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Napoleon: Total War Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 01:29pm 16/12/09 | Comments
AusGamers was invited out by SEGA to check out the latest The Creative Assembly Total War masterpiece, Napoleon: Total War. Read on for our thoughts...

The Creative Assembly have crafted one of the most beloved strategy series of all time in Total War; each and every update and iteration carrying with it both incremental and major changes to tweak gameplay to a palatable base that allows for both incredibly complex and deep management, as well as engaging action and historical accuracy. In short, this team knows their franchise, their fan-base and their history. And given the breadth of conflict throughout human history, the conflict-recreation world really is The Creative Assemby's oyster. Which brings us to their latest update - the hotly anticipated Napoleon: Total War.

Let's face it, if you're going to create strategy war games, you might as well go straight to the original strategists, and in that department, Napoleon Bonaparte is considered one of the best to ever navigate the theatre of war.

There have been major improvements made to the overall presentation and structure of the series for Napoleon: Total War, beginning first and foremost with the game engine. Being presented the game by Kieran Brigden of The Creative Assembly, AusGamers was privy to a number of changes from a foundational level that will, however, equally offer new elements to tactical play. Physics, for example, are deeper than ever, allowing for more environmental destruction. You'll be able to push enemy around with cannon fire, and then utilise the environment to obstruct or crush them (the scenario we explored allowed for pushing the enemy under a structure, then caving it in on them). You can bombard areas of the environment creating craters (over and over again if you're the destructive type), which not only affect the environment, but physically create impediments the enemy AI then to need to broach. This type of 'environmental obstruction' crops up a lot throughout, and each and every example will have an adverse affect on the overall situation and how you, or the enemy, approach it. Another example came in the way of smoke from gun and cannon fire filling the battle area - the more you fire, the thicker the smoke and longer its dissipation (thus minimising your vision). Add to all of this the idea every single dead body will remain in-game for the duration of your battle and you can only begin to imagine the extent of mess you'll be making when waging war.

Certain maps will also offer natural hazards with equally ranging player effects. The Russians are not affected by the cold of snow maps, for example, while Napoleon and his men are much more sluggish and prone death by freezing. Change this scenario to Cairo with the same foundational impact and you get an idea of environmental diversity in the way of tactical obstruction. Also, turns are now based on a two-week cycle with a full four-season cycle which takes into account the aforementioned weather conditions - simply offering a snow map to conquer would be a bit dull, but having to prepare for snow-fall after gaining a lead during more comfortable weather just adds to the tactical element of the game. However, the strength of your army, and your management of it still offers enough in an all-round toolset to overcome these, you just need to be a good leader.

Aesthetically there have also been greater improvements. While Empire: Total War impressively attempted to individualise each and every soldier on the field, Napoleon takes the direction and expands upon it like so much James Cameron sequel expansion. Faces (and facial expressions), mannerisms and body movement are all impressively detailed now, giving everyone you encounter - both directly and peripherally - something of a life of their own. Deaths are also impressively individualised and work in conjunction with the above mentioned physics overhaul - if a cavalry rider is killed on horseback, there's a very likely chance he'll be stuck in the saddle dead, or caught in the stirrups and dragged around the battlefield, and again as mentioned previously, each and every dead soldier will remain for the entire duration of your conflict creating one incredibly ferocious and visually stimulating arena.

Adding to the improvement factor comes the increase in your use, and management of, Generals. These guys have been carried over from Empire, only now have much more to offer in the way of unit buffs and XP growth. Basically, units will receive a morale boost when a General is near making them faster and more confident (ie , less likely to back away in the face of encroaching enemy). They also come with the ability to "inspire" and "rally", both of which feature cool-downs (in keeping with strategy game law), and they will now earn XP throughout play allowing for your management of their abilities. However, they can die and if this happens, are dead for the rest of the game, meaning you'll need to tactful in your use of them, backing them away from various areas of battle in order to grow their strength (and not lose all of your hard management work).

Obviously the flipside here is the enemy also has Generals with the same capacity, though it then becomes your prerogative to take them down; not at all unlike attacking the Queen on a chess board. Each General is based on a historically accurate list, giving them individualisation and also helping in the idea of once they're dead, they're dead.

Other tactical elements come in sabotage, in that you can seriously affect enemy supply lines. This is a new feature which sees you (and the enemy) needing to rely on nutrition to keep your soldiers fed and ready for battle, however, it is entirely possible to destroy the enemy's supplies, thus starving their troops, lowering morale and strength in the process (again though, this tactic can be applied to you in the reverse). The game's new two week cycle means you don't earn as much money to spend in bulk, and you don't ear as much food per go. What this means is you also need to acquire supply lines because you can no longer rely specifically on your own resources. It adds two elements to the situation - one of survival and the other of tactical sabotage, further deepening the experience.

Sabotage isn't strictly locked to supply lines though, as you can also impose trade sanctions or embargoes, through negative diplomatic options creating a non-direct approach to encountering the enemy. In fact, you can manage all of this off-hand tactics to slowly and surely 'disarm' your opponent of supplies, morale, strength, troops and more. It adds infinitely to your strategy options, and allows players to choose the way in which they wage war - and really, we've only scratched the surface of what is directly available to hardcore strategy players.

From a user-end, the UI is much improved in that there's less on-screen obstruction, yet much more tactical depth available, and at a reach. A news feed informs players of impactful events on the battlefield which in turn allows you to immediately jump to that spot to deal with whatever it is that has caught your attention (a General dying, for example). This really is an evolution of the set-up put in place for Empire: Total War, and Brigden asserts the team realise what need to be fixed, thus development of Napoleon had an ethos of Revolution, Evolution meaning they knew they'd dramatically changed everything with Empire (including an engine built from scratch), but that here, it's more a case of tweaking that foundation for the better (with an arguably better setting, in our opinion).

So far the game serves us a series of ideas; these being strength and growth (with the generals, town occupation and supply raids), decimation and tactical recourse (with the physics and environmental damage as well as tactical sabotage ) and finality (with both permanent death of Generals and bodies remaining for battle duration). What this tells us is despite being a videogame, the Total War series is fast becoming something of a brutal history lesson - reading this stuff in books or watching directed movies is one thing, but physically managing what is arguably an attempt and organising a massive mess of death and destruction is an entirely other thing. It's becoming staple for these guys too; creating a visceral gaming experience that teaches you the art of war, alongside the realities of its decisive manner - no matter what decision you make, people are going to die.

In saying all of that though, there is room here to change history - despite the game's deep rooting in its source material (after all, what kind of game would it be playing historically accurate battles where you only ever die). There are three main campaigns, the first two of which can be played in any order, but the final remains just that. Once you beat the game's Campaign mode, however, you unlock the option to play classic historical battles, such as the infamous battle at Waterloo (where your actions can alter history with the game offering a unique outcome to that of history based on your abilities as a commander).

As far as multiplayer goes, much of what you're used to with the series is available, as well as a new 'drop-in' option. Basically you can leave your single-player game open to anyone willing to take up the challenge. If they choose to do so, they take over the AI at exactly the point you have them, even if that means they're desperately losing, however, they are made aware of this fact prior to hitting the connect button, but this is an awesome feature nonetheless.

Australia is lucky enough to grab the exclusive Emperor's Edition of the game, and it will be released for PC only on February, 2010. The demo we were given was incredibly impressive with so much on offer for every type of player. It might sound like marketing speak, but Brigden described the game as "easy to access, difficult to master", and we're inclined to agree. If you're a fraidy -cat strategy player you can automate most of the systems, but if you consider yourself a general lost and out of place - on par with the great Napoleon, turn everything on and give the man a run for his money as a master tactician. If you're neither, but this sounds good to you - don't worry, the game also caters to noobs with great depth, an excellent tutorial mode and plenty of in-game tweaking to allow you to progressively set your own level of play.

For more on the game, be sure to hit up our Napoleon: Total War game page featuring screens, videos, details and any related news - right here on AusGamers.

*Big thanks to Chad for helping out with notation on this mammoth!

Latest Comments
Posted 02:15pm 16/12/09
Looks good. Will definitely give this a try. Any news on a playable demo?
Posted 02:29pm 16/12/09
Posted 03:31pm 16/12/09
Thats looks sweet - just like Stratego. <3 Total war.
Posted 06:01pm 18/12/09
Vive La Awesome!
Posted 12:46pm 19/12/09
I just hope that the final released version is not plagued with the crashes and seemingly endless update patches of Empire. I have been playing tabletop wargames for the past thirty years and I just love games such as this as they mean no more painting and the smell of turps.I also hope the naval battles are just as satisfying as Empire in there virtual representation.
Posted 09:21pm 19/12/09
- it's awesome that you can get the series for sweet FA on Steam

- it sucks that so many old friends are ringing me to get this game

well actually it's 4. that's 4 more than I'd like.
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