To say that Fall of the Samurai, (the latest content expansion for Creative Assembly's highly successful Total War instalment Shogun 2), didn't meet expectations would be wrong. Play it, and you'll find a well-crafted experience, that's challenging, interesting and above all unique. That being said, we can't help but feel a twinge of disappointment as we write this review, but this is purely down to the fact that the final product didn't match the image we had in our head. Simply put, we feel that the 'Tom Cruise' expansion, could have potentially been so much more than it turned out to be, but that hasn't stopped it being a fine product in its own right.
We didn't see anything like this in the game during our playhrough, which is a shame
Everyone's experience with this title is going to be different, but we feel there are certain design choices that limits what this game could have potentially been. For example, the tech tree is in complete favour of modernisation, so those wanting to try and keep to the more traditional route are extremely limited in what they can do. Granted, the actual history of the Boshin war was more about lessening Western Influence as opposed to fighting Westernisation itself, but given that history is often 'gameified' (apologise for using the word) for the sake of entertainment, we would have liked to have seen a bit more balance between the two ideologies. A game literally about the gun, vs. the sword (and as we'll later, there is an entire style of play at the tactical level that basically revolves around that, should you balance your armies that way).
That's not to say that the only drawbacks we've found are ones to do with what the game might have been – there are still notes in terms of what the game actually is too. As we picked up in the preview, we often found clans of the same faction declaring war on us, or other factions who were also on our side, which means that the game quickly degenerates into the classic 'all vs. all' style of gameplay. Not out of place in a Total War game, but slightly at odds with the context of this particular DLC where co-operation would be smarter than furthering the needs of your own clan. Still, we did find that once our clan reached a certain critical mass (i.e., after we'd dicked on anyone who tried to oppose us and became one of the biggest clan within our faction), we found that the other faction-clans left us alone and started picking on each other instead.
On a positive note, Fall of the Samurai had a surprising impact on Agents – something we've never personally been that bothered with in Total War games since Diplomats were done away with. Again, this is not to say that agents have been pointless in Total War games (some people use them, some people don't), but in this particular DLC the incentives to use them are that much higher, and present some intriguing scenarios for you to fiddle with. Foreign Veterans can train your army and net them experience chevrons outside of battle, Ishin Ishi (and the Shogun-equivalent unit) are good for keeping up the happiness rating (very useful for newly conquered lands) or inciting revolts (great way to take friendly territory without declaring war), and Geisha’s we like to use to either boost local economies or inspire our troops. There are also Shinobi ninjas too, which come from traditionalist buildings and still fit into the picture.
As good as firearms are, you need to be careful of things like cav charges and meeles. No forming square here...
This new campaign also comes with a revamped strategic map that extends northwards, as well as coming with several other improvements: Ports can now be upgraded with coastal defences, which will attack enemy fleets automatically on the strategic map (similar to the attrition effect), and provide a physical coastline with cannons units in tactical battles take place within range. Castles can now have gun and cannon towers, and as you've probably already seen you can now take direct control of ship cannons, land cannons and Gatling guns – a small and fairly insignificant feature, but one that is way way more fun than it should be. Railways, which we given emphasis during the promotional phase, are alright but take a while to actually come into the game. They are only available in pre-determined provinces on mainland Japan as well, so even though they help with movement, and can be raided etc... Again, they are one of those things that could have been done better.
You can read our preview for some initial impressions of combat based on a preview build we played, and in all honesty they haven't changed much. You have the fields of fire and line battles of the Napoleonic era, mixed in with the up-close and personal mêlée warfare of the Sengoku Jidai. Modern-era rifles mix-up even that as well, especially with the higher-tech units, as they started to use breech-loading guns over muskets, which increases the rate of fire and thus changes everything. The 'Pro-modern' player probably won't have to adapt their thinking too much, only to make sure they things covered should they face cavalry or mêlée units. The 'Pro-tradition' player though will seriously have to think about how they approach the tactical battles – it's going to be more about ambushes, movement, and using the terrain to hide from fields of fire. Siege battles have also changed: defending is easier with gun units, but cannons also help with attacking as well... again, much like the land battles, it's about out-thinking your opponents and using a mixed of modern and traditional units to win the day.
Multiplayer has also been given a bit of an update too – not only do you get a handy tutorial that can net you a few levels if you see it through to the end, but there's an entire other conquest map for you to sink your teeth into, with different unlocks, retainers and armour sets, skill trees (your FOTS avatar has three different trees to develop, so you can't say CA haven't put the effort in). Further to this, even if you don't own Fall of the Samurai, you can still play against people who do – first person to recreate the final battle from The Last Samurai wins the internet. They've also expanded the amount of Avatar slots you're able to field, allowing for up to four separate avatar generals – two for Shogun 2/Rise of the Samurai, and two for Fall of the Samurai. Aside from these changes however, it's pretty much the same experience as before.
The trainlines are ulimately not that interesting, and occur very late game
So, a decent addition to Shogun 2's content library, although we still think a slightly missed opportunity to do something truly special. Still, those of you who purchase this expansion are unlikely to be disappointed, as there's still a lot of fun to be had here. With an RRP of £29.99 you might want to try and pick it up in a sale, as that's basically the price of a full game and stuff still is missing: Family relationships, for example, are non-existent because the new time-frame means you're unlikely to see children grow up, which means secession isn't really an issue either. In fact a lot of the RPG elements outside of specialising character skill trees are gone now. But expansions like this are all about give and take, what you lose there you gain elsewhere, and there's a lot to gain from delving into this particular page in Japanese history.
TOTAL WAR: SHOGUN 2 - FALL OF THE SAMURAI VERDICT
So, a decent addition to Shogun 2’s content library, although we still think a slightly missed opportunity to do something truly special. Still, those of you who purchase this expansion are unlikely to be disappointed, as there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. With an RRP of £29.99 you might want to try and pick it up in a sale, as that’s basically the price of a full game and stuff still is missing: Family relationships, for example, are non-existent because the new time-frame means you’re unlikely to see children grow up, which means secession isn’t really an issue either. In fact a lot of the RPG elements outside of specialising character skill trees are gone now. But expansions like this are all about give and take, what you lose there you gain elsewhere, and there’s a lot to gain from delving into this particular page in Japanese history.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Inciting a revolt in a friendly neighbour, watching their faction crumble, and then sweeping in to pick up the pieces is rather satisfying.