Strategy Informer gets down and dirty with the glorious Shogun 2
It's fitting that the latest game in the series, which is a re-make to the classic first game in the series, could very well be one of the best in the series since perhaps Rome: Total War. When Napoleon was released last year, we mentioned how it was the game Empire should have been in terms of technical presentation.
This is even more true for Shogun 2 - not only is it one of the most polished Total War releases, it's perfected the evolution of the series that Empire started, and goes a lot further than that game ever could. Nowadays, Creative Assembly would be the first to admit that they tried to do too much with Empire, and Napoleon was more a conciliatory gesture to try and appease the fans. But this game is the ultimate expression of the will to take the franchise and turn it into something greater.
At it's best, the character models and environment rendering is stunning
As always, the primary mode for this game is the single player. We return to Japan during the Sengoku jidai period in that nation's history, although due to the way the game progresses in terms of seasons, the time-span is actually just over 50 years (for around 200 turns though, which is normal). The basics are all there : you choose a faction - in this case one of Japan's great 'clans' - and you fight for dominance of the country and to become Shogun. More in keeping with the modern Total War games - instead of going for World Domination you only have to control a certain handful of territories, plus the capital Kyoto, in order to win and be declared the winner.
Despite Empire's emphasis on a more centralised government structure due to the time period, the way the game engine was re-designed actually fits this game as well. Again, it means there's less 'provinces' to play around with, and this makes expansion a more slow and steady affair. You have your castle towns, where most of the major buildings are located and can be built, and then you have provincial features which differs from area to area. All provinces will have upgradeable farms and roads, which are the backbone of your economy, most will have a port, and then there's usually a special building that takes advantage of an areas unique resource, like Iron, horses, wood... it's bit like Civilization in that regard.
The real beauty in this game though comes from the enhanced RGP and Political areas of the game. Each special character, whether it be your Daimyo, Generals, or Agents like Ninjas or Metsukes, can level up and earn skill points. This skill points can be spent on a skill tree that will augment and customize that specific agent/character, and they can also choose retainers to follow them around as well. A general can be specialised so that he's good at commanding a fleet, or commanding infantry or cavalry... and his bodygaurd can be upgraded so that he can fight better and reduce the risk of him getting killed (sadly, using a general as a 'shock troop' doesn't cut it anymore). Same goes for agents, so a ninja can be specialised as a saboteur or an assassin, or a bit of both, and so on.
On the political side, you have the standard interaction with other clans through diplomacy, but you also have enhanced management of your own clan. You can appoint an heir, adopt generals into your family, marry off your daughters, exchange a son or daughter as a hostage, appoint people to special commissioner roles for clan-wide bonuses and to increase their loyalty towards you... coupled with the previously mentioned RPG and skill elements, you have plenty to do and plenty of ways to give your clan a personality aside from the historical one.
Naval Combat is a lot simpler, but a lot easier to get to grips with
In terms of core gameplay though, little has changed. As soon as you see the campaign map, you'll know what to do, and how to do it... sure, the deeper mechanics have changed or been tailored to the time, but Total War is one of those franchises where the basics will always be the same. Same for the battle engine as well - all the controls are the same, the maps are a better representation of your local surroundings... although siege matches are interesting. Due to the Japanese way of constructing castles, combat is opened up more as castles are 'tiered'. Sure, you still have a wall to scale, but instead of holding the battlements, it's a brawl in an open tier, and then up the walls to the next tier, and so on.
Shogun 2 is also the first game to have serious work done on the multiplayer as well, making it truly a game of two halves. Whilst the standard deathmatch set-up is still there - you pick a map, you pick an army, and then you duke it out - there's also a fully integrated multiplayer campaign mode, along with a brand new 'Avatar Conquest' mode which is sort of a half way house between skirmish matches and the MP campaign. In this mode, you can kit out your own Daimyo avatar with armour sets, weapons, decorative tid bits, and also retainers and bonuses. You then start off with a basic army selection, and a map of Japan that looks like the one from the original game, and you set out to 'conquer' it for your clan. Clan leaders can assign special objectives and rewards for the capture of certain provinces, and the provinces themselves carry bonuses that can help you field more advanced units. The actual fighting is the standard skirmish type map, so there's so overlap, but you can also fight and win a drop-in battle as well which will count towards your online campaign score.
It's true that multiplayer has never been a huge focus for the series in the past, other than enabling online skirmishes. In today's increasingly multiplayer-focused industry, Total War is almost behind the times in terms of keeping up with current trends. These new features though, along with further improvement of the multiplayer campaign, have really given the franchise an online presence that could be popular with online gamers. Provided the Steam servers are up to the job, the clan-focused avatar campaign, the battles the progression and the in-built achievements is just one more way that Total War has evolved.
With all this talk about how good this game is however - we need to now bring things back into perspective. For all our talk for how polished it is... in all honesty it wouldn't be Total War without some launch bugs. This time around, the theme seems to be random CTD's, prepare yourself for the odd crash, as they are there, but not so much that it makes the game unplayable. That said, we haven't noticed that much else in terms of technical flaws. Depending on your graphics settings, some of the animations will get a bit messy when a lot of units are pressed in together, and the game is very resource-heavy on the high settings.
It's a bit scary watching two armies grind each other down to a handful of men
Also, we're not sure if this is an actual issue or we're just rusty in playing within a predominantly mêlée-era, but there seems to be some balancing issues in the game. It' too easy for the other clans to generate multiple stacks and then throw them at you, and it takes too long to replenish your armies as well, making expansion hard. Perhaps it's just the game's way of telling you not to get into wars all the time, but something seems off. Maybe it's just us though - AI has definitely seen an improvement however. We have a nagging feeling that the setting is what helped make this game so great, so it'll be interesting to see where the series goes from here, and how, if at all, they manage to take some of the features found here and apply them to future iterations.
TOTAL WAR: SHOGUN 2 VERDICT
The Total War Community, especially in recent years, has become a bit hard to please. We’re confident though that this will meet most of your expectations. Given the nature of the franchise, don’t expect a ton of depth on the scale that Paradox manages, but there’s enough here to play around with. This is the most fully featured Total War to date, and a great homage to the game that launched the series. There’s more we haven’t talked about, but if we told you everything about the game then there wouldn’t be any surprises left would there? If you pre-ordered Shogun 2, good for you, if you didn’t, this will be well worth your money, even on launch day.
TOP GAME MOMENT
As always, it’s defeating a superior foe against all odds.