It is hard to say for sure whether Creative Assembly want the world to see Napoleon: Total War as the next game in their Total War series or simply a standalone expansion to Empire: Total War, in the same sort of way that Kingdoms and Barbarian Invasion added onto their earlier games. The distinction is unclear in the case of Napoleon for two very important reasons.
Firstly Napoleon is a substantially different game to Empire and secondly Napoleon, like its namesake, is actually a bit smaller than you’d expect, at least given the scale of the game it follows.
In case it wasn’t obvious enough from the title Napoleon: Total War is a Total War game focussed on the life and times of France’s greatest and littlest general, Napoleon Bonaparte. While being France’s greatest general might sound a little bit like claiming to be the world’s deadliest goldfish there can be no denying that the little bloke demands respect from military history nerds.
Camouflage is for girls. And Snow Ninjas.
The game provides you with a selection of campaigns where you can play as the man himself and a more traditional open world conquest map where you can play as any of the major nations from the period. The campaigns range from a tutorial in Corsica through to the final stuggle of Waterloo, stopping along the way in Italy and Egypt, as well as a campaign that sees France take on all comers like a kind of international Chuck Norris.
The allied campaign as it is called, where you can play as Britain or any one of number of Napoleon’s continental punching bags, is the one that will be most familiar to Total War players. It’s basically the European theatre of Empire: Total War redone within the new game.
And it is a new game. The changes from Empire are profound and although the game plays in essentially the same manner – you build units, move armies, fight battles, research technology and use diplomacy – all of the systems for these things have been redone.
Giants. That's how Napoleon won all his battles!
The changes to the Empire campaign system are many and range from the profound to the slight, though all of them are essentially improvements of different sizes.
The first big change is to the campaign timings and scale. Empire had large regions and a six month per turn time allowance. Napoleon has the map zoomed in much closer and has turns shortened to two weeks. This means that countries like France, which was originally one province, are split up into chunks and that the terrain is more detailed. It also changes unit recruitment times, so that a unit of line infantry takes two turns to build, or a month in game time, while a big warship takes much longer.
The way that units are replenished has changed too, with all units receiving some replacements for casualties if they are in friendly territory, depending on the infrastructure, so you no longer have ragged armies becoming suddenly completely refreshed. This replenishment mechanic has an evil twin in the form of attrition, which takes place if your army ends a turn in desert or winter wilderness conditions and causes your army to suffer losses without any shots being fired. This in itself makes campaigning through cold countries a matter of planning and timing.