Historical wargamers seem to be the last ones to reap the benefits of technology when it comes to computer games. While fans of most genres have been enjoying games that push current computer hardware to its limits, wargamers are often left with games that, while historically accurate, are little more than refinements of traditional board games. With Napoleon 1813, Empire Interactive embarked on a formidable task: to use the potential of the computer medium to combine the strategic, operational, and tactical aspects of Napoleonic warfare in a single game using a real-time engine. With a goal as ambitious as this, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be some hiccups. Unfortunately, Napoleon 1813 turned into a full-blown coughing fit.
The concept behind the game is as solid as the line of British infantry at Waterloo: to model an entire Napoleonic campaign starting with an overall strategic overview. You must then make decisions down to the operational level, assigning and rearranging commands and issuing orders to various commanders. When you join a battle, you must fight the entire engagement in real time on a tactical battlefield. Wargamers have been dreaming of this kind of tactical emphasis for years, and the inherent appeal of grandiose Napoleonic combat makes it a logical choice for such treatment.
Empire Interactive chose to base the game on the campaigns in central Europe in 1813 and 1814, where Napoleon tried desperately to stave off ultimate defeat after the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. This was a good choice, as there is plenty of room for maneuvering, and the many nations that made up each coalition give the game a unique historical flavor. It's an encouraging start.
Napoleon 1813 can be played at various levels, from a single day at Bautzen to a grand campaign starting in early 1813 and continuing through late 1814. The tactical battles are quite interesting in their own right, and while they consist of mostly clicking and dragging as in any real-time strategy game, the pace should be slow enough for even the most uncoordinated wargame player.
The campaigns add a whole new layer of detail that, at its best, provides a new wargaming experience. Bridges can be blown, cities besieged, and supply depots established to keep your army on the move. The strategic aspect is represented through the use of manpower and resources to build replacement units. Although the basic interface isn't difficult to grasp (simply select a formation and drag it to its destination or set waypoints), the many factors that come into play when planning operations can be overwhelming to a less experienced gamer. However, for those with prior experience with wargaming concepts, Napoleon 1813 has all the right elements. Now, if only they all worked properly.
Napoleon 1813 attempts to combine the best aspects of gaming and simulation while still remaining playable. Historical leaders are rated in categories like aggression and subordination, so just as in real life, an impetuous Murat can get into trouble if he is given too much freedom and responsibility. Orders can take some time to reach their destination, so plans that change too often during their implementation are bound to fail. Minor national politics are also modeled. All of this is covered in a fairly detailed manual that still manages to have some surprising omissions - for example, there is almost no explanation of combat resolution. Expect to read the manual from start to finish, much like you would a wargame rulebook.Unfortunately, a major problem with Napoleon 1813 is its interface, which relies too much on scroll bars rather than dynamic mouse scrolling. This is a fatal flaw in real-time strategy games, where extraneous clicking is bound to interfere with gameplay. This would be bad enough if gameplay weren't hampered even more by the sheer number of bugs in the release version, many of which remain even after the first patch.
For all of the excellent ideas in Napoleon 1813, the sad reality is that it shipped in a state that is virtually unplayable. Units from your replacement pool can be "stolen" by the computer opponent, routing units vanish, casualty rates can be absurd, and the information windows that pop up on the screen don't work properly. Worst of all, the game crashes repeatedly. In short, the retail version of this game shipped as a complete mess.
A patch addresses some of these issues including the disappearing units. Unfortunately, it was too late for the US release, which is just as buggy as the UK version. While the patch addresses some serious bugs, it mostly concentrates on correcting problems with the computer's artificial intelligence, especially in battle. The AI in the shipped version of Napoleon 1813 is far too passive and can be completely unhinged by an aggressive human player. However, the campaign AI still appears to have this problem even after the patch.
The quality of the AI is crucial in Napoleon 1813 because the game has no multiplayer capability. This is a shame because a real-time wargame such as this would be a perfect candidate for head-to-head play. While a multiplayer feature is supposedly being developed for a future patch, the game is lacking because the AI - even with patched improvements - simply cannot compete with a skilled human player. The AI still tends to do bizarre things, and the game still crashes, although not as frequently as before.
Napoleon 1813 is a game that is long on innovation but critically short on polish and tuning. The first patch has begun to address the game's most egregious faults, but in the end it simply makes a buggy game more playable. However, Napoleon 1813 remains marred by the poor interface and unfixed bugs. At the moment, the best that can be said is that it's no more than a very promising concept.