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Napoleon: Total War (PC)

Napoleon: Total War (PC)

Napoleon: Total War
There are not many historical periods of time better suited to the Total War format than the Napoleonic campaign. With a historical backdrop that saw huge advances in technology, direct conflict between several global powers as well as vast military encounters both on land and sea, all driven by the greatest general of modern times… Let’s just say that the game was inevitable. Napoleon Bonaparte’s colossal ambition makes him one of history’s most talked about figureheads and an opportunity to follow in such illustrious footsteps is a fascinating prospect for armchair generals of all ages. Finally the chance is here.

Immediately it is clear that this version of Total War, while familiar to experienced players of the series, presents more options than before. There is the open-ended campaign mode, an opportunity to play to one-off battles both historical and invented. There is now a raft of new multiplayer options, which we shall go into more detail about shortly but central to the game are, of course, Napoleon’s actual campaigns in Italy and Egypt. Each major encounter is there to be replicated and reenacted by the player.

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The Total War games have always provided a level of scope and detail that is rarely seen in other historical real-time strategy based titles. However as time marches on so do the expectations of players. This was reflected in some of the reactions to the previous installment of Empire: Total War. The pre-scripted campaigns of Italy 1796 and Egypt of 1798 serve as a good introduction to the game mechanics for the uninitiated, however for veterans they will be seen as little more than an interactive history lesson. While there have been some slight changes to the interface, everything remains in its right place and the controls remain as intuitive and straightforward as ever.

Ultimately there is little that can be done about the scripted nature of the game’s primary campaign. Having its basis in historical fact does present limitations of sorts. To progress to the next battle the player must be victorious in the previous one. A defeat rarely opens up any options to the player apart from “try again” and for some this can be frustrating and tedious. Despite this fact though the attention to detail and the incorporation of historical data in Napoleon: Total War makes the campaign both a challenging and profoundly educational experience.

Where these games have always opened up is in the non-linear campaign mode where players can completely rewrite history in any way they see fit. This time around Creative Assembly have elected to reduce the freedom that a player has in this element of the game, entitled “The Mastery of Europe”, a decision that is bold in times where more developers are pushing the virtues of the “sandbox” style. Although this makes it restrictive, having tighter parameters in a game of this size isn’t a bad thing. All too often in previous versions decades can pass by with little direction, nothing more than a war of attrition between a declining faction and a marching army; a situation with an inevitable ending that takes long periods of time to resolve.

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The way this campaign is set-up eliminates this possibility almost entirely. It plays like a standard campaign with small elements of micro-management involved. Events are triggered on set dates and at set locations based on what happened during Napoleon’s European excursions. It isn’t completely inflexible and the player can obviously dictate large elements of what happens but often there is a distinct overlap between what happened in reality and this virtual recreation regardless of what decisions are actually made in game. Turns now only last a two week time period as opposed to the usual six month gap, a reflection of the advancements of modernity perhaps, yet is it also a change that keeps the game grounded in the time it occupies. Vast amounts of time do not pass quickly in this game, removing the technological advancements that the player might ordinarily expect. There are also a greatly reduced number of factions compared to previous titles, being divided up into the French, British, Austrians, Prussians and Russians. The differences, bar the history specific elite units, also do not feel as distinct as others. The coalition faction’s victory conditions do also feel more limited than before as the French must be defeated regardless of anything else achieved.

Yet none of this matters when it comes to the unadulterated gaming pleasure of battle. The engine has never looked or felt so polished and from deployment onwards every encounter is hugely enjoyable. Watching infantry fly into the air after being buffeted by a strong cavalry charge never gets old; the way a cannon ball can plow through rank after rank of hapless infantry is always hugely satisfying. In addition to what we would already expect from a Total War title, there are even more considerations for the tactical mind than ever before. The terrain now actually seems to make a real difference. Tired units trudging long distances while being peppered with musket fire generally don’t tend to last long and occupying the high ground is vitally important in ways it has never been before. Different terrains impact on the rage and accuracy of units as does the weather. If it rains expect guns to backfire or fail, rendering that cleverly placed unit ineffective.

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The real trump card of this game? It has to be the naval battles. Absolutely beautiful to watch, fun to take part in and every bit as tactical as its land based counterpart, the naval battles truly amaze. Wind and range all play their part in the game but so does the careful selection of how to tackle each boat. It is possible to set them on fire and then watch the struggling crew try and repair the damage, distracting them from more pressing concerns. Or perhaps a chain shot to take down the masts, essentially paralysing a ship, is in order. Feeling more conventional? Then line up alongside it and simply smash it to pieces with a volley of cannon fire. Ships seem to have more ways to be defeated than a standard unit. They can be sunk or routed, they can surrender and they can also be blown up if some fire hits their gunpowder reserves – and we mean BLOWN up – or ripped in half. Ships can also be boarded much like those Sunday afternoon movies. The sheer variety in combat is more than enough to keep anyone wanting more and this addition bodes well for future editions of the franchise.

The multiplayer components have also been polished and bring something new to the table. When playing the single player campaigns it is possible to request an online human opponent to “drop in” and fill the shoes of the enemy general. This certainly adds a new level of difficulty to the game but also presents a new premise for interaction that other games haven’t utilised yet. Not that multiplayer has to be a solely stand-alone experience – there is a multiplayer campaign mode as well.

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The learning curve seems steeper in this edition than it does in previous historical periods. Engaging one type of enemy with a unit not best suited to combating their style is extremely unforgiving and can be a major turning point in battles. Accuracy and range of gunfire at times feels like a lottery and it can be a bewildering experience to watch enemy units marching into volley after volley of rifle fire but take little or no casualties, even if it is the elite doing the shooting. Balancing out armies also takes a lot of practice with both weight of numbers and loading up on overpowered units no longer being valid strategies alone.

The AI has an excellent level of sophistication and will prove taxing, as well as being free of the bugs in Empire, making single player something more than a “by-the-numbers” exercise. This is especially true in the historical campaigns where the French units are not always the most powerful. Special units such as generals and the addition of their ability to both “rally” and “inspire” troops – no longer merely passive abilities – also signal a welcome addition to the game.

With no changes to the interface it becomes extremely easy to command large numbers of units in no time at all. As was said of the popular board-game Othello “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” There is a huge amount of detail beneath the simple veneer and taking the time to learn about the benefits of different modes of attack for cavalry, artillery and infantry will be key to success, especially in multiplayer.

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The game isn’t completely without the odd glitch. Sometimes moving large amounts of units in a tight formation can prove to be a challenge in itself and there are those odd inexplicable moments when it comes to shooting. These are minor quibbles if truth be told and certainly do not detract from the overall experience.


Napoleon Total War offers a few significant technical/graphical improvements over Empire. There is better multi-core support which improves performance and the variation of soldiers and naval rigging onscreen. Additionally the new unit rendering system offers a greater variety of units, giving us up to 64 per unit compared to 4 in previous games. Particle effects are also enhanced with 5x the number of particles in any given effect compared to the last Total War game and post processing is used more effectively for climate, season and weather effects.

It doesn’t stop there though, Creative Assembly have added subtle lens flare and camera vignette to the battlefield lighting model and re-implemented SSAO to work as a light attenuator rather than a full screen effect. Finally there are enhancements such as weather dependent particle effects (mist/fog, dust and leaves) as well as parallax-mapped high detail terrain and heat hazes as required.

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It cannot be overstated just how incredible the graphics in this game look and it is easily the most impressive in terms of visuals out of any of the titles. Soldiers feel individually animated and it is hard to spot repetition in their movement. The terrain is torn up by cannon fire, buildings set on fire and collapse. All terrain, land and sea, look great and the visuals all contribute to the atmosphere. The first time a horse drags a fallen rider screaming into the rest of the group and set them off panicking has to be seen to be believed. Lighting effects such as explosions and fire are also a vast improvement and even if they do at times look like fireworks it simply adds to the spectacle of what happens on the battlefield.

Despite all this detail the game manages to look clean and is easy on the eye. It is easy to navigate the battlefield and identify which targets are in range and which aren’t.

Note: For performance figures on the ATI Radeon 5850/5830 and GeForce GTX 275, click here.

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It is possible to hear British Sergeant-Major’s say things like “stop screaming and die quietly man” as the battle rages on and the sound effects are just as impressive. There is a real weight behind the sounds and a burst of gunfire, or a barrage from a cannon, definitely makes the player take notice.

There is a genuine authenticity to the sound of the game but it also hasn’t lost any of that subtle humour that is there for those that can find it. Some things that are there to hear will make players laugh out loud while at the same time the screams of the dying, the crackle of flames, the roar of the charge, the thundering of hooves and more will always keep users grounded not only in the battlefield but also in the time period. For some reason however the French units seem to make noises that have less in common with their native language and more in common with speaking in tongues. It is unintentionally amusing although certainly distinct.

The best in the franchise yet? Well, while it might not represent the huge leap forward that Rome: Total War did when compared to Shogun and Medieval, it has rectified a lot of the problems that brought down Empire and is the most visually stunning title in the series to date. While equally accessible to novices and die-hards alike, the game gracefully dances across the tightrope of complexity and simplicity making it an instant classic. While long standing Total War fans might feel frustrated by the lack of autonomy in the campaign mode, the raft of multi-player options and the introduction of the breathtaking naval battles should be more than enough in the way of atonement. This is the perfect tonic for those disappointed by the previous attempt. Total War? Total Awe might be more appropriate.

We at GamingHeaven really put Napoleon: Total War through its paces. See the results of our findings at

Gameplay 90/100 The right level of fun and depth for both newcomers and experience generals alike
Graphics 90/100 The franchise has never looked better and not many real-time strategy titles will pull off this sheer size and still manage to look this good
Sound 88/100 Authentic, atmospheric and amusing, it easy to overlook the importance of sound in this kind of title but that hasn’t happened here.
Value 87/100 The restrictions of the single player campaign mode might rankle with some but the multi-player options give the game extra life and replay value.
(Not an Average)
90/100 Definitely a return to form for Total War. A glorious recreation of the time period and as fun as it is taxing. Early days but this is the best strategy title of the year so far.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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