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Napoleon: Total War review

Intelligent strategy trips over stupid AI

Partly due to a bloated military and partly due to the fact the CA have inexplicably chosen to disable diplomacy and manual tax tweaking in this campaign, we ran into severe cash flow problems while still some distance from Syria. Response 1: abandon vulnerable outposts and disband their garrisons; turned out to be counter-productive. Response 2: run amok in Lebanon and the Holy Lands looting like a Vandal; worked like a charm. By the time our suntanned soldiery barged their way into Damascus we must have been the most hated man in the Middle East.

As enjoyable as this brigandage was, and as diverting as the decisions had been that led up to it, it was hard to shake the feeling of deja vu. We’d been playing and thinking exactly as we had in previous Total Wars. Features supposed to breathe fresh air into the game, such as attrition and supply posts, had impacted our march of mayhem scarcely at all.

Nappy’s third outing is the grandest and potentially the most pleasing. Commencing in 1805 it runs for 192 turns and encompasses all Europe. What’s a megalomaniac supposed to do with all that space and time? Well, if he wants to triumph he’ll need to build an empire of at least 35 regions and claim the capitals of Austria, Prussia and Russia – something that even Dictator Monthly’s Man of the Year 1934-45 didn’t manage.

With the added logistics angle, taking Moscow should be one of those gaming achievements you remember forever. It will stay with us, but for all the wrong reasons. The first time we set out for the land of Muscovy, we had no realistic expectation of reaching it. We were playing on hard difficulty; we were at war with four of Europe’s five superpowers. Napoleon was convalescing in Paris after a battlefield injury (he never dies - just respawns in the capital) and we controlled almost nothing east of Hanover.

For turn after turn our brave band of no-name, no-hope Frenchies trudged along. For turn after turn we expected them to be wiped out by force of arms or the same combination of disease, cold and starvation that ravaged the real 1812 invasion force. Incredibly, the coup de grace never came. Apart from a brief scuffle at Minsk there were no incidents of note on the long trek east. Our army was never challenged and never troubled by lack of supplies. On arriving at Moscow they overpowered the modest garrison with relative ease.

Don’t assume from this account that the strategic AI in the European Grand Campaign is hopelessly broken. It’s not. Capturing the capitals of major powers is improbably easy but holding them can be hard. While Strikeforce Moscow was busy doing its thing, Austrian rebels were evicting us from Vienna and the Prussians, backed by ship-delivered redcoats, were doing their darnedest to acquire Hanover.

What we think can be concluded from our experience is that NTW’s strat AI struggles to produce plausible play, and the new logistics element has been so timidly implemented it’s barely worth having. We’d pictured supply working something like the current trade routes system – a network of lines snaking over the country that could be disrupted with crafty interdiction. What we’ve ended up with is a big slab of full-cream fudge.

Depleted armies will automatically replenish just about anywhere as long as they’ve got a general. Supply posts can only be built in economic satellite towns, and are far from essential. Attrition – which should have been a major pain in the rump – only occurs in midwinter and desert conditions. Elite units are immune. In short, Creative Assembly have bottled it. The enhancement that should have prevented that classic and increasingly tiresome TW phenomena, the rampaging MegaKill Army, barely impacts it.

More Info

DescriptionIt's a very good strategy game, though slight historical inaccuracies and somewhat stupid AI are disappointing.
Franchise nameTotal War
UK franchise nameTotal War
US censor ratingTeen
UK censor rating12+
Release date25 February 2010 (US), 25 February 2010 (UK)