Reviewed – Napoleon: Total War

My first-ever review is up at GameShark, and it’s a fairly positive one for Napoleon: Total War. This assignment was something of a treat, and is probably a poor representative of the reviewing experience as a whole. Napoleon: Total War is a good and very enjoyable game, and I’m still wrapping up some campaigning in it even though the assignment is over. I was happy to have an excuse to plow over 40 hours into the game.

I am sure I’ll jump onto the “I hate reviews” bandwagon the moment I have to review a real dog of a game. But for now, it’s a fun change of pace.

As I was in the process of assigning a score to this game, I found myself thinking about the kind of reviewer I want to be. It would be nice to have a reputation for being tough but fair, but somehow I think most reviewers probably aim for that. It’s maybe more important to have come to terms with how I react to games.

On the Three Moves Ahead before last, or maybe it was during the after-party, Tom made the comment that he got the feeling there weren’t too many games I hated.  On reflection, that’s very true. I actually like most games I play. I’m the sort of person for whom a lot of things just don’t get old. Sometimes, when I’m putting my car key into the ignition, I still kind of marvel at the fact that I can drive. I got my learner’s permit ten years ago, but the feeling of privilege hasn’t entirely gone away. I feel the same way when I sit down to play videogames, especially when I can say, “It’s for work.”

So it takes a lot to make me dislike a game. Huge disappointments, like Rebellion, Rome: Total War, or Empire: Total War, can usually get me there. Pissing me off is another good method. I thought GUN was a good game until it all went to shit in the third act, and that final act erased just about every ounce of goodwill. I’m a little allergic to hyperbolic praise and self-importance. I enjoyed Far Cry 2, for instance, but I can’t say I really like it. It was a beautiful and exciting open-world shooter, but it was also murderously repetitive and kind of shallow. I end up judging the game more harshly because of how it was received, and for its own very limited ambition. I have not been kind to Modern Warfare.

But for the most part, I love gaming and like most videogames. I just don’t think many of them are excellent. I really loved playing Napoleon: Total War, and really do think it’s probably the best Total War title in quite awhile. But when it was time to consider flaws that really bothered me, I didn’t have to look hard to find them.

I’ll have more to say about Napoleon. I really did like it quite a bit. So I’ll close with the reviewer’s typical request: read the text. The score doesn’t perfectly reflect how I feel about the game, or how I personally weigh the game’s elements. It reflects a slightly more cold-blooded assessment.

  1. Good review, and solidifies my “don’t buy” decision. For me, the tactical battles have always been the _least_ interesting parts of the total war series, and one that I happily skip past.

    I think if I’d not plunked money down for Empire, I’d be more tempted by Napoleon, but since you need both to play the later, I’m just too burned out.

    Having said all that, I’ve got a friend who’s eager to pick up Napoleon– just after he is “done” with EU3…

    • For me, tactical battles were the initial hook that brought me into the series. But with both Shogun and Medieval I eventually started to prefer to strategy game and mostly auto-resolved my way through them. I only took the field when something was really on the line. Since the switch to 3D map, that’s not really been a viable way to approach this series, because the campaign has so many problems.

      I think it would be easier to feel unreservedly positive about this game if it weren’t coming on the heels of Empire. People who didn’t gut suckered into buying Empire should totally grab this game. But if you already feel like Empire was a rip-off, Napoleon is a tough sell.

  2. Hah hah, “done with EU3.” Now there’s an idea.

    I think it was overall a solid review. You gave the game it’s fair shakes – I just wish you’d had the space to lay out your opinion of the overall series, the way you did in the blog, because your history with the series really informs this review. Unfortunately, Gameshark-only readers have no idea of what is going on with you under the surface.

    • Actually, I doubt that affected my review too much, just because I was so well aware of it. If anything, I probably would have been even more positive about the game, because some of the problems I mentioned don’t really bother me. I generally like to Total War series, so I’m totally happy to beat the crap out of lame tactical AI. I just crank it to maximum difficulty and hang on tight. I think if I were to grade it on the, “People who love Total War except for Rome and Empire” curve, I’d give it an A or A- and tell everyone that it’s awesome and they should buy it. But that’s a hell of a curve.

      I am going to cover the game in a little more detail, because there are a lot of little things that improved that I didn’t have space to really get into. I’d say Napoleon answers a lot of the complaints I made in my piece for UGO.

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