Guest Author - James Shea
"Napoleonic Wars" is an officially-backed mod for Mount & Blade Warband delivering 19th-century combat in the engine of the well-known medieval game. It costs $10 on Steam and requires "Mount & Blade: Warband" to play.
In essence, Napoleonic Wars is a multiplayer-only game where each player takes the role of a single soldier on a larger Napoleonic-era battlefield. There are three main modes of play: "team deathmatch", "battle", and "siege". TDM is the standard "people respawn shortly after they die" mode, Battle is one life per round (thus focusing on a more survivalist mindset), and Siege pits an attacking team against a castle-bound defending team. There are five factions in the game: Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. The differences are largely cosmetic - different voices and uniforms, primarily.
The game's classes are divided in several ways. First, there's infantry, cavalry, artillerymen, and sappers. Infantry are basic troopers armed with muskets. Cavalry have several sub-types, such as the fast Hussars, the heavy Cuirassiers, or the firearm-equipped Dragoons. Artillerymen are capable of using the cannons scattered around the map (some of which can be moved by a properly-equipped horse). Sappers can construct defenses and lay explosives, though the number that can be built at a time is limited per team. Within the infantry & cavalry, there are additional classes. Officers are equipped with spyglasses to see enemy positions and provide a passive bonus to nearby troops simply by being in proximity. Flag-bearers and Musicians provide similar bonuses, although all three provide different kinds of bonuses. While regular troops make up the bulk of each team, these specialists help organize the teams into a more coherent unit.
The gameplay itself ebbs and flows between being slow and fast. As an infantryman, the player's time is spent primarily shooting inaccurately at faraway foes, then spending 10 seconds or so reloading their one-shot musket. If you die, there's going to be a long wait before you get back into the action (whether from respawn delays or simply having to run a lot to get back into the action) Believe it or not, this can be actually kind of cool if you're part of a unit pouring fire on a position, assaulting a gap, or whatever. In a more general sense, though, it can easily get boring. Cavalry have it a little easier, as their high mobility makes them more exciting and responsive to play, but even they have a relatively limited arsenal.
The game's fun comes not from individual combat, but instead from working as a group and being part of something larger - which the game's 200-man battles easily allow for. Having to coordinate officers, flag-bearers and musicians or organize assaults on a position are part of the game's charm; you can't go it alone most of the time because your gun only holds a single round. It's a game designed for people who are willing to work together as a group, whether in general terms of organization or very specific terms like actually setting up formations and units within the game.
Compared to regular M&B, Napoleonic Wars is more stylish and colorful, though not really "better looking" per se. The costumes and uniforms of the period are detailed very well; each faction has several different "regiments" that players can choose to join, and each regiment is based on an actual historical one. Each regiment has a different uniform, which can be confusing in the brightly-colored melee of a Napoleonic battle, but it's possible to pick up on the general types of uniforms that each faction has to make this a little easier.
Overall, Napoleonic Wars is a pretty good pick-up for anyone who's already got M&B Warband (and if you don't have M&B Warband, you might as well get it anyways). Its $10 price tag is a bit steep for DLC, but the game's good enough that I don't feel that it's a waste. If you're expecting fast-paced action you might want to steer clear, but if you want a relatively deep team-based experience then it's pretty darn good.
Purchased through Steam with our own funds.