There are changes to the way that generals operate and are recruited too. You now have a roster of generals that you can recruit from, rather than simply being able to create as many generals as you like wherever you want.
Generals now dictate who deploys first in battle, rather than it being simultaneous, so if you’ve got a good general you can set your men up with the enemy in full view, allowing you to pick your spot to attack. It’s a brutal edge and one that really encourages you to keep your best generals alive.
Changes to the campaign itself include expanded diplomacy, allowing you to do things such as ask people to join wars and cut trade links with nations you’re not keen on. Much as this new diplomacy is great it does feel a tiny bit wasted in a game based in an era where pretty much all of Europe is piling onto France.
The old decision from previous Total War games over the fate of conquered provinces also returns, you can loot them and upset the locals, occupy them or now liberate them, which allows them to become a new state and a protectorate of your kingdom. This latter change neatly allows for you to take territory off your enemy without having to foot the bill for defending or policing it.
Ship combat and ground combat are both changed. Ground combat now involves smaller maps and more direct fighting with less mucking about. Smaller maps sound like a bad idea at first, but in practice it works to speed things up without really compromising on tactical options. Use of buildings, cover, infantry squares and hand to hand combat has all been brushed up and now feel much more intuitive, for example the square formation button now doesn’t just turn infantry into cavalry killers instantly, your guys actually have to get into the formation for it to work.
Navy combat is now a bit slower and ships are more resilient thanks to the ability to repair during battle to a limited extent. You can’t get a ship close to full health or replenish guns and crew in battle, but you can at least shore up the hull and plug leaks to save expensive losses. Trade nodes and merchant ships still have a part to play as well, with the Indiaman class of ship now sporting fifty eight guns and representing anything but a soft target.
The number of ground units you can recruit is reduced from Empire, due largely to the fact that you’re limited only to the European theatre of war and a short time frame. There’s a wider range of ships now though, with small sloops and corvettes available at small ports all the way up through an expanded inventory of frigates and rated vessels to ironclad steam warships if you can construct big enough facilities. Both the battle AI and the campaign AI are noticeably better too.
Somewhere, below the waves; Rapture!
The most overt change to Napoleon: Total War though are the graphics, which have been dramatically improved over those used in Empire – and it’s not like Empire was any slouch in the visual department. The units and battlefields are intricately detailed and beautifully animated, also the effects in combat have been massively improved and musket fire now has bright muzzle flashes and gives off big clouds of smoke which quickly cover the battlefield. Navy combat also looks much better with the crew and ship models improved.
The last big change over Empire is multiplayer. You can play with two players in the allied campaign against France and her allies, just as you could in the later versions of Empire Total War. You can play what are called drop in battles too, where either a friend from your steam list or a total stranger if you’d prefer, takes the side of the enemy in a campaign battle. If you let random players fight you in every major battle of your campaign it’s a safe bet you’re in for anything but an easy time.
While Napoleon is a game with a much narrower focus than Empire and as a less sweeping scale, it is undeniably superior. It is bittersweet to see that though the myriad annoyances and disappointments that players had with Empire have been addressed it’s been done in a second (albeit cheaper) game, rather than just patches.
However taken on its own merits, without the baggage of its predecessor, Napoleon: Total War is a fantastic game that definitely deserves to be the shelf of every armchair general out there.