Napoleon: Total War review

  • Perfect blend of the managerial and the martial
  • Many battles are sublime
  • Scenarios contain spectacle, tension, and drama
  • New features don't have much impact
  • AI isn't up to the task
  • Lacks historical accuracy

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When Grenadier Francois-Joseph Jacquin, writer of Carnet De Route D’un Grognard, returned from the wars in 1815, his father and brothers hadn’t a clue who he was. When he walked into the kitchen and embraced his mother, they pounced on him shouting “Let go soldier! What are you doing?” A decade of Napoleonic conflict had changed him beyond all recognition. 

We mention this scene because we were expecting Napoleonic conflict to have had a similar effect on gaming’s favourite historical strategy series. Having heard talk of supply lines, attrition modelling and two-week turns, we hadn’t expected Napoleon: Total War to feel quite so close to its 18th century forerunner.

Of course, both titles share the same superstructure so there was always going to be plenty of common ground. Like Empire, NTW is all about taking things that don’t belong to you. You march armies around a handsome 3D strategy map, snaffling territories like a starving soldier snaffles roadside turnips. When armies meet, the turn-based malarkey makes way for stirring real-time carnage. If you’ve never tried it before, the perfect blend of the managerial and the martial will knock your socks off. 

The problem is that many of us have tried it before. We hazard a guess that a fair portion of you reading this will have been Total Warring since Roman times (2004). A few will probably remember the spritely surprise that was Shogun (2000). To impress us – the old hands – NTW needed two things: novelty and refinement. Alas, it offers precious little of the latter and only a flawed form of the former.

But let’s get the cannonball rolling with some positivity. Even the weariest, most critical warmongers are going to find it hard to resist the lure of the new theatres. The three consecutive campaigns all boast bespoke strat maps and all take their goals from a different phase of Boney’s blood-spattered career. Once the tutorial has outlined his formative years, you find yourself in Nice, City of Biscuits, gazing east at a patchwork of Northern Italian states ripe for conquest, comradeship and coercion.

Developers Creative Assembly know how intimidating their traditional grand campaigns can be. This dainty hors d’oeuvre is deliberately compact, focused and short. Which isn’t to say it’s easy. Having persuaded Piedmont-Sardinia to become our gimp – sorry, protectorate, – and ‘liberated’ various minors from Austrian oppression, we were happily pushing the Habsburgs back across the Alps when a message popped-up reminding us there were only six turns left in which to capture distant Klagenfurt. Merde! We’d forgotten about the 40-turn time limit and the Klagenfurt clause. Horses weren’t spared, stragglers were left behind, but it was all to no avail. We’d tarried in Tuscany, lingered in Liguria, and pratted around in Parma too long.

The tight timetable, hard and fast victory conditions, and limited room for manoeuvre mean the Italian Campaign has shorter legs than Boney himself. The Middle Eastern adventure that follows it has much greater replay potential. Napoleon spent two and a half years trying to gain a foothold in Egypt and the Levant. We get exactly the same length of time (60 turns) to succeed where he failed. Non-negotiable victory locations include Cairo and Damascus. Opposition comes in the beturbaned shape of Mamelukes, Bedouins and Ottomans. Oh yes, the Brits also make amphibious appearances now and again.

It’s here that NTW really gets into its stride. Before you know it you’re dangerously overstretched and impaled on the horns of multiple dilemmas. While some optional side missions nudge you in the direction of victory locations, others are more mischievous. Can you afford to spend valuable time, cash, and manpower kicking John Bull out of Cyprus? Success will mean extra troops from the motherland. How about that business with the Bedouin? Travelling deep into the western desert to destroy their base will bring rewards, but it’s expansion in precisely the wrong direction.

More Info

Release date: Feb 25 2010 - PC (US)
Feb 25 2010 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Creative Assembly
Franchise: Total War
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence, Mild Blood
PEGI Rating:


  • Sebastian16 - February 28, 2010 6:08 a.m.

    Alright, so, this isn't the place to be posting this, but I dun cur. I was able to run Empire on High settings completely smoothly, with dual Radeon 4870s in crossfire. I get Napoleon, and I can't stay in-game for more than 5 minutes before my PC shuts down, this is running everything on medium. Annnnyybody know what the problem here is?
  • michaelmcc827 - February 28, 2010 4:05 a.m.

    kind of surprised multiplayer wasn't an option for the plusses, co-op with my friends was the selling point for me
  • TheGiaour - February 27, 2010 12:38 a.m.

    The review is spot on about the new features. With how everyone everything from Kieran to the Total War Forum blog it seemed like for once we'd have to consider the seasons and supply in order to keep our troops fresh. This is not the case so far with my playthrough, especially at the end. It is still far easier to just recruit new units, merge existing ones to make up for numbers, and keep the steamroller going. These features are merely eye candy, not game changing mechanics. Visually the game is even more a feast to watch the battles but don't expect historical realism. It will be up to the modders to give the variety and historical flair for this game to be up to some Napoleonic standards. The biggest disappointment for every TW veteran has been the AI, and while some parts have been addressed in Napoleon there are problems still glaringly present. Cavalry still charge wildly into your units by themselves, militia still try and get into melee without firing a shot, and generals are kamikazes at heart still. The campaign AI, when not following the scripted path in the Napoleonic maps, can vacillate between cunning invasions to paper thin defenses at capital cities. Diplomacy is still a hit or miss affair, with nations going to war and suing for peace on mere whims. All in all, while the spectacle of battle is good to take in and I will invest a lot of time due to my dedication to the series my recommendation for everyone except the most hardcore of TW players is to wait and save your money. At 39.99 most people expecting a completely new and different game from Empire will feel ripped off. For veterans like myself, we seem to have the tough skins to enjoy a new but flawed entry to the TW franchise.

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