the European Union, or a petty tyrant with an inferiority complex which fuelled a war, there can be little doubt he was a master of strategy. Few men can measure up against his accomplishments and France was never so powerful or influential as she was under his watchful rule.
Restoring order after the chaos of the revolution, Napoleon spread many of its ideals. He introduced a civil code of law which was adopted throughout Europe and beyond. He also created a meritocracy which allowed people to rise through the ranks according to ability instead of birth right. Ultimately though, it is his exploits on the battlefield which will always be remembered. Napoleon: Total War gives you the chance to relive his stunning military accomplishments.
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For people familiar with the series and in particular Empire: Total War, this will be instantly accessible. There have been a few tweaks and improvements on the last release but this doesn’t represent a major overhaul. Experienced or not it is advisable to play the tutorials. There is one to explain the basics of land battles, one for naval battles and then a campaign tutorial which also forms the first chapter in Napoleon’s rise to power.
The main campaign divides Napoleon’s various advances into four campaigns. After the short tutorial introduction you’ll be pitched into the Italy Campaign, followed by the Egypt Campaign and finally the Europe Campaign. You can also choose to fight Napoleon’s main battles. Waterloo ends the main campaign but you can also take on Trafalgar, Dresden, Austerlitz, Borodino and a few others besides. There is also a Play Battle option where you can set up various types of conflict and victory conditions.
Since the main campaign is heavily scripted to reflect the historical reality you will find yourself following a familiar path as you play through. Your options in terms of development in cities are limited. The focus is on solving the problem of replenishing your army and keeping them supplied as you advance. The further you progress in the game the bigger the logistical nightmare that awaits you. The end point is predictable because it reflects the reality but there is some room to take on the challenge in your own way.
In Campaigns of the Coalition you can take on the role of Austria, Britain, Prussia or Russia and fight to defeat Napoleon and dominate Europe yourself. This mode is more open ended and allows a bit more room for replay value since you can more easily change the course of history.
The AI has been slightly improved for Napoleon: Total War over the rather annoying pathing of Empire, but it is not free of the odd lapse of judgement. It does, however, provide a decent challenge on the higher difficulty levels. You’ll need to pay seriously careful attention to where you position your troops and squeeze every advantage out of the battlefield in order to secure a victory.
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One reason why the minor improvement in AI isn’t a problem is Napoleon: Total War’s support for drop-in multiplayer battles. This is a clever development which allows human opponents to play the part of your enemy in campaign battles. There is also a detailed multiplayer option where you can take on opponents in campaigns and single battles, or act as their enemies in drop-in battles on land or at sea.
The multiplayer works well and during campaigns you can tweak your empire while you wait for the other player to complete their turn. Even better you can play the role of enemy when they have a tactical battle against an AI controlled nation. Human opponents are infinitely more interesting to play against than the AI and the experience can range from insanely difficult to laughably easy. As with all multiplayer games it is more enjoyable to play friends and there is a “friends only" option for the drop in battles during your campaign.
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The artistic design is accomplished and the details lend an air of authenticity to proceedings. The campaign is punctuated by impressive, cinematic cut scenes featuring a slightly evil looking Napoleon. The units and environments are well modelled, the animations are smooth and the visual effects are excellent. If you dislike the uniform design you can go ahead and access the editor to create your own.
The battlefields are deliberately concise and mirror many of the actual environments where Napoleon fought, so you’ll face the same tactical challenges and be able to exploit the same advantages. Making the best of a battlefield is about common sense though, so no prior knowledge is required in order to emerge victorious.
Tied together by a familiar menu system and an easy to read HUD this is a top class release. It looks fantastic and it is intuitive to navigate options, the perfect combination.
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The voice acting meets the usual high standards of the series and there is a female helper for the campaign and male helper for the battles who pop up and offer advice. If you find them irritating you can always disable them. Napoleon himself is well acted and he narrates the cut scenes during his campaign.
The incidental music fits perfectly and the context sensitive music helps translate the action and tie everything together. The sound effects for cannon fire and battlefield screams are very atmospheric and this is highly polished stuff.
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If you are looking for a leap forwards in the series then Napoleon: Total War is not for you. This release builds gently on the Empire: Total War game with some subtle refinements and new features but for the most part it feels very similar to play. What it does very well is to package up the campaigns of an amazing historical figure. Anyone with an interest in Napoleon will be unable to resist. There are many hours of tactical gameplay on offer here and it is all presented beautifully. Napoleon: Total War is an essential game for strategy fans and it preserves The Creative Assembly’s leading position in the genre.