Shogun 2: Total War is the newest installment in the Total War series. This latest release is a lot more polished and user friendly than earlier entries and drops players in Japan’s Sengoku Era (1467–1573), in which the nation was thrown into turmoil as several different clans vied for power as the new Shogun.
Starting out with visuals and audio, needless to say the visuals were fairly good. Then again, you have to think in this day and age what company is releasing games with sub-par graphics? It makes me think, can we really judge games on graphics anymore? The scenery in game is vibrant, colorful, and really sticks out as it should. When seasons change so does the visual climate, snow is on the ground in the winter for example and it’s a nice touch by the devs. When it comes to the audio it was definitely fitting for the time period of the game. Simple ambient music fills the game but it left a little something to be desired on the battlefield as the music doesn’t help any with the excitement of the battle. The voice cast for the game however, was horrible. It makes you think the voice actors aren’t of Asian descent at all which I hope isn’t the case. It’s very awkward to listen to and makes you want to ignore the tutorials completely.
Onto the game’s interface, it’s cleans and sleek. For those returning to the series, it’s much more easily navigated than previous titles. For those new to the serious it may appear a bit confusing at first, but along with the annoying tutorial lady, you should get used to it in no time at all.
For the gameplay itself I’ll have to break it down into several different categories, first I’ll start with the political system. This system is a work of art, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in a Total War title. It’s so intricate and challenging that you just can’t get enough, you almost want to conquer the world through political feats, and not military might. Through the political menu you can arrange alliances and wage war like any other game, but in Shogun 2 there is so much more at your fingertips. You can propose trades between two clans for mutual benefit or attempt to absorb smaller clans as well as try to extort them for much needed resources. If you aren’t on friendly terms with a clan that your allies are you can demand that your ally cease trading routes with those clans, I’m not saying you’ll succeed, but hey you can try. Another amazing aspect to political ventures is actually offering your child to marry into a different clan to further relations, or possibly absorb the clan into your own after the current leaders dies(or is assassinated if you catch my drift). In Shogun 2 you cannot conquer the world with military strength alone, there is no doubt you will also have to master the political side of things, or you’ll be hung out to dry.
Building and raising a military is no easy task in this game, as you start with little more than pocket change, and you have hostile clans on your borders. Units can be quite costly depending on which clan you choose, because different clans have reduced cost and upkeep of certain types of units, so it’s best you choose the correct clan for your style of gameplay. Units primarily follow the paper, rock, scissors lay of RTS games.
Spear beats cavalry, sword beats spear, cavalry beats sword. That’s how it starts at least. As the game progresses you get units with gunpowder firearms, who are very powerful, but have horrible accuracy. The unit pool can extend quite deep and you’ll have to learn how to counter and deal with several different types of units on the battlefield. As your general moves across the map he can recruit units on the go, however, the units will come running from the nearest city you own and may not reach your main force for several turns. There are still naval battles, but in Shogun 2 it’s much easier than previous titles because most boats are rowed, thus you don’t have to worry about sails. However, due to the AI you very rarely see more than one or two ship per clan, and those are usually trade ships.
An interesting aspect of this game are special units called Agents, which have several different uses. For instance, the ninja who is available to recruit after purchasing a sake den(because drunk ninjas are just what we need), is used for sabotage and assassinations, while Metzuke (secret police) are used to try and bribe colonies or units to join your side, making loyalty levels much more important in this installment than the last Shogun. The downside to agents is that they can be quite expensive, and unless you increase their level quite a bit, they aren’t very effective. Also, you can only have as many agents as buildings required to recruit them, unless you plan to spend money to upgrade buildings you already have.
Agents and Generals also have their own custom skill tree. When they gain enough experience doing their respective duties, you can make them specialized, like a general specialized in naval battle or a ninja specialized in assassinations.
City building in this game is fairly clear cut, your city starts with a certain amount of slots. You use these slots to build buildings, as the size of your castle increases so does the number of your slots. You have preset slots that include, farms, roads, and other things that are also upgradable. Citizen happiness is based on many things, such as the amount of food the city has, the going tax rate, and the honor of their Daimyo(leader). If you can’t keep your citizens happy you will have a riot on your hands before you can say workers union. I really like how they made this very simple to use, unlike in some of the other titles that didn’t let you pan out your cities as you wanted to. Tech trees are also very simple, you choose what you want to work on at that moment and it tells you how many turns it will take, rinse and repeat.
The actual battles themselves haven’t really evolved from any other Total War title, so don’t expect much difference there. As usual large stacks of soldiers battle it out, until your stack either dies out, or runs away. There is strategy involved, however, it’s very important to pay very close attention to your unit’s positions and compositions or else you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can hide your unit behind hills or in a forest to ambush or snipe your opponents without being seen.
When attacking a stronghold your units can actually climb over castle walls instead of storming the gate, although, if you do choose to climb the walls your units will be scattered. When defending there are special slots on the walls in which you can place units to either, shoot down oncoming enemies from cover, or jab their weapons out to keep approaching invaders at bay. As with most Total War games, after awhile the battles become monotonous and boring, which makes you want to let the computer take care of the battling while we take care of the military building.
The online multiplayer is a work of art. Players have their own online identity, their avatar. As players goes through battles and war campaigns they gain experience points used to gain skills to help in them in future skirmishes. You also gain ranks for your units which stay with you in future battles. Every skirmish, battle, and campaign stands for something. Shogun 2 also features drop-in battles which pretty much means when engaging a computer player, a human player can take control of that army and battle you which gives you an entirely different experience for better or worse. The online campaign brings an entire new dimensions to the game, tactics that were your bread and butter in single player campaigns may not work in multiplayer as humans are much more cynical and uncooperative.
All in all the game is very enjoyable and a must buy for Total War fans, the multiplayer alone is a great selling point. Taking all into account besides graphics, as I feel at this point in time graphics are all spectacular and we’re used to it, I’m going to have to recommend a purchase for this one.
Be sure to check out our interview with Craig Laycock, community manager for Total War.
Shogun 2: Total War was released on March 15th, 2011.