Napoleon: Total War in the test - very good, but stripped-down Empire offshoot

Author: Michael Graf
Date: 2010-02-23 14:42:00
Napoleon: Total War is the best strategy game about the Napoleonic Wars so far, but not automatically the best part of the Total War series by Creative Assembly so far.

Please forgive us for briefly digressing from Napoleon: Total War and switching genres in this review. But when we recently in the online role-playing game Star Trek Online from a struck Klingon a croissant - a croissant! - we had to grin heartily.

Will the French actually conquer space one day? A little Corsican dared not even dream of it when he was crowned Emperor of France on December 2, 1804. He only wanted to defeat the defiant British, the treacherous Prussians and the decadent Austrians. In short: Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to subjugate Europe, from Madrid to Moscow. That nothing came of it in the end - okay, bad luck for him.

In Napoleon: Total War , however, you can turn the historical tables and help the self-made monarch to victory. Because the only executable offshoot of the strategy colossus Empire: Total War contains three campaigns in which you fight the Napoleonic Wars on the French side.

Alternatively, put the upstart in his place with another great power. And also via network and internet if desired, because Napoleon: Total War offers a multiplayer mode for the round-robin campaign for the first time.

Hardly any bugs, nevertheless errors

Napoleon: Total War has both a difficult and an easy legacy. A difficult legacy because the developer Creative Assembly lost a lot of fan sympathy with the crash-plagued Empire.

In this regard, we can give the all-clear: apart from minor quirks and very rare crashes, Napoleon ran smoothly and without errors in our test. The easy legacy is the principle of the game: The tried and tested Total War blend of turn-based empire administration and real-time mass battles is still looking for its peers, and Napoleon also has an addiction to "only conquer one city / fight one battle".

Not immediately, though, because the first two campaigns disappoint. In it you reenact Napoleon's campaigns in northern Italy and Egypt, exclusively with France and on narrow regional maps, on which you subjugate one province after another in a straight line.

The two short campaigns (each with three to five hours of gameplay) degenerate into a "Total War Light" in which you mainly raise and move armies. In Egypt at least aggressive Bedouins and Ottomans throw clubs between your legs, the Italian campaign, on the other hand, stingy with surprises.

The highlight: the Europe campaign

By far the most entertaining is the third campaign in which you wrestle for the whole of Europe. Because in addition to the military, you also have to deal with diplomacy and business. However, you cannot lead France in the pan-European war until you have completed the other two campaigns.

With Napoleon's enemies (Prussia, England, Austria, Russia), however, you can go into battle right from the start. That motivates because every nation presents you with different tasks. England, for example, uses her fleet to hunt French ships. France in turn leads powerful armies into the field, but sees itself surrounded by enemies.

After 192 rounds the war ends, until then you have to fulfill your faction's objectives. For example, France is to occupy Vienna, Berlin and Moscow, while Prussia wants to unite the German principalities. There is no such thing as a free game without tasks.

The map of Europe is also very limited. Although it stretches from Moscow to Madrid, North Africa and the Middle East are missing. Instead of three individual campaigns, we would have liked a comprehensive campaign to fight the entire Napoleonic War on a large, coherent map.

Innovations in the campaigns

All three campaigns benefit from playful innovations compared to Empire. You can now occupy, plunder (brings money, but annoy the citizens) or liberate conquered cities as normal. The latter creates a protectorate that supports you as a loyal ally and gives you a few volunteer battalions.

The guys can prove to be valuable, because you can no longer simply compensate losses for a gold fee. Instead, you set up supply depots in your provinces and expand farms so that decimated regiments can gradually regenerate. In order to make battered armies ready for action again, you must therefore first retreat to friendly territory.

The troops suffer losses not only in combat, but also in inhospitable areas. Because only half a month passes per round (and not half a year like in Empire), the seasons change fluently. In winter, alpine passes and Eastern European provinces sink under a thick blanket of snow. Anyone who attacks frosty Russia at the turn of the year permanently loses soldiers.

The same applies if you march through the desert on an Egyptian campaign, because European regiments melt in the sand sea faster than you can croak "Water!" Therefore, you should recruit heat-resistant Bedouin mercenaries. As a result, weather conditions and seasons also have a strategic effect for the first time. Future Total War sequels are welcome to inherit this progress.

»Watch the test video for Napoleon: Total War in the big player

Innovations in the battles

The real-time battles also offer various innovations. Generals, for example, motivate close allies so that it is now worthwhile to send the commanders to the front.

Howitzers, on the other hand, use high-explosive projectiles to tear craters in the ground, slowing down enemies. And the crews of ships can repair minor damage themselves during the battle, but are vulnerable in the meantime. In addition, the battles look a bit fancier than in Empire, mainly thanks to new particle effects. Thick clouds of smoke waft over the rows of firing musketeers.

Creative Assembly has also revamped the interface. For example, a bar is emblazoned above the regimental flag that shows the soldiers' moral values. You can see immediately when your own or the enemy's front line is crumbling. However, the no-frills user interface is also less atmospheric than in Empire.

Improved AI

The retail version of Empire: Total War offered decent AI opponents overall, but they also suffered from major dropouts. For example, they did not ship troops and were otherwise very passive.

Napoleon shakes off this legacy, the computer enemies attack in strategy mode much more aggressively, also from the seaside. In battles they advance more intelligently and in a more orderly manner, skirmishes between armies of equal strength are now trickier. Occasionally, however, the enemies still have dropouts. For example, when they gallop blindly into musket fire with their general.

Strange things also happen in strategy mode. We used a new diplomatic option to persuade Denmark to break its alliance with Mecklenburg. But already in the next round, the two nations renewed their alliance and could not even be dissuaded against bribery. Overall, the AI enemies leave a smarter and less confused impression than in Empire .

Multiplayer 1: The Drop-in Battles

If you don't want to compete against AI opponents, you can fight other people. Series veterans already know that you can fight individual skirmishes and the ten historical battles of Napoleon in multiplayer mode.

The so-called drop-in battles, however, are new: Anyone who starts a battle in the solo campaign can search for an opponent who will take over the computer-controlled army via the online platform Steam. But this only works if halfway equivalent associations meet, which was not always the case in the test. Here Napoleon still suffers from voting problems. In addition, there were long waiting times before the start of the battle.

Multiplayer 2: The round campaigns

In Napoleon, Creative Assembly fulfills a long-standing wish of Total War fans: Finally there is a real multiplayer mode for the round-robin campaign! Or the campaigns, because every Napoleon campaign can be contested with two players on the network or the Internet.

In Egypt, for example, one player takes over the French and the other the Ottomans (which cannot be played in solo mode). The participants take turns pulling. While it is your opponent's turn, you may not move any troops, but you may manage your cities and place building orders. That makes waiting less annoying, especially since you can also limit the train time. In addition, the game can be saved at any time and continued later.

You fight common battles in real time, alternatively you can roll them out (with sometimes nonsensical results). Battles against computer enemies are calculated - unless the other player wants to take over the army of the AI opponent. Overall, we really liked the multiplayer mode, especially in the big Europe campaign.

However, some of the games suffered from severe delays ("lags"). The loading times should also be shorter. Anyway, we can at least sniff a croissant in peace.

Also about Napoleon: Total War on GameStar.de:

»Test video for Napoleon: Total War
»Technology check on Napoleon: Total War (from March 4th)