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Napoleon: Total War Review

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★★★★

With one of the deepest, most gripping military strategy games as its starting point, it’s no surprise the developers of Napoleon: Total War decided there was no point in fixing what clearly wasn’t broke. Yet while many of the clever tweaks in this latest spin-off make for a more focused, less daunting experience, a few puzzling design choices cost this Napoleon-themed outing a top score.

An historically accurate jaunt through the two decades of Napoleon’s most famous campaigns, what’s most remarkable about the latest Total War is how it structures the action into tight, easily-digestible chunks; rather than presenting players with a sprawling world to conquer, the compact scenarios gradually crank up the challenge as your forces yomp across theatres of war in Europe, Egypt and the Middle East, deftly winding players into the intense action yet rarely overwhelming you with a myriad choices.

Other improvements to the tried-and-tested formula – including adverse weather conditions that can affect your troops’ morale, and streamlined building options that do-away with tedious micromanagement – also go a long way to evolving the familiar franchise, as does the larger role played by battlefield generals who give you new ways to rally troops during their darkest hour, while adding a fresh element of stress as you need to keep your commanders alive to guarantee long-term success.

On the downside, computer-controlled enemies that often exhibit the military nous of a watermelon tend to undermine the most accurate recreations of Napoleon’s battles, while the optional time limit that can be used to keep the action moving at a fast clip often lends itself to cheap tactics and last-minute assaults that would be suicidal without the knowledge a skirmish is about to come to an abrupt end. But when the dumbass computer is left behind and you sample the delights of Napoleon’s online multiplayer, this latest entry in Creative Assembly’s sublime series will keep you hooked to your PC for months.