NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR (PC Video Game) The Review

For a long time, I’d always claimed it was practically impossible for Creative Assembly to make a bad game. Sure, it produced the woeful Stormrise, but that was more the exception that proved the rule – as long as the company stuck to historical battles, it was on a winner. But Rome 2 changed all of that. I’ve sunk over 100 hours into pretty much every Total War release – but I couldn’t make it more than 20 hours, if that, into my Rome 2 campaign.

That’s just... depressing. And it must be astoundingly depressing to the developers of the game, who are very aware of their game’s issues. To their credit, they’ve been very upfront about getting the game fixed, and have even suggested that, currently, the best way to enjoy the game is to use mods from some of the guys who’ve been modding the series for decades, especially Radious – his complete mod updates have always been superb.

However, the thing with Total War in relation to mods is that, generally, the base game itself is compelling to start with. I did play a bit of Rome II with Radious’ work, and, while it was an improvement, some of the base elements of the game still annoyed me way too much. I’ve not gone back to Rome II since then, though I may be tempted to give the Caesar in Gaul DLC a go to see how it is now.

VIVE LA REPUBLIC!

With three weeks off over the recent Xmas break, it occurred to me that it was a perfect chance to get in some Total War time, and with Rome II well and truly out of the picture, I looked back through my collection and made the choice I usually do – Napoleon. The not-quite sequel to Empire: Total War, Napoleon was critically well-received, but did split players. Being one of my favourite periods, and polishing the great mechanics that were introduced in Empire, it’s one of my favourite strategy games of all time.

It’s also now over three years old, maximizing fun during a break. Lastly, though, and most importantly, the modders have been working in the game constantly. In fact, one of the best mods – DarthMod Napoleon (http://www.moddb.com/mods/darthmod-napoleon) – was released in an Epic Edition last March. Well, sign me up.

Even from installation, the DarthMods have always felt more like official patches – there’s no messing about with moving files or changing .ini files in notepad – it ‘just works’. For all that simplicity, though, you really are getting an amazingly fresh and rich experience. It stands out even more when compared to the somewhat stagnant nature of Creative Assembly’s own development of the series – by its own admission, it’s been working on the same AI codebase since Shogun, and it’s starting to show. The perfect case in point is the AI’s complete inability to utilize basic resources and tactics, such as mounting naval invasions, pretty much making any AI campaign ridiculously easy, no matter the difficulty setting. Darth Mod Napoleon Epic Edition takes that code and makes it sing, however. AI nations now wheel and deal like real 19th century entities, making and breaking alliances, sharing technologies, and maneuvering across both the strategic and tactical maps with startling alacrity. You’ll see navies actually approaching your home territories with boarded armies; if you’re used to playing as England, and pretty much being able to ignore the idea of being invaded, it’s terrifying.

Your enemies will block trading routes in clever spots, go after your trade ships, and even convince your allies to abandon you – even to declare war! In the game I’m playing, Prussia has made the choice to ally with Austria to fight England – me! So far the only allies left to me are Portugal, some Nordic countries, and Russia. It’s very ahistorical, but has all happened very organically – it’s emergent gameplay of the best kind.

There’s also a vastly richer array of units, which brings alive the colour and pageantry of the period. And each of those units is larger, and is part of a far larger army – battles are something to be seen with the mod installed, thanks to this variety and scale, and also the way units move. You now get proper columns of French infantry attacking, which is a sight to see, and the tactical AI is both more cautious, and more aggressive – it’ll use cavalry to probe your flanks, for instance, so if you’re not careful you can find your entire line getting rolled up. The same goes for the naval battles, which were always spectacular, but with new battlefield sound and graphics effects, are like actually being there. And all of this, and so much more, from someone doing it all for love of the game. If, like me, you have been left with a bad taste in your mouth by Rome II, it really is worth going back to older games like this and enjoying what the modmakers have to offer. In a lot of ways, they’re doing superior work to the developers, taking the engine and code to new heights.

DEVELOPER Creative Assembly
PUBLISHER Sega
WEBSITE http://www.totalwar.com/


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