Napoleon: Total War
Ontroversy Has Dogged Empire more than any other game in the Total War series, as bugs, crashes and AI issues plagued many users, while other players were left unaffected.
Certainly, the situation is better now, even though some still complain, and this is where Napoleon comes in, using the version of Empire's engine that allows the AI to invade by the sea and just do things in a more intelligent manner on the whole.
First of all, it's not like all the other Total War expansions that have come along before. Because Empire got a bit of a kicking from some sections of the community, Creative Assembly have released Napoleon as a stand-alone expansion, so it doesn't reguire the original Empire game to play.
In terms of content, there are the campaigns based on the Emperor's life, taking in Italy, Egypt and mainland Europe up from 1805-1812, plus the events surrounding his attempted comeback at Waterloo. After you've polished all these off you've got the Campaigns of the Coalition, where you change sides and attempt to prevent the French upstart dominating Europe.
There are more historical battles included than ever before, providing a series of brilliantly executed versions of real-life conflicts such as Ligny, Dresden, Austerlitz, and Trafalgar. There are reams of stats and achievements provided by Steam as well, just in case you ever wondered how far your armies had marched during your play time.
The New Stuff
There's also the seamless introduction of two new features to the series: campaign multiplayer and drop-in battles. The latter will be used by those looking for a challenge AI can't provide - a genuine, if temporary, human presence on the other side of the map. Most players probably won't use this, as it'll just make things harder for them, but it should placate those who mutter about the AI being too easy to beat.
The former is perhaps the most exciting thing to come into the series (it's also in the process of being worked into Empire as well) for a long time.
Naval battles were all good, but a full multiplayer campaign? Nice. If you do play with a friend, you won't have to wait for them to finish faffing about with extraneous units in Napoleon. These have been whittled down to the Gentleman and the Spy.
The former is used to boost research speed, spread dissent in enemy cities, duel with opposing characters and quell unrest a bit in your own settlements. The latter can assassinate enemy characters and provide valuable information about your opponent's movements and units. Leave him in a city for a certain amount of time and he'll create a network of informants, revealing everything going on in the territory he's in.
As mentioned before, of course, most people will be playing against the game's AI, which has been improved since Empire. At least, it has in the battles. As for the campaign side of things, we're not so sure. It's too easy to say, "Well, when I played it, the Ottomans didn't put enough troops in Acre, so I just strolled in and captured it," but there's a bigger issue here: does the game's campaign AI provide a realistic response to player actions? Unhelpfully, at times it does and doesn't, depending on the situation.
In the Egypt campaign the capture of Cairo and an overly ambitious expansion down the Nile was met with substantial armed resistance and, once, the recapture of Cairo by Mamluk forces. When you nick something important from the AI, it's more than likely it'll do it's best to get it back, which might also account for it leaving other things relatively undefended as it diverts troops to the front line, which it doesn't do as much as some people have argued anyway.
So far, so good, as far as we're concerned. The Russian invasion in the third of Napoleon's campaigns doesn't quite work as well as it should, but of course, it would be unfair if the game brutally ravaged all your units the instant they stepped out of range of your supply lines - games are meant to be fun, after all. Attrition isn't the ruthless killer of men it was billed as, but whether this is a problem is down to the player. If you want it more realistic and more deadly, stick the difficulty up. If you don't, keep it down. Simple.
Of more concern is the return of certain strange AI decisions on a grander scale. Aggression seems to be the biggest problem, as in what nations choose to expand and which ones don't. It seems that smaller nations with very limited resources are disproportionately aggressive, with France being unusually timid when pushing back their borders. It's a deep issue, and one inextricably tied up within bundles of arcane attributes, but if we could focus on fixing anything in Napoleon, this would be it, as, fortunately, the battles themselves are tremendous.
Big On The Action
Just as in Empire, Napoleon's battles are glorious, especially now Empire's engine has been given a big makeover. They're everything that make the Total War series stand head and shoulders above all others in the strategy genre: beautiful to behold and great fun to play, allowing for genuine tactical and strategic thought. A lot of what's been added is cosmetic, sure, but there's been a great deal of screw-tightening behind the scenes to make things run smoother.
Aesthetically, things have never been this good. Cannonballs now scour the landscape when they hit, leaving marks where they skid along the turf. Park your hovering eye next to the impact and the screen shudders with each crashing thud into the ground. Smoke fills the air even more than before as volleys of musket fire erupt from your battle line. It's the most cinematic battle experience you'll find in any strategy game, and it's very easy to forget how exciting taking part in them is when looking back. It would be a lie to say we didn't come across tiny little bugs in our numerous skirmishes, but they were few and far between.
One unit of skirmishing cavalry collided with the big red line signifying the edge of the map and for some reason half of them died instantly, while on another occasion, when defending a settlement with a rubbish army, the AI refused to come forward to engage my puny force. However, your CPU-powered competitor is also much better at some things it used to be rubbish at, like protecting its flanks, leaving units with its cannons to stop them being destroyed easily, and that sort of thing. If you've got a small battle line, it'll spread itself wide to envelop you, and it'll even hide units in trees to launch surprise attacks.
The only major flaw we can point to is the way AI generals are still too keen to get themselves killed in stupid ways, which has been a problem since the days of Shogun. At one point, an enemy general charged straight into a line of defensive stakes, wiping out his entire unit while the rest of his army were marching slowly towards us. Apart from that, errors in the battles are few and far between, especially when you're up against a human player.
There'll always be little niggles that bother some people but not others, and in a game this complex, with so many small things to think about, little glitches are inevitable. As it stands however, lessons have clearly been learned from Empire as far as game-spoiling glitches are concerned - Napoleon's a far more stable experience.
On the whole, the battles are still a triumph, although those who prefer the pre-Empire Total War games for their focus on melee combat won't find anything to change their minds.
Napoleon is all about evolution, not revolution. It was never going to be a leap forward over Empire in terms of technology, AI or anything like that, but it is a great stand-alone expansion that gives you a whole lot of material to plough through, along with better battles, and a slightly improved campaign map.
The advent of multiplayer campaigns in the Total War series sees that issue become less significant, although Creative Assembly need to remember that most people tend to play RTS games by themselves.
Essentially, if you loved or even just liked Empire: Total War, you'd be crazy not to invest in this release. It's got more of what you liked, less of what you didn't, and more human contact to boot. What's not to love about that?
Unless you feel your head starting to explode when you find out the uniforms in the game have one less button on them than they should, this will keep you occupied for months.
Download Napoleon: Total War
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Everyone knows all about the Total War series and it's globe-spanning campaigns and battles, but one of the things lacking has been a real focus on the actual historical conflicts that took place. Often, a disappointing handful of token battles were cobbled together quickly to be played maybe once or twice and then discarded in favour of create-your-own scenarios.
The Alexander add-on for Rome: Total War bucked that trend, giving us a superb-yet-short set of narrative-linked battles plucked directly from history. From Issus through Gaugamela to Hydaspes, we were placed in Alexander's sandals and given the task of succeeding where he had, er, succeeded.
This is the expansion that Napoleon: Total War most closely resembles, except bigger and, hopefully, better. It won't have Brian Blessed in it, though, unless I'm massively misinformed. The proof of a battle's pudding is in the playing, of course. In a sweets, crisps and chocolate-filled day down at Creative Assembly's Horsham studios, I got the chance to envelop myself in historical battle loveliness. And now I'm here, gorged on unhealthy foods, to report back on how Napoleon's gameplay is shaping up.
The battles on display were Lodi and the Pyramids, the former played against the AI and the latter a head-to-head against the deputy editor of another PC games mag who shall remain nameless.
Battle Of Lodi
- The Setup
With Napoleon's forces chasing the Austrian defenders up along the south bank of Po River, the time came to make a stand. When the battle was joined, as you can see, the French units are tightly bunched, while the Austrians are scattered about the place, y Each side have their own advantages: the French have the ability to move and fire as one big unit, concentrating fire on a smaller front and having strength in numbers, while the Austrians will be less vulnerable to cannon fire white they remain spread out.
- Initial Moves
The Austrian AI immediately set about strengthening its position in the centre of the town, moving units in from the west and reinforcing the eastern bank of the Po, over the Lodi Bridge itself. The objective for the French, other than killing a load of Austrians, is to prevent Feldzeugmeister Johann Beaulieu (the enemy general) from retiring from the battlefield. No mean task, as he's safely tucked away on the other side of the bridge with, naturally, the bulk of his army protecting him. The French, as in me, need to move quickly and decisively in order to prevent this from happening. French cannons unlimber and begin to fire on the Austrian positions, while I make the decision to detach a small chunk of my army to intercept some of the Austrians moving to reinforce the town. Battle is joined on the western road and two Austrian cavalry units are driven from the field. The rest of the French force moves inexorably towards the town.
- Closing Ranks
The detachment that saw off the two Austrian cavalry units remains poised on the western side of the battlefield. The AI reacts to the danger and moves a substantial clump of men towards them. As the main bulk of the French army is now approaching the town, it is easy to reinforce the western position and battle is properly joined in the field outside of town. The French fight defensively, holding their positions while the two cavalry units harass the flanks of the Austrian infantry, causing them to panic. Sure enough, the Austrians have had it, dropping arms and pegging it back across the field. Half of the Austrian army is now running for the hills and I wheel my left flank around, partially encircling the town. Vicious street fighting begins and both armies whittle away at each other.
- Chased Down
The Austrian commander decides it's time to leave, but I won't let the swine get away. As he meanders along the eastern path to safety, the cavalry, that have already secured my victory for me, ford the river to the north and intercept him. Mere seconds before he leaves the scene, they catch him, slaughtering his unit and claiming victory for the French.
The rest of the Austrian forces, stranded in the centre of town, fight on until a handful remain, their morale , broken and, eventually, their bodies strewn around the.town streets.
A sound 'defensive attack' strategy won the day here, with the Australians unable to break Napoleon's advance.
Battle Of The Pyramids
- The Setup
One of Napoleon's most famous victories was earned against a combined Ottoman and Mamluk force, that entered the field a few miles from the Pyramids.
Again, both armies had advantages over the other: the French had superior troops and cannon, while the Mamluks were used to fighting in deserts. They also had units of fearsome cavalry, which they'd have to use effectively to win.
- Initial Moves
This time it would be a human opponent that faced off against me. His cocky swaggen didn't put me off my game and my men steeled themselves for his ferash onslaught. As you can see on the map, my initial movements were minor at best, mainly straightening out the line and allowing myself to bring more men forward to fire when necessary. My thin lines would be V easily broken iferigaged by cavalry, but the plan was to make sure the enemy horses didn't get anywhere near them.
Sitting in my defensive position, I watched as the Mamluks advanced, noticing that my small collection of units defending the nearby village was being approached by Mamluk cavalry. Two infantry units lined along an impassable slope, meaning the enemy had to funnel through a narrow gap if they wanted to engage. A volley of musket fire took out a surprising number and the charge faltered. The unit defending the gap swiftly reordered itself into a square formation and the reckless Mamluk charge was easily seen off. This was the key moment in the battle.
With his left flank broken, I seized the opportunity, sending a lone cavalry unit around behind the enemy lines. My f opponent was too busy focusing on the joining of battle between our main lines to notice, and my cavalry came smashing into his limbered cannons, moving swiftly between each unit and destroying them with minimal casualties suffered.
Amazingly, I was able to take out : every one of my opponents cannons before he noticed. Without their support, my front line, backed up sufficiently by their own cannons, stood firm. The battle looked to be going my way for a crushing victory, but the Ottoman's and Mamluk's advantage in terms of troop numbers proved important on my left flank. Sheer weight of numbers finally destroyed it and some swift reorganisation was necessary to prevent a disaster.
Anticipating the collapse, I had begun to wheel the rest of my line around, reorganising them into a smaller, more compact fighting force. No longer worried about cannon fire, I could reduce the length of the line and not worry about cannonballs thudding into my packed ranks.
Fierce fighting on my left flank had weakened his advancing infantry, who were further disadvantaged by having a number of melee-only units in their ranks. My muskets whittled their numbers down, before a final flanking cavalry charge burst through their line from the side and sent them packing.
In the end, a dominant victory had been prevented by the vast numbers of the opposing force, but my opponent's failure to protect his cannons meant his men were just too beleaguered by the time final battle was joined to see me off. It just shows: failing to pay attention to aspects of a battle is a fatal mistake.
Some People, After reading my review of Empire: Total War, wanted to string me up and splice my main brace. I can't help it if the bugs other people experienced didn't happen to me. Still, it's safe to say that there were some problems that perhaps could and should have been sorted out before release - specifically the AI's total lack of ability to perform invasions over a stretch of water.
Quest For Power
Of course, that and other issues have since been fixed, tweaked and patched over since release. It's safe to say it's a more stable release than it was originally, even if some of us still haven't had any issues of note. And now comes Napoleon: Total War first 'expandalone' in the franchise's history. This English-mangling corporate buzzword means that you don't need the original Empire to play Napoleon, but if you do own it, some of Napoleon's whiz-bang new features will integrate into Empire. The stunted Corsican with delusions of grandeur won't have any restrictions imposed upon his quest for glory then.
Napoleon will be much more story-driven than Empire, akin to the Alexander expansion for Rome: Total War. The first of the three different campaigns will focus on Italy (1796), detailing small general's rise to prominence. The setting then shifts to the Middle East (1798), before moving to the Grand European theatre (1805-1812), where he invites everyone to rumble.
Creative Assembly say they are drawing inspiration, especially for the first two campaigns, from the Road to Independence bit of Empire, while retaining a lot of the core concepts from the main chunk of the game. Turns have been chopped down to two 1 week periods in a bid to reflect the more micro-historical aspect of the events in question. This also applies to the way the campaign maps have been drawn up, focusing not I so much of large regions with a big city plonked in the middle, but I on smaller areas, villages and towns. Three different types of settlement will be available, focusing on either economic, industrial or intellectual pursuits. As you might have guessed, this will also necessitate the introduction of new technology research trees, both to reflect this change in the infrastructure and to cater for inventions and advances that had been made at the beginning of the 19th Century.
There'll be up to 322 unique units in the game, although some of these will only be usable when playing certain historical scenarios. Interestingly, for those of you who are interested in military history, you might also notice some real-life regiments that are still around dotted about the place. To accommodate so many different varieties of unit, there'll be an increase in the number of soldiers visible on screen during the battles.
Speaking of the battles, Creative Assembly have been stressing how they've wanted to make the battles feel and look more realistic. Smoke, rain and different environmental effects will all have more of a part to play this time round. For example, fight in the rain and there's the chance that your gunpowder will become sodden, leading to the odd misfire that could have a big impact on the battle. Position the camera near cannons or cavalry charges and you might just see it juddering about, adding to the cinematic feel of the battles. As for the units on the field itself, the generals will have been buffed with new abilities. Though Creative Assembly have contradicted themselves a little with this.
They told us these new abilities will make us want to get them involved in combat a lot more frequently, instead of the usual tactic of hiding them at the back to make sure they don't snuff it. However, they also tell us that the method of recruiting generals will be different, as they'll be drawn from a finite pool instead of just created out of any unit you like.
This indicates that instead of risking him on the frontline, as the developers claim you'll want to do, you'll be even less keen to get him stuck in, because losing a general now would impact on your chances in the long term far more than it used to. A curious idea this is, so we'll have to see how this develops and works out in practice.
One of the biggest tactical additions to Napoleon will be supplies. You can't just advance swiftly over the entire map as you feel like it now. You've got to consider the chain of supply, a vital theme that has never really been touched upon properly in the Total War series. This time out, it was absolutely essential to include it, for one main reason: Russia.
The primary reason for Napoleon's first failure to force all Europeans to wear a big string of onions round their necks and constantly consume snails was, of course, the disastrous attempt to conquer Tsarist Russia. The sheer scale of the country stretched the French supply lines to breaking point, until his soldiers started freezing to death, in the hollowed out corpses of their horses.
In previous Total War games, the only hindrance said expanses would provide would be that it would take you longer to traverse than other areas. Now, you'll have to set up a supply system to stop your guys dying of hunger. To do this, you can build supply depots as you move along. It isn't perhaps the most sophisticated way of handling the issue, but it should suffice. It'll also provide a method for the defending armies to stave off an attack by an force by going guerrilla on the supply depots. Cut off the supply and it doesn't matter how big the enemy's army is, they'll soon be whittled down to nothing.
Diplomacy will be trickier, as you can imagine. Play as France and everyone will almost certainly hate you, being that you're the most powerful and, to win, you basically have to bump them all off. Luckily, you'll be able to play as other factions as well, so it's not all Francophilia.
A new AI Director system should make the campaign flow better than before, with a substantial raft of improvements being made to the general AI at large. For example, computer-controlled factions will have more shortterm campaign objectives, not just "Kill the player at all costs". Hopefully, this will mean some of the quirks of Empire's diplomacy will also be ironed out, like certain factions refusing to trade with you, despite you being on the best possible terms with them.
Civilian units will also have been changed. Gone are the wandering preachers, unrealistic in this particular timeframe, while the Rake has morphed into the Spy, who's able to slip into enemy camp for purposes of sabotage. Gentlemen are still around, and will be able to distribute pamphlets for propaganda and political destabilisation purposes.
Strangely, naval combat seems to have less emphasis placed on it than in Empire. Whether this is true or not, only time will tell. It would be a strange decision, given the importance navies played in the Napoleonic Wars: Trafalgar, anyone? Some improvements will be made, like the new ability to repair ships while at sea. Again, whether this means completely repaired or just patched up a bit, we don't know just yet.
Creative Assembly are claiming that Napoleon will appeal to a broader base than any other game in the Total War franchise. The focus on smaller-scale campaigns instead of distant grand strategy concept will, they say, make it more appealing to regular strategy players. Ones who like to micro- rather than macro-manage, perhaps. This is the sort of thing we can only determine after playing the game first-hand, so we won't comment on the validity of these claims just yet.
Having said that, it does make sense that people put off by the sheer scale of the grand campaign will be more likely to embrace a cut-down version. But those who weren't enamoured of Empire, won't find that this expansion will change their mind. However, the smaller scale, the extra development, and tweaks made to the engine, might be enough to convince you that it isn't a wreck after all.
Creative Assembly have a history of making good expansions for their games, so we can't see any real reason why this won't follow in that grand tradition. And if you're wondering where Waterloo is, you'll be able to play that as a historical scenario. The main campaign finishes in 1812, so Napoleon's final bow will be taken elsewhere.