Paradox is known for their in-depth, white knuckle and insanely historically accurate strategy games. Sengoku is the next entry in that lineage of high quality strategy games, and we got a chance to get our hands dirty with the game’s alpha code, a month prior to it’s release in September of 2011. So, trade in your falcon for a set of samurai armor and let’s get cracking!
Sengoku is aptly named for the period in Japanese history during which the game takes place. This was a tumultuous time in feudal Japan where many warring factions were competing for the position of Shogun, military leader of Japan. Because Ashikaga Yoshimasa had no legal heirs, controversy ran rampant over who would take his place. Although Yoshimasa had persuaded his younger brother to take the title of shogun, the late birth of a son to Yoshimasa was enough to drive a rift between the family and result in the warring of Japan’s clans to take the title of shogun by force. At the game’s opening, you can jump into the Kanto or the Onin war, and step into the shoes of one of many historical leaders of the clans vying for power in Japan.
Choosing your clan will dictate not just your starting point on the map, but also the difficulty of the game’s campaign, measured on a scale from pacifier to skull and crossbones. By now, your mind may be hearkening back to March’s release of Total War : Shogun 2, mine certainly was. Where Shogun 2 lived and breathed on it’s epic battles, Sengoku digs it’s roots into the strategic diplomacy and economical clan management aspects of the time period. Your reputation is critically based on honor, attack without honor, and you will lose your own along with progress towards your goal to take the shogunate. Every step you take is key, from appointing the officials and positions within your clan, to managing your resources, recruiting military forces and upgrading facilities. You are able to employ the help of ninja clans, to help soften defenses, assassinate rival leaders and sabotage your enemies from within. You can payoff other clans with gifts, marry into them, offer trade agreements, and schmooze your way into their hearts and lands. All of the features are menu driven, your combined armies occupy a single large soldier on the map, and combat even takes place on the overview map screen.
I have the utmost respect for Paradox and the teams that develop for them. They are unabashed about their PC devotion and the are uncanny in the amount of detail and historical accuracy that they are able to cram into their top-notch strategy games. Still, as I’ve mentioned, it’s been hard to shake the influence of Shogun 2 from my head while playing this preview build, especially since they both take place in exactly the same time frame in Japanese history, and feature exactly the same clans. Maybe it was also because I was the writer here who reviewed it, and maybe because I couldn’t help but feel an emptiness without those large scale battles. The menus and the learning curve for the game are incredibly steep, and I quickly found myself lost in the menu system and map screen. Time does not pass in a turn by turn fashion, rather in real time, which you can fast forward or slow down. So, rather than needing to wait two turns for that garrison to be built, it naturally happens over time within the game. Where I struggled with economy management in Shogun 2, it was oh so more painfully obvious in Sengoku, without the opportunity to flex my tactical muscles on the battlefield. The game seemed to seesaw between crawling along and going by faster than I could learn the mechanics, with each mistake or oversight turning into a “Monday morning quarterback” learning experience. There is a deep, rich, historically accurate game in Sengoku, but I just don’t think it’s my bowl of noodles. I fully realize that this was not a final build, and I expect that there is a measure of tweaking and polish that will be evident when the game releases on September 13th, 2011. Still, I couldn’t help thinking back to how much more streamlined and polished the maps, menus and interface of Shogun 2 were. If you were a fan of the massive battles and military battlefield tactics of the Total War series, then you might be better off in that world. If you are more of a behind the scenes, diplomatic strategist and you found Shogun 2’s tactic battles intrusive on that aspect of the game, then Sengoku will be right up your alley.
Sengoku releases on September 13th,2011. Digital copies will be available through GamersGate, and, presumably Steam. For more information check out the site here.