Not exactly dynamite.
Ah, Napoleon. Military leader extraordinaire, politician, a one-man revolution in educational systems and administration; love or hate the French, you have to respect Napoleon’s accomplishments. The little guy brought France to a position of prominence for the first half of the 19th century, so he must’ve been pretty clever and/or bad-ass. It’s nice to see him finally getting some real coverage in games.
[image1]Given that the very first thing I did upon installing Empire: Total War was go through a game playing as the French (and winning, I might add), Napoleon feels like very-recently tread ground to me. Within 10 minutes I was doing pretty much what I did after 10 minutes of Empire – only with a slightly different UI and menu set. How odd. Did I enter a time machine? Was this a side effect of a rather delightful coma?
Sadly, no, nothing that interesting. Just sequel-itis. Just another Total War game.
Like every Total War game to date, Napoleon is one part turn-based empire game and one part RTS with fixed force sizes. Like every Total War game to date, the AI is dumb as a brick in the imperial side and precise as only a computer can be on the RTS side. Not creative or truly intelligent, mind – but it does manage its forces with impressive precision, making it very hard to exploit a moment of sloppy play.
It’s not that there aren’t differences in the details; there absolutely are. Turns represent half a month now, not half a year; the world map is smaller; individual soldiers in units are more visibly varied; but all of this doesn’t really change the game, it just changes the frippery. You’re doing the same bloody thing you did in Empire and Rome and Medieval and Shogun. This isn’t a bad thing. But this isn’t really a selling point, either.
[image2]The largest observable differences are in the multiplayer area, where drop-in games have been implemented, though not exactly the way you’d expect or are used to in other games. It lets a human player jump in for a computer opponent, letting you set up a game and get going while you wait for a human to jump in. I tried this a few times – it’s disorienting for both sides, but most distinctly so for the player jumping in, where he has to try and figure out the side he’s been plopped with and the resources available pretty much on the fly. It can be difficult, especially if the CPU had been building towards a particular strength or strategy.
Folks, when I sit down to review a game, my general criterion can be summed up as follows: What qualities am I finding here that I haven’t seen before? Those are the things worth focusing on. If there aren’t any, then fall back on the question of quality: How does this compare to top-runners in the same genre?
Well… let’s see… Napoleon’s a cleaner presentation that Empire was, certainly. The engine’s clearly seen some optimization, and bugs have been fixed a-plenty, so there are fewer crashes, and the game is much friendlier to honest, working-men’s computers. Likewise, graphics have taken some dainty steps forward - no leaps or bounds ahead of Empire, but the extra variety and detail help to flesh out the game’s visual appeal considerably. Likewise, the soundtrack is quite good, if unfocused, as has been the general rule for Total War games.
[image3]The problem Napoleon has is that it’s not just like Empire, it is and only is Empire. Better technical execution, improvement to the look and feel, but the game just is not different. It feels like an expansion at best, yet it’s being sold like it’s a brand new game. A little insulting, frankly, for those of us who picked up Empire just under a year ago. Some of the bugs in Empire have never even been fixed, while Napoleon apparently got all the love.
If you own Empire, there’s not a good reason to own Napoleon. If you don’t, hey, fair enough, Napoleon’s all the same classic Total War gameplay elements that has kept the series notable and strong all these years. Your decision to buy should really be based upon whether you own Empire or not; nothing else bears much impact here.