Release: Out now
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Completing the pattern laid out by all the previous Total War games, Napoleon provides the standalone mini-campaign follow-up to Empire‘s messy and sprawling reiteration of Total War‘s grand vision. As with Kingdoms, Alexander, Viking Invasion and so on, Napoleon focuses on a specific fraction of the history, in this case the rise of France in the years after the revolution, and the career of the great man himself.
What’s perhaps most surprising about a game in which things can unfold any number of ways is the extent to which Napoleon really does tell his story, as he goes from being a student of the military, to a politically active general, to being the Emperor of France and beyond. Napoleon manages to relate all that as well as let you see a little of his achievements at first-hand.
The game is divided up into a brief tutorial, in which Napoleon goes to school and survives the French Revolution, and then moves into Italy, the Middle East, and finally a major campaign which culminates in all-out war with Great Britain. While any of these can unfold in a wide range of ways, the theme is always victory of Bonapart. As in previous mini-campaigns the resulting scenario is a little tighter than those found in its forebear, with the flow of objectives being more constrained and obvious than they are in Empire‘s colossal grand campaign. It seems more involved than the likes of Alexander, too: this is a game in its own right.
It’s also brimming with tweaks and fixes. The game goes to painstaking lengths to explain features such as swapping out building types to change the roles of towns and cities and the ever-present importance of international trade to keeping the war effort paid for. Playing through the Napoleon campaign is both a more digestible and comprehensible experience than the original game, but also just as rewarding. Being able to use spies and gentlemen agents comes far sooner, and you’ll feel the benefits of their intellectual and clandestine efforts immediately. The same is true of government, in which a panel of ministers can be fiddled with to retune the politics of your sovereign nation.
It seems that the antagonistic and allied AI, however, will never be entirely perfect. On the campaign map there are still random fluctuations of NPC-commanded troops, with single armies making peculiar manoeuvres without any obvious plan or reason. The behaviour of battle map troops is now almost perfect, but there are still things it can’t deal with: artillery won’t work out how to shoot past a town’s buildings if they’re defending it, for example, and the use of cover, which got introduced with Empire as part of the move into the era of firearms, seems entirely random. Sieges, as ever, remain something of a pantomime.
As such, Napoleon ultimately feels like the more successful younger brother to Empire. It fundamentally shares its DNA, for better and worse, but has learned from its mistakes, and has stayed trim and buff. There’s a two-player multiplayer campaign option from the off, something that famously took the better part of a year to appear for Empire, despite being promised in the months before launch. And yet Napoleon still exhibits a handful of the quirks and annoyances of its parent game, but it’s focused enough for that not to be a problem. If you’ve avoided Empire but still want a taste of The Creative Assembly’s formidable strategic vision then this is probably worth investigating. For veterans, however, there will need to be a distinct desire for a concentrated shot of Total War.