Napoleonic Total War II – Game Review (PC)
Introduction: A Free Lunch
My father often said, “you get nothing for nothing.” Usually when he was trying to justify the purchase of some expensive bit of kit for his garden. According to his way of thinking, an expensive item was a good item. And conversely, anything free, well, wasn’t worth very much. I think most us tend to make a similar connection at some level. So when we see a free game offered for download, we assume that it’ll be half finished buggy code that’ll bring our machine to its knees and drive us insane with frustration. To test the theory I downloaded and played a recent free mod for the Creative Assembly’s excellent Rome : Total War.
Napoleonic Total War 2
I’ve always been fascinated by the Napoleonic period. In addition to reading more books than I can remember I have played pretty much every computer game dealing with this era since the 1993 MicroProse effort Fields of Glory. Some have played well. Some have looked good. Few have managed both and none have provided a truly satisfactory simulation of this period of military history. So, I was delighted when I saw that a group calling themselves the Lordz Modding Collective were working on a free Napoleonic mod for Rome : Total war (RTW).
As the computer games industry scrabbles around desperately trying to find something, anything, that will sell, we’re seeing more and more specialised, fan-developed mods and games. Although many of these sink without trace in the planning stage, some do get completed and they can provide a genuine antidote to the increasingly anodyne fare offered by some professional developers. Operating without the financial and time constraints of commercial operations, groups of committed, passionate and talented people invest time and effort to produce the games they really want to play. Happily, these are often the games that we, the gaming community, also want to play.
The Lordz Modding Collective is one such group. With members from around the world they have already produced Napoleonic Total War and American Total War, both mods for Medieval: Total War, so they are obviously capable of finishing what they start. I haven’t played either of the previous mods, but the screenshots for Napoleonic Total War 2 (NTW2) looked truly beautiful. The planned release date was August 31. I waited with bated breath, and behold, on August 31st it was duly released.
Download and Installation
The game can be downloaded from the Lordz website. It’s free, and the single .rar format file is 125Mb in size. You must have RTW installed to use the mod. RTW must also be patched to 1.5, which means you’ll need two additional files of 125Mb combined size. You can also use the mod on RTW: Barbarian Invasion, patched to 1.6. Installation is simple and professional. Once you have the .rar file you need only extract and run a single .exe file. Installation is then automatic. When finished, you’ll have a new Napoleonic II – Total War icon on your desktop.
No documentation is provided with the mod. Not even a read-me. For general gameplay this isn’t a problem – the mod uses the same controls and conventions as RTW. However, it would have been nice to see some information on general tactics in the Napoleonic era as well as some background on Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the Battle of Borodino. The Lordz website contains five articles covering topics such as infantry, cavalry, and artillery tactics as well as gameplay and tactical tips. These are well written and useful, but I would still like to have seen some form of user information provided with the mod.
The first thing you’ll see when you click the icon is the splash screen. The artwork for this and other loading screens has been created by the Lordz. It’s superb and wouldn’t look out of place in a commercial game. Then the music starts. It’s vaguely martial music and again has been created by the modders. Into the general interface screens and everything is clean and simple. More new artwork of the Napoleonic era. Overall, everything is of very high quality.
The basic look of the game is similar to the Total War series. Battles are fought on a 3D battlefield compete with flora, fauna, roads, rivers and buildings. All these have been re-worked by the Lordz to fit the Napoleonic period, and the battlefield scenery looks stunning. The most impressive things however, are the units. There are 20 different French Units from Voltigeurs to Cuirassiers and 17 Russian units from the Opolchenie to Cossacks. All are detailed to an amazing degree. Uniforms and weapons are detailed and (as far as I can tell) correct. The animation as infantry re-load muskets is accurate, lancers use their lances on the initial attack, then switch to sabres, officers brandish swords to signal the attack. The game abounds with neat touches. Certainly I have never seen a Napoleonic game where the units look so good and move in such a convincing way. Forget rows of identical mannequins moving with robot like precision. Even in formation these troops move and act as individuals. When standing still you’ll notice men shuffling their feet and easing their weapons. Lovely! And the sheer number of men in each formation… Wow! However, all this graphical loveliness does come at a price. While RTW runs smoothly on my system, the Borodino scenario in NTW2 had things moving very jerkily. It is a huge scenario and of course it’s possible to turn the graphic settings down, but when something looks this good, you won’t want to.
So, does the game play as well as it looks? The answer to this rather depends on whether you play on or off-line. The first disappointment is that NTW2 does not have a campaign. The campaign game is at the heart of the single player experience in RTW, so why don’t we have one here? The problem apparently lies with the basic RTW AI. The Creative Assembly wrote the code behind RTW to simulate the battles of ancient Rome. Although the Lordz have modded this extensively, the AI within NTW2 just doesn’t cope well with the manoeuvring and tactics of Napoleonic warfare. AI-controlled units don’t use appropriate formations and will break and run almost as soon as they are attacked.
This is why the only opportunity for the single player to sample the NTW2 experience is by playing the Borodino scenario shipped with the mod. This replicates the epic battle in 1812, one of the largest single battles of the Napoleonic wars involving more than a quarter of a million men. The battlefield is nicely presented with features such as the Rayevski Redoubt and the Bagration fleches. Several formations are available to your troops including line, double line, column, and square. Morale and fatigue are well modelled with morale being affected by factors such as casualties, proximity of friendly troops, and proximity of senior officers. If morale sinks low enough troops will rout and flee. In addition to other tasks, troops can be ordered to stand and deliver volley fire or to engage in close combat. Artillery is available as 6 or 12 pounder form or howitzers and can fire roundshot or cannister.
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