Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Napoleon Total War: Italian Campaign

In order to try and squeeze a bit of gaming into this fairly busy period I finally got around to installing Napoleon Total War and playing one of the campaigns.

Although it is very similar to Empire in period and gameplay I find the Napoleonic setting and atmosphere are more familiar to me and therefore more immersive. The Italian campaign that I played is really an extension of the tutorial and still has limited units and abilities. Nevertheless it is still quite challenging and the campaign kept me entertained for several hours.

Unfortunately I somehow overlooked the tight timescale allotted and set out to play a marathon when I should have been aiming for a sprint. Playing carefully and cautiously I reinforced all my conquests as Napoleon marched Eastward to displace the Austrians. I guess I should have been suspicious that my "Grande Armee" was so much bigger than anything the opposition could pit against me but I thought I was being very clever biding my time and trying to bribe Austria's friends and allies away before going in for the kill.

I got quite a surprise then when the game alerted me to the fact that I had only 8 turns left to complete the final objective and capture Klangenfurt on the far right had side of the map. At that stage my Grande Armee could not even reach Klangefurt in eight turns never mind capture the town so it looked like the campaign was already lost. In desperation I noticed that if Napoleon ditched his slow moving artillery the remaining cavalry and footsoldiers might just be able to travel the distance in 8 turns.

One of the helpful hints that pops up at loading screen assures us that "cannons win battles" so going against the Austrian strongholds without artillery sounds suicidal. Nevertheless I knew from experience that the campaign AI is not always the smartest so I reckoned that I could still win battles against cannon equipped armies by playing carefully.  Unfortunately playing carefully often means playing slowly (for example waiting to be attacked rather than attacking) and it wasn't clear that this approach could get me to Klangefurt in time. I decided to do an experiment,  racing my army towards the goal auto-resolving any battles that arose to see how far I might be able to get within the timescale.

Sure enough my route was blocked by several Austrian armies but auto-resolve was kind to me and by pressing auto-resolve / end turn in quick succession I was able to progress all the way to Klangenfurt arriving in late December 1797, the very last turn of the game. At this stage my depleted troops were severely outnumbered and outgunned by the defending army but with nothing to lose I attacked and pressed auto resolve one more time. Surprisingly my luck held. Napoleon won the battle and I was sent into the "Victory" cut scene.

I must admit to finding this a very unsatisfactory victory as the most important battles of the game were decided in a matter of seconds by a roll of the dice. The trouble is I am not sure I want to go back and fight those final battles manually. After all Napoleon was a master of artillery and without it there is no guarantee I would have the same level of success as the random number generator.

I find myself at a dilemma  that has cropped up for me before in Total War campaigns with a discrepancy between the things I need to do to win and the things I enjoy doing in the game. I guess that makes me a scrub according to Sirlin's famous analysis. Does Sirlin's "Play to Win" philosophy make sense any way in a single player game?

EDIT: Eventually I went back to a prior save game and played the final battles through manually. Happily I found that the Venetians could be bribed into giving temporary military access which cut months off Napoleon's journey time and allowed him to drag a few cannon all the way to Klangenfurt. There were a few minor skirmishes and two serious battles against full stack armies in which I was very glad of the canon.


Jayedub said...

I have only played a couple of the campaigns in NTW, but it does seem that the player needs to be quick and aggressive in order to complete the objectives in time. I am more of a slow build up turtle kind of player so I found the Italian campaign to be quite challenging at first.

mbp said...

I am a slow build up player myself Jayedub so this will take a bit of getting used to. I am still vacillating about whether to start over and play more aggressively or just pretend that my victory was valid and move on.