Shogun 2: Total War

Last year, PC gamers were all ablaze at the return of a game franchise left dormant for 12 years.  This year, we herald the return of another long lost classic-Shogun 2.  The original game debuted to rave reviews, in 2000, and the Total War franchise has dominated PC strategy charts, crossing many diverse worlds, before finally returning to it’s feudal Japanese roots.  With so many years between, there is much innovation to be included and expanded upon, but will all of that make for a great game, or just add to the feature list of a ho-hum sequel?

The Story

"Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, it's off to war we go...."

Feudal Japan, in the 16th century, was ripe for the re-workings of a military strategy game.  The country was is turmoil, the shogunate was constantly being passed around between many warring clans and families, struggling for to be the next to hold the shogunate, create their own dynasty, and control the fate and riches of the country.  This makes the perfect backdrop for a strategy game giving the player motivation to outshine multiple opponents, on both the military and the political front.  You, the player, pick one of the nine clans to attempt your rise to power with.  What more could you want? The story of feudal Japan is a great backdrop, but in a franchise like Total War, it is but a mere pedestal on which you attempt to erect a glorious statue of yourself, as Shogun.  There are two major fronts, on which you will wage that war – the campaign map, and the real-time battles.

Campaign Overview

On the global map of Japan, you will manage all of your troops and resources.  The map is a flat map of the country, complete with the borders of all of the encompassing territories.  Picking a clan will determine not only where you start, geographically, but where your strengths will lie, on or off the battlefield.  Each clan has a unique ability or specialization, be it a certain type of resource growth, specialized unit, or battle unit.  As you explore the map, it springs to live in lush, colorful 3D.

"Over the river and through the woods, to challenge the shogunate we go..."

Managing your resources and economies is no small task.  In addition to recruiting units and building upgrades, you must balance your research in military and political specializations.  You are able to switch interests, on the fly, but most additions take between 4 and 6 turns to research, so you need to plan, well in advance.  Managing your taxes can be a bit tricky, as new units and their upkeep come at a high price.  All while attempting this juggling act, you can play the political favorites game with the other clans, while sneaking your specialized monks and ninjas into their territories.  The diplomacy features allows many ways to interact with clans, be it an arranged marriage, trade agreement, military alliance, or negotiated military access.  Before the negotiations sour, you should have the real workhorses of your empire getting their hands dirty—the monks and ninjas.  Monks are great for demoralizing armies and spreading discourse with their wisdom and insight.  Ninjas are fantastic for sneaking in the back door to sabotage the castle gate before an invasion, or assassinating a key figurehead, thereby severing the viper’s head before it can strike, and delivering it’s entrails into your awaiting hands.  Either or both are key for scouting and weakening forces for the path of your awaiting armies.

Real-Time Battle Overview

This is the real meat and potatoes of the game, the reason we all come to the Total War franchise, and the crown jewel to every surrounding detail of the game.  The game’s engine will support up to 56,000 troops, on a field of battle.  Each unit has it’s own strength and weakness; archers rain death from a distance, but fall easily in melee attacks, calvary are swift and deadly, but can easily be unhorsed by spearmen, digging in and forming a line.  The battles are a fine art of maneuvering and and placing your units, and then managing them to counter the oncoming onslaught.  Castles are especially tricky, because the later in the game you progress, and the more upgraded the enemies’ encampments are, the more complex and multi-tiered a siege becomes.

"Have fun storming the castle!

Well used archers, placed correctly within the many tiers of a castle can whittle down enemy forces, and keep them at bay.  Even within a losing battle, correctly managing your forces to maximize enemy casualties can pay dividends later.  Samurais, spearmen and archers are your bread and butter, but matchlock troops, fire-bombers, ninjas and monks really spice up the combat.  Having matchlock troops makes your ranged attacks carry an extra punch, fire bombs can bring down walls and defenses, and ninjas are the perfect weapon for a silent strike against a foe distracted by your frontal assault.  Generals help rally your troops, with inspirational speeches before the battles, and unique abilities to calm shaken troops during the battles.  Taking out an enemy general can be the crippling blow that turns the tide of an outnumbered encounter, so always keep tabs on your enemies’ general and routes he can be disabled from.

If this wasn’t enough to make you happy, the naval battles have also returned;ships are not quite as advanced as the later games, but it makes for a fantastic addition.  Managing your ships, and knowing when to attempt to board enemy ships is an art you really need to master, of you plan on commanding your own naval battles.  Each encounter can be fought with an AI controlled mechanic, if you don’t feel like stepping into the shoes of your general, on the battlefield.  Personally, I found that the best time to use it, was when my army was grossly outnumbered;allowing the computer AI to manage those battles, always seems to minimize friendly losses.

The Verdict

"Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet can keep us from conquering the lands!"

If it sounds like all I’ve been doing, thus far, is praising this game, you would be making a correct assumption.  I’m sure that some of the more rabid players could find minor glitches in the damage dealt or received in certain situations, or minor flaws in the game’s economic system, but I am not that person.  Shogun 2 is an amazing simulation/military strategy gem, that succeeds in immersing the player in the role of vying for the shogunate in feudal Japan.  The massive scale battles, and intricately detailed castle sieges are enough to hook the player, alone, without even factoring in the battles at sea, and wealth of options and strategies to delve into at the campaign map.  It accomplishes everything promised, and then some.  If the campaign is not to your liking, there are multiplayer options, and even recreations of historic battles to try your skills at.  There is a lot of replayability, to be had, in taking the campaign from many different angles, and with different strategies and bonuses.  If you are remotely a fan of military strategy games, do not let this one slip by.  Those familiar with the Total War franchise can expect the same high quality, highly addictive and fun experience of all Shogun’s predecessors.  Pick out your samurai armor and prepare for war!

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

2 thoughts on “Shogun 2: Total War

  1. Haha, I wish I could, sorry bro, if I could, I would be first on that list. In all fairness tho, I played this on a laptop, at a 1366×768 res, and most in-game settings at 'Medium', and it looked gorgeous. Granted, I have an ok video card, with 1gb vram, but I don't think that makes it a gaming rig, by anyone's standards. I could have bumped the settings up, but with the massive amounts of units in battles, it would chug slightly on higher settings. Still, I don't think using a lower res and lower settings, that I missed out on anything, or that the game suffered. I think, if it's playable, like that, it only gets better, if you do have a really tricked out PC to play on.

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