The game is absolutely enjoyable, even if you have no interest in the period (like me). Being a huge fan of the Total War series since Shogun came out, quite some time ago, Ihave always been a horse, sword, and spear type of guy and was extremely dubious about the concept of Total War Napoleonics. I udnerstood that the mechanics were there, large formations, large scaled-down armies, morale, and general characters; I just didn't think it would all come together cohesively.
I was wrong.
The game is beautiful. The graphics aren't cartoony like Rome, but dirty and grit-filled like Medieval 2. Battles are generally how I expect them to be between large groups of men packed together, desperately aiming inaccurate weapons at other large groups of men.
The game tracks the steadily dwindling effectiveness of cavalry units as they go from being Battle Winners to just being good enough to go after routers, and perhaps do a really good flank or rear charge on guys. The variety of cavalry units speaks to the period's reluctance to let go of their horsemen. Horsemen wearing steel cuirasses and wielding sabres charge into masses of musketmen and bayonets; Lancers sped across the battlefield and cause massive casualties; etc.
Artillery comes into its own, evolving from ancient immovable guns, to fast and mobile horse-drawn artillery, all theway up to 24pound cannons and shrapnel exploding over dude's heads.
The meat of every army is the infantry. The infantry is fairly basic, there are different militia type units, "irregulars" like Austrian Pandours and Native Americans serving in European armies, Line Infantry, which serve as the core to every army, Grenadiers, which are like a sort Improved Line Infantry, the various Guards regiments, serving as the elite Line Infantry, and the different Light Infantry (my favorite) which represent the small force of highly trained men harrassing the enemy.
The naval battles are cool, but I'm not a navy guy and generally avoid them.
The campaign map is massively complex. Not so complex that you can't figure it out, and can't approach it, but complex in a way that feels natural. Diplomacy is still wonky, and there are some things missing that I could really use, and right now, I would say it's the weakest part ofthe game.
Here's what I don't like:
-National Leaders are no longer playable units. They're just faces and names with a few random traits. Playing as Prussia, I have had 2 Kings, 1 Queen, and since the Revolution, 2 Presidents, and I can't say any of them meant anything to me. They were literally just dudes who occupied a space on the UI. This is counter-productive, because this is around the time that national leaders still took to the field of battle; many of them were still combatants and were renown for their bravery in battle.
-Trade system is complex and prosperous, but I'm having trouble figuring it out. I'm not a big time economy guy, so that could be why.
-Not necessarily my complaint, but many have complained of this: All European nations basically have the same units, with one or two uniques, and one or two units that they share with only a few other nations. The units even look the same, but are just re-colored. Now, in Medieval 2, the troop's appearance was randomized, so that guys in the same unit had different equipment; and it was promised that it would be more of the same in Empire; so far, however, they're clones (doesn't bother me, much).
As to everyone having the same units, I say this: A guy with a musket in Great Britain, is a guy with a musket in Austria. I would prefer that they had different uniforms, but a sword is a sword is a sword is a sword.
-Back to leaders; there is no family tree that I am aware of. When Frederick the Great died, he was replaced by some 60 year old dude...and I had no idea who this guy was. I assumed that he was a son, or a brother, or something, but I really didn't know. When he died, he was replaced by some female..again, I had no concept of who she was. After the Royals were driven out, and the Grand Republic of Mighty Prussia! was founded, some President, who's name escapes me, was in control...again, completely unknown dude. After two terms, his party again won re-election, but I guess there's a two term limit and he was replaced by some other random guy.
-Files are encrypted. Can't mod until they release mod tools; we were told it would be moddable "out of the box"... technically it is, but I'm not messing with game files in hexidecimal. I could but the fact that it would take around 20 minutes of effort to do the most basic thing is just counter-productive.
-Some things seem bugged. I researched "Platoon Fire" and I have no idea if it's working or not. My infantry still steamroll, so I'm generally unconcerned.
-Campaign AI seems a little passive. This will probably be patched, as these things generally are, the campaign AI seems limited to raiding my border towns with the very rare collection of troops into a big army to invade me. Right now, the Iroquis are more of a danger to me in the New World than Austria, Poland-Lithuania, and Russia combined.
-Tactical AI, while much improved, could use some work. It adapts fairly well with what you're doing, but, as always, could be a little quicker to the draw
-Reinforcement system is stupid. Completely stupid. Reinforcing units come one at a time..welcome back to Medieval: Total War (1), and they come in at a random location not based on the unit's location on the campaign map. So, in one battle, I had about 300 Hussars come on the map....directly beside 1,000 or so Polish musket men, and they were routing before the computer gave me control of my men. Yeah..thanks a lot.
I think that's about it for now
The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father's sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!