Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Napoleon’s Campaigns Review

Napoleon’s Campaigns, developed and published by AGEOD.
The Good: Meaningful improvements for veterans, historically accurate, beautiful graphics
The Not So Good: Not friendly to new players as map size and unit count can make for overwhelming confusion
What say you? Another finely crafted strategy game from AGEOD: 7/8

If you design a good game engine, then milk it for all its worth. We see this in countless expansion packs, the 3,423 Paradox games based off the Europa Universalis engine, and Napoleon’s Campaigns, AGEOD’s latest entry in the strategy genre. This is an evolution of the engine used in American Civil War and Birth of America, both quality games that received high scores. Taking the engine between the two time lines and covering the bold moves of Napoleon in Europe, Napoleon’s Campaigns hopes to become yet another can’t-miss title in AGEOD’s line-up.

I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that Napoleon’s Campaigns has one of (if not the) best looking maps of any computer game ever made. The level of detail is outstanding in all areas of Europe: cold mountain peaks, sprawling farm land, dense forests, and bustling cities are all rendered exquisitely (amount of bustling may vary). The 2-D map of Napoleon’s Campaigns has far superior visuals than any 3-D map could realistically have and still run on contemporary computer setups. A new addition to the game is 3-D army graphics. Also, the 2-D icons have been changed to a much less confusing display. It’s amazing what a small change in the unit icons will do for playability: I had an early version of the game that used the circular icons from American Civil War and Birth of America in which it was hard to see the unit strengths, but now it’s very easy to determine stack strength. The graphics of Napoleon’s Campaigns are very strong. The audio is about the same as previous games: great background music and repetitive battle sounds. But that’s pretty much what you would expect from a game in this genre. Overall, Napoleon’s Campaigns looks and sound better than almost all turn- based strategy games.

The general gameplay of Napoleon’s Campaigns is (not surprisingly) similar to American Civil War and Birth of America, so make sure you read those reviews first as I will mostly be talking about the changes in this newer game. As you could probably tell from the title, Napoleon’s Campaigns is all about the campaigns of Napoleon during the early 1800’s in Europe, when he kind of just wanted to take over everything. Instead of offering one giant grand campaign (which would take a lot of turns to complete), Napoleon’s Campaigns comes with a long Spanish campaign, three year-long campaigns, and a handful of short battles that typically span several months. This is enough variety and spans pretty much the entire extent of Napoleon’s exploits. There isn’t a random mission generator, but there is enough stuff to keep you busy. The game comes with essentially the same tutorials from the previous games; they are good but leave a lot of the nuances about the game engine secret. For the first time, Napoleon’s Campaigns features TCP/IP gameplay in addition to play by e-mail; this is really only viable for the shorter campaigns and it’s a nice feature for those who’d like shorter multiplayer battles.

As before, victory is attained by accumulating the requisite number of victory points (earned by holding key cities) or reducing enemy morale (by winning lots of battles). All of the scenarios take place on the same beautiful map of Europe, although the action will be focused in varied locations. The map has a couple of new terrains to better simulate mountainous regions and large roads that were present in Europe during this time; the large highways work like the railroads from American Civil War. As I stated before, the map is awesome, though it helps if you know a bit about European geography for planning purposes.

Large units like armies and corps are actually containers; we’ve seen this before in other games like Advanced Tactics, Forge of Freedom, and obviously the earlier AGEOD titles. Each unit is composed of many elements, like rifle squads, cavalry, artillery, and supply. Fortunately, each scenario features the real order of battle which, as you would think, is well organized; the player doesn’t need to mess much with the default units unless you are an obsessive freak (and I mean that in a nice way!). Putting units in organized containers is the only way of controlling large forces, so it’s nice that Napoleon’s Campaigns does this for you. Napoleon’s Campaigns also contains pretty much every leader present on both sides of the conflict, along with appropriate ratings and special abilities. There are twenty-five new abilities in Napoleon’s Campaigns that can provide bonuses for your troops; in addition, a single leader can now have up to fifteen abilities (instead of the arbitrary limit of four) to correctly simulate bad-asses like Napoleon. The amount of research that went into Napoleon’s Campaigns is very impressive and I doubt anyone will argue against the game’s historical accuracy.

Unit orders have been expanded upon: units can now be given “rules of engagement” that determine how aggressive units are in combat, from no retreat to cut and run. A couple of other additions to the already complex (but almost completely under the hood) game engine include automatically placed garrisons at key locations (great!), realistic attrition (so hungry!), pillaged towns (ouch!), and options for guiding your nation’s strategy (can’t think of anything!). Resolved combat also gets a couple of tweaks: cavalry charges, multiple formations, and wind during naval battles. Most of the additions made in Napoleon’s Campaigns are minor and simply make the title a more realistic simulation. There isn’t much more to do compared to previous titles, so the complexity of Napoleon’s Campaigns remains about the same. The large scenarios are generally more than I’d like to handle, but there is a decent selection of army-sized conflicts in generally small regions. The AI has been improved (like the game needed to be any more difficult) so you need to try even harder than before. Overall, Napoleon’s Campaigns feels more like a complete game and it will appeal to fans of the series or the genre.

If you liked any of AGEOD’s other games, you’ll like this. Napoleon’s Campaigns is a more polished game overall and while it won’t appeal to casual strategy gamers because of its complexity, veteran players will find a lot to enjoy. The historical accuracy present in the game is quite impressive, from the orders of battle to the leaders to the exquisite map. The game covers Napoleon’s campaigns in full, and each scenario highlights a small portion of the time period instead of requiring you to complete the whole thing. Multiplayer support has been enhanced with TCP/IP options, and numerous small enrichments (additional abilities, rules of engagement, enhanced attrition) have filled out this impressive product. Napoleon’s Campaigns won’t win over any new converts who did not enjoy the previous AGEOD titles, but the devoted followers of the series will find a product that is certainly different enough from previous games to warrant a purchase.