I consider this as one of the best Total War titles to have been released and certainly a dream come true for fans (like myself) of the Napoleonic Period. While its 18th century style predecessor boasted a wider scope in terms of campaign map, in more ways than one Napoleon TW offered a much more refined experience. Creative Assembly carried over all the good things that made Empire work whilst omitting or improving upon any irksome issues.
Napoleon: Total War concentrates more on the Emperor's military career. The 'Campaigns' menu allows the player to choose from 'Egyptian', 'Italian', or the longer main 'European' expeditions. Each of these has unique unit styles befitting the period. The Egyptian Campaign would initially prove somewhat easy as the Bedouin faction mostly consists of melee troops - however, the Ottomans are tough nuts to crack, while Great Britain has a powerful naval base and garrison in the area. There is also a time factor; for all three campaigns you must complete victory objectives before a certain date.
Historical Battles provide an excellent showcase of the Emperor's famous masterpiece engagements. Finally, it seems this option is now given more serious time and consideration by Creative Assembly; where previous titles only offered five or six, Napoleon: TW is flush with twice that many. Austerlitz, Borodino, Friedland, Waterloo.... It even includes two key naval engagements: Trafalgar and The Nile (despite Napoleon not being present, besides he hardly knew anything about naval warfare).
One improved aspect is the unit modelling: they are superbly detailed and certain factions offer a variety of different types. History fans of the period won't be dissapointed, all the familiar regiments are there alongside the shakoed Fusilier and Foot line infantry, such as Dragoons, Hussars, Highlanders, King's German Legion, Connaught Rangers, Polish Lancers and even the legendary Old Guard. And there's MANY more besides. Access to the more elite regiments requires certain fields of research combined with barrack upgrades to the highest level. Nevertheless, minor nations do suffer from a lack of choice selection thus a player may wish to play as the more prolific, for example, French or British. As before, right-clicking on a unit card displays statistics and historical information concerning that particular regiment.
The RTS battles themselves are now much more exciting and fast-paced affairs with an improved AI. Cannon balls leave tell-tale scorch marks whilst powdersmoke adds to the confusing, choking smog of war. Admittedly, sometimes units do still get stuck, while defensive infantry squares aren't quite so effective against cavalry if placed near obstacles - but thankfully neither are common anomalies. Line troops on the march are a magnificent spectacle, even though they don't match pace, while a flautist jollies the (mens' and player's) spirit. This is great, although I would have liked more variation in marching tunes as regards each regiment. And it's a shame they didn't have bagpipes for the Scots regiments. Light infantry lack the pomp of regular line troops, yet clicking on the 'guard' or 'skirmish' order buttons sets off a bugler which adds to the authenticity. Of course, we're never going to attain 'true' perfection of battle experience - and many veterans would consider us foolhardy to desire that - but every detail, small and large, contributes towards a rich experience. Perhaps VR goggles would one day further a player's lust for such an enhanced experience?
Having artillery comprise half your army will make short work of fort walls and enemy troops manning the battlements, while any breaches will become bottlenecks guarded by the foe. My advice is have at least one light infantry unit to wear these down from a safe distance. Then, dispatch two or three line infantry to fire several volleys before charging in. Another handy tactic is to attack in this way then suddenly pull back - the hot-headed enemy will then be drawn upon the waiting muskets of two or three other units and catch them in a deadly crossfire. It's a reversal made upon the defenders' position; think about what happened to the Saxons at the battle of Hastings....
However, although sieges aren't at all bad, they could have been better. Certainly, no match when compared against the vast cities and sprawling streets of Medieval 2 and the original Rome. For some reason, such monolithic moments were dropped during development of Empire and Napoleon, almost as if the developers had become bored or even dubious about reintroducing seriously fortified settlements in the age of enlightenment. And it would have been nice to have variation in defences and layout of key cities or even towns. There is always a barracks and armoury, but after a while it seemed too sparse, too generic. In Napoleon, I found seiges something of a chore without the enjoyability nor intense excitement prevalent in Medieval and Rome. Shogun 2 did a little better (not forgetting the Japanese favoured pitched battles and hardly used fortifications in warfare) while Rome 2 faithfully returned to fully fledged fortifications of all types. In Napoleon TW, siege engines such as ladders, battering rams, and mines are abandoned in favour of artillery and troops now automatically equipped with rope grapples to climb the walls. Some towns even lack defences aside from natural barriers and chokepoints - although at least this is true to life. Fortifications are a negative point in Napoleon (and the previous title Empire).
Napoleon: TW's expansion came in the form of the excellent Peninsular War - fans of Sharpe will know and enjoy this theatre of the conflict. It introduces a revised (albeit smaller) reasearch tech tree and some further additional unique units for all four (British, French, Spanish and Portugese) factions. As in reality, the British war effort presented a combined challenge of campaigning with limited funds, strategic maneouvering, and maintaining a careful diplomacy with an unnatural ally. Failure in even one of these could spell disaster for the player's chance at victory. And again, a crucial time factor influences a speedy yet well-planned offensive. Playing as the French means you'll have to maintain authority on a certain number of provinces and hold out until a certain date. Being the Spanish adds a sense of vengeance as you begin to recruit and reinforce Coalition efforts to eject the invader from Spanish shores forever!
You're probably familar with all those superb battle scene paintings by Lady Butler, seen countless documentaries on Napoleon, or even possess the film 'Waterloo' from 1971? Well now it's brought further to vivid life where such fans themselves can interact by stepping into the digital boots of Napoleon Bonaparte and marching across Europe to defeat rival nations in a blaze of glory. Certainly, one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. Well done, Creative Assembly!