The Mount and Blade series has always enjoyed a hugely loyal fan base and an extensive modding community. It seems appropriate then that Napoleonic Wars, the recent multiplayer DLC for Mount and Blade: Warband, has grown directly from that community.
The Napoleonic Wars DLC is the debut commercial work from small independent developer Flying Squirrel Entertainment, who were formed from the team responsible for creating the popular Mount and Musket: Battalion mod for Warband, which is expanded on and replaced by this latest DLC.
The DLC is a total conversion on the multiplayer aspect of Warband, moving the game from a fictional medieval-style setting to the titular Napoleonic Wars and introducing the players to large scale battles involving muskets, bayonets, artillery and cavalry units.
Numerous modes are on offer, from your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch to more unusual offerings such as the commander battle mode, where each player leads a unit of AI bots, and siege mode where one team must defend a fort for a set time period while the other team attempt to capture it by securing control of a central area.
Unfortunately it can be difficult to find a good server with some of the less popular modes on offer. Being a fairly niche game the community is not huge, and most players will be found in the more popular large scale siege and battle servers.
That’s not to say finding a game is difficult – walking into a battle, siege or team deathmatch game is a breeze – but finding a popular server for duel, commander battle or standard deathmatch is a challenge.
Not that this should be a huge concern, as frankly the game is at its best during battle and siege modes and these are the modes most players will spend most of their time playing.
Battle mode is simple enough – there are two teams up to 100-man strong and no respawns. The last team standing is the winner or if time runs out and both teams are still active the match is a draw. In siege mode the defenders must guard their fort/castle/town and the defenders must break through. The defenders have the advantage of a secure position but only a limited number of respawns, while the attacking team have unlimited respawns but are fighting against the clock.
The DLC, like its source, can be played from both first and third person perspectives – with first person arguably being better for aiming and third person providing a better situation awareness.
What makes the gameplay in Napoleonic Wars so different from that in other online ‘shooters’ is the weapons and units available.
Twitch gaming fans will not get their fix here. The muskets, rifles and carbines used by most troopers are notoriously inaccurate. Even the most talented sniper with pixel perfect aim will find that at any sort of range you will be extremely lucky to land a hit. At mid-range one in five shots would be a good performance whereas at long range your best bet is just point and pray (or better yet, save your ammo!).
Add to this the reload time, which is about 10 seconds after each and every shot during which you must be standing completely still, and you will soon realise that running and gunning is not an option in this game.
You won’t find any health recharging, superhuman cyborgs running around the field of battle either. In most cases a single shot will be lethal, although if you are lucky and the first one is a graze sometimes it will take a second to finish you off. It can be hard to kill people in Napoleonic Wars, but it is easy enough to die.
While this slow paced and inaccurate ranged combat may put some people off, others will find it adds a new and previously unexperienced twist on the FPS/TPS genre. The lack of accuracy encourages teamwork, as a large group firing against a single target are far more likely to score hits than a lone sniper, and some can provide cover while others are reloading.
The reloading period also offers the perfect chance to quickly open a chat box and find out how the people on the other side of the map are doing, suggest a plan of action or just chat with what is a relatively friendly community. Good communication can be the key to victory and if you stick to the same couple of servers you will start to see familiar faces regularly and can find some friends to back you up.
This DLC is not all about shooting though, melee combat plays a significant role. When two groups of line infantry meet a musket battle usually breaks out, but when one side feels they are getting the upper hand it’s usually a bayonet charge that finishes matters off.
Close combat with bayonets is not smooth and slick, it is extremely messy. However, this is undoubtedly a good thing as it should be messy. That is not to say there is no skill involved, as a careful sidestep or quick parry can be the difference between life and death. However, in a brawl involving multiple people a bayonet fight is a messy, brutal and chaotic affair that is both exciting and exhilarating.
A lot of emphasis in this review has been given to playing as an infantryman, with musket and bayonet, as that is what the majority of people will playing most of the time. This is only one option available though, as players can also select from dragoons, cavalry, artillery men, officers, standard bearers and musicians – all of which play a distinct role on the battlefield.
The role of dragoons, cavalry and artillery is largely self-explanatory - while officers, standard bearers and musicians provided passive buffs to troops around them such as better accuracy or faster reload times.
The inaccuracy of weapons, brutal close combat, one (or two) hit kills all help create a sense of realism and the graphics and music also add to this sense authenticity.
The graphics themselves, and in particular the animations, are not of the highest quality and feel very dated by today’s standards – largely as a limitation of the Warband engine which has never been a graphical powerhouse. Bodies will clip through walls when they slump over dead, when reloading your hand will clip through the rifle and in general the motion of the character models is stilted and unnatural.
What does stand out is the level of detail that has gone into the modelling of each troop type. There are five nations to choose from, each with multiple regiments of infantry, cavalry and specialists to choose from. Each regiment has sub categories too including officers, musicians e.t.c and each has an individual and detailed uniform. This level of variation between troops is great to see on the battlefield and it is clear that the developers spent a lot of time creating great looking period uniforms.
Sound wise; muskets, cannons, pipes, drums and the shouts of the men create a great backdrop for warfare. Classical music pieces play constantly in the background and help with the historical feel, although some of them feel hilariously (almost intentionally) out of place – such as The Wedding March playing as you are sticking your bayonet into a rifleman’s belly!
Overall, Napoleonic Wars can be great fun and a totally unique multiplayer experience. However, the very things that make it unique also mean that this is not the game for everybody. If you like the sound of authentic Napoleonic Warfare and don’t mind the graphics being a little dated then this is the game for you.
NB: Napoleonic Wars is a DLC expansion pack for Mount and Blade: Warband and requires the original game to play.
- A unique type of stting for competitive online play
- Realistic period weapons and warfare
- Huge scale battles
- No single player gameplay
- Sometimes finding a populated server can be difficult
- Not for everybody