Weird games are the best. Some games achieve that special sort of lunacy by accident, and some recognize what's great about it and lean into the skid. Take Dark Souls, a very tough and serious action RPG where you can transform into a pot to fool your invader. It's ridiculous, the developers know this, and I love it. The Napoleonic Wars expansion to Mount & Blade: Warband achieves this type of happy lunacy in the best way possible. And on top of that, it's a really fun multiplayer game. I've been off-and-on obsessed with the game for over a year, and I still play it frequently today. Here is why I think you should give it a shot.
1. Massive Battles
Napoleonic Wars is a multiplayer-only DLC add-on to Mount & Blade: Warband. Since its release in 2012, a consistent and dedicated community has stayed relatively strong. The server that I typically play on is the only one with a large number of people in it (ranging anywhere from 60-120 depending on the time of play). It's one of the few games I've ever played that truly captures that sought-after "big battle" feel. Groups will trail off and form firing lines, others will hop aboard boats to flank the enemy, and some charge right into the thick of it. It's a large scale conflict that actually feels large.
2. Muskets, Yo
While they are plenty of different weapons and classes to try out in Napoleonic Wars–like cavalry, cannoneers, or musicians–but the base infantry unit is equipped with a good 0l' early nineteenth century musket, complete with bayonet. Muskets are generally inaccurate, fire one bullet at a time, and take upwards of twenty seconds to reload–seconds that must be spent standing still, or the reload is interrupted. Suffice to say that it feels good to actually hit somebody with a bullet, as it's usually a one-hit kill. The same can be said for the weapons lethal bayonet, as seen above.
3. The Musicians
You saw that I mentioned "musicians" as a class above, and that wasn't a joke. In lieu of a musket, you may also take one of four instruments into battle. This is when Napoleonic Wars gets pretty weird. You can flute, drum, bagpipe, or trumpet along with your fellow soldiers, providing small buffs to reload speed, running speed, and aim–depending upon the instrument. But the buffs are hardly the reason that people actually use them. In truth, they're hilarious. Squads of drummers will tramp along the battlefield claiming they want to "spread the joy of music rather than violence"–just to be cut down by enemies who don't really care. Sometimes truly magical moments happen in which enemy musicians will meet amidst the chaos and jam together, rather than fight. Occasionally admins are forced to slay rival musicians who won't kill each other. Other musicians are a bit more crafty by picking up a musket from a fallen soldier, pretending to be a pacifist, and springing their trap upon unsuspecting foes. It's a wonderful thing.
4. A Legitimately Challenging and Rewarding Combat System
Okay, look, I know every reason so far has come from a place of appreciating how dumb the game is, but I promise that under all of that is a really unique combat system that makes or epic duels. Napoleonic Wars differs from the base game in that there are no shields. This means that blocking melee attacks is left entirely up to the player blocking in the same direction that the enemy is attacking. For example, I thrust my bayonet in the upward direction toward an enemy–they see this coming, so they block in that direction and negate the attack. Melee combat boils down to mastering control of your weapon, and becoming proficient at anticipating attack directions.
5. 19th CENTURY CANNONS AND ROCKETS
Cannons and rockets are glorious in Napoleonic Wars. Even less accurate than muskets, cannons are the single most deadly weapons in the game. They require a minimum of two people to operate (unless the map has cannons pre-placed), as one needs to ramrod the barrel and load ammo while another tows the cannon around on horseback. You can load several different types of ammo, like spread and long range. The mounted rocket class is even more interesting, as it hauls around an elaborate tripod launcher and fires rockets that resemble fireworks more than anything. The rockets are so hilariously inaccurate that the direction the operator points them in is more of a "suggestion" than a command. But when they actually hit their mark, the results are devastating.
6. The People
The community in Napoleonic Wars is probably both the best and worst thing about the game. As with every online community, there are bad seeds. The games only form of communication is text chat, so the bad stuff is relatively easy to ignore. But the majority of people are just trying to have fun. My favorite players are those that begin to role-play their soldier. One of my favorite NW memories comes from a player with the username "Nicolas_Cage" that would only attempt to kill those that provoked him via chat by insulting his movies. I got on his bad side by claiming National Treasure 2 was a god-awful travesty that ruined a good thing. He sliced me up good for that one. Also, NW features some of the most creative and entertaining usernames I've ever seen in a game–including such gems as "NapoleanBlownapart", "SCREW_FREEDOM", and "Combaticus". I could go on all day.
Napoleonic Wars is the stupidest and silliest game I've ever played, but it's also awesome for so many more reasons than I've listed here. If any of this sounds like dumb fun, I implore you to check it out.
Morgan Park is an associate editor at Front Towards Gamer from Bakersfield, Ca. Destroyer of evil, watcher of Chuck, and craftsman of sandwiches. That dude with the deep voice.