Europa Universalis III: Napoleon's Ambition Review

It may be limited, but this Napoleonic-era expansion for Europa Universalis III packs a lot of punch when it comes to military matters.

One of the few disappointments with Europa Universalis III was that its timeline ended too soon. It was awfully disappointing when the march of history in the turn-based strategy game's grand campaign suddenly ground to a halt with the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, given that this was the eve of Napoleon's emergence in Europe. Having to stop just before Robespierre started to chop off heads was a big letdown. But developer Paradox Interactive has made up for this omission with Napoleon's Ambition. There isn't much to this expansion beyond the newfound ability to lead everyone's favorite petit general to world domination, but the detailed depiction of one of the most chaotic eras in world history adds a lot of punch to the core game all by itself.

Battling rebels during the French Revolution. Apparently it's not always good to be the king.

Napoleon's Ambition is the original game with an extended timeline. Though the nation-building strategizing still begins right after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in May of 1453, the ending has been pushed from the eve of the French Revolution in 1789 to the final fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821. The gameplay continues to deal with historical grand strategy in which you take complete control of a nation at some point between the late Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern world at the start of the 19th century, but you now have the bonus of tackling those crazy decades when the guillotine ruled Paris in the Reign of Terror and Napoleon followed up the massacres by trying to conquer the globe.

This makes for some tense moments. France in this era is a superpower, which sets it apart from the mainly evenly matched powers in many of the period campaigns in the original game. There isn't a great deal of time for careful and considered statecraft here--dealing with foreign affairs, trade, and provincial infrastructure--because the new campaign kicks off with the slow slide into revolution in 1789. You're essentially pushed into the creation of a military state. If you follow the event triggers, then France can soon be cranking out armies under the command of Napoleon. You even get a "Vive La Revolution" effect that boosts military morale and manpower, making it hard to resist the temptation to go hog wild on the production of army units such as flying artillery batteries and Latin cuirassier cavalry. The manpower buff is a whopping 50%, too, which makes it rather easy to populate Provence and Pfalz with soldiers. You can load up the border provinces with so many troops so fast that you almost immediately trigger frightened warnings, from neighbors such as Austria and the papal state in Avignon, that you had better not declare war on anybody.

But playing peacenik would ruin the fun. It's far more satisfying to instead mount a crazed attempt to put every province in Europe under the bootheel of France. Of course, you can try to keep the country stable through these turbulent revolutionary years, given that events let you encourage democracy (for instance, "founding fathers" appear and encourage the spread of independent ideals, which you can either ignore or stop with a quick execution). Nevertheless, you'll be swimming upstream against historical currents. It's easier to just go with the flow and turn France into a dictatorship, which naturally can easily morph into nonstop offensive warfare. However, it's not easy to get on a roll in the beginning, if you start in 1789, because the Austrians attack pretty quickly across much of the eastern frontier as soon as you declare war on, well, darn near anybody. You have to begin with sensible, peaceful statecraft to build the troop strength needed to keep all of France's provinces bleu when the war begins. This is actually much appreciated because having to start this way balances politics and fighting so that the campaign isn't entirely a one-note affair. Of course, you can skip out on all things political by advancing the clock forward. Move ahead to, say, 1805 when Napoleon was on the verge of invading England, or 1812 just before the Grand Armee invaded Russia, and you can (almost) forget about doing more than shuffling troops between provinces.

Napoleon's Ambition also fits in extremely well with its follow-up add-on, In Nomine. That expansion's decisions and mission features add a great deal of texture to campaigns that guide France, keeping you grounded in domestic concerns even while plotting to raze London. Being reminded about home-front issues such as the importance of adding a refinery to Blois is a nice counterpoint to worrying about British dominance of the seas. In Nomine's new rebel factions also work extremely well with the chaos of revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Once the wars begin, you have to keep careful watch over core and conquered provinces because they can continually erupt in revolts led by Norman Nationalists, Breton Nationalists, Dutch Patriots, and so forth.

When the Vive La Revolution effect kicks in, it's time to start building those armies.

About the only thing that this expansion doesn't do particularly well is add to the feature list of the original game. Nearly everything here is "all Napoleon, all the time," which leaves little room for new national ideas, new historical figures, or tweaked rules. It's tough to get excited about being able to move your capital, or being able to target markets directly with merchants, considering that these changes probably could have and should have been addressed in a patch. The absence of groundbreaking new features isn't a huge loss, seeing as how the core game plays great and the French setting is so outstanding. But this add-on feels less like an extension of the original game than what we probably should have gotten in the Europa Universalis III box. It seems like this era was chopped out of the original game solely to be added back in later as the first expansion pack. That isn't the worst of sins, given the great amount of content in the original game, but it still makes for an expansion without a lot of surprises.

Even though Napoleon's Ambition is a bit skimpy on the additions, the expansion's depiction of the turbulent years between the French Revolution and the early 1820s is worth the price of admission on its own. As long as you're satisfied with the core gameplay of Europa Universalis III, this add-on won't disappoint.

The Good
Chaotic French Revolution and Napoleonic eras add military spice to campaigns
Amazing amount of action packed into the years between 1789 and 1820
The Bad
Doesn't add much more than 30 years and a French campaign to the timeline
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Europa Universalis III: Napoleon's Ambition More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    The third title in the Europa Universalis strategy series will offer an easier learning curve for beginners and a bevy of new options for conquest.
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    Developed by:
    Paradox Development Studio
    Published by:
    CyberFront, Paradox Interactive, GamersGate
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
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    Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Alcohol Reference, Mild Violence, Tobacco Reference