Napoleon: Total War – updated impressions

Who’d have thought that, just 200 years ago, it was fashionable to hate the French? It’s one of the great burdens of having an empire. Poor Napoleon: before declaring himself the Emperor of France, he probably thought back to the time when he was the plucky revolutionary underdog, and all the blokes said “way to go, Naps,” and the girls were so keen to make an impression on him that they’d shove their tongues into their cheeks to give the slightly unconvincing impression of oral sex.

But his delusions of divinity grew – Napoleon came to believe that he was guided by God’s hand. And when you start believing that success is pre-ordained by a deity, you’re on the fast train to whoopsville. While Empire focused on the development of American Independence, over in Europe the story of a military genius was unfolding. But don’t start with that "Napoleon, the European bogeyman" stuff.

Long before the cartoonists of enemy states began to draw Napoleon as a physically tiny man in a massive bicorn hat, he was a revolutionary soldier, quickly adjusting to his position in the new world by claiming to be the Emperor of it. Fans ofhistory will know that he was physically pretty average. When whole countries start spreading childish rumours about you, you know you’re doing something right.

In bringing the exploits of Napoleon to the Total War series, Creative Assembly have dealt with it in the same way they’ve always dealt with reality. Military history is the Plasticine from which they roll out alternative time-snakes. So, Napoleon starts out as he was – a fully-trained artillery commander, commanding an army of artillery-strong, but badly trained soldiers. The new units are true to the time – all 351 of them, created just for this sequel. But what you do with them is up to you. Napoleon, after all, made mistakes.

This standalone title is, to use Creative Assembly’s own words, “Empire under a microscope.” It takes the same narrative form as Empire’s Road to Independence campaignwhich formed the tutorial-esque segment of Empire. Whilst not a tutorial as such, the rise of Napoleon does give CA a chance to introduce you gently, again, to the classic Total War blend of turn-based world map strategy and huge real-time battles.

The first campaign sees Napoleon as a General in 1796, commanding a post-revolution French Army. On the border of Italy and France, the Austrians were the chief enemy of the French, and Napoleon had been sent to distract them. He did better than that: he won the war for his country. That’s what you’re aspiring to here. And before you claim supreme political power, you get to focus on the combat rather than the minutiae of running an empire.