Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)

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The year is 1545 and Japan is gripped in a terrible civil war. The Ashikaga Shogunate –the guys in charge of Japan who generally tell the Emperor what to do — has lost all control over the Daimyo — wealthy land owners who do a lot of killing and not a lot of dying — of the provinces of Japan and now everyone has equal claim to their throne. All they need is sufficient strength of arms. Whether the army consists of peasants armed with spears, devout warrior monks, or the most elite samurai that can me mustered from the realm they’ll fight with all the tact afforded by their honor. Or you could loot, plunder, pillage, and employ enough ninja to choke a horse — you know, you do you.

History

The Total War series has been developed by Creative Assembly and Shogun 2 is no exception. Shogun: Total War was the first in the Total War series and fans had been eagerly awaiting the series’ return to Feudal Japan after the release of Medieval 2. I wasn’t actually able to find much information about the development but I did find a tidbit or two about the advertising. Those who bought the limited edition of the game received access to the Hattori Clan, which would later be sold as DLC. Whereas those who pre-ordered the game from Best Buy got extra in-game currency for the beginning of a campaign.

Every time I hear something like this I’ve left asking, ‘what fuels this pre-order culture?’ It was available on Steam at release so there’s no lack for copies of the game. Spoilers — it’s a good game and I like it. It didn’t need to offer all this useless junk or cut out extra clans to give the game the illusion of value because it is valuable on its own merits. Now I’m cranky and I feel like the game chopped up content to sell later. Which is never a good sign so… why would they do that? Don’t they know they’re just hurting their bottom line?

Total War: Shogun 2 was released on March 15th 2011. It’s competition was Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (PSP), Crysis 2 (PC, PS3, XBox 360), and Homefront (PC, PS3, and XBox 360).

Experiences

I mentioned in my Medieval II review that I love defending a castle and that passion has not died. If anything, Shogun II has brought it out stronger than ever. The castles in Shogun are much more compact instead of being large sprawling cities. Instead of needing siege weapons, towers, and ladders to scale or break down walls and gates any infantry can climb the walls of the castle or try to burn down gates. Shogun also makes it so any unit defending in the inner fortress has infinite morale and will always fight to the death, they know there’s no other way out. But… the AI does act strangely predictably. They always try to climb over the walls instead of burning down the gates. Someone defending a siege can routinely defend against armies 2 or 3 times their size. It creates these intense situations where an impossibly small force can grab victory from the maw of defeat.

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Fire, blood, chaos, no time for that! There’s glory to be won!

Gameplay

The Gameplay in Shogun 2 is split between managing towns and armies in the overworld and fighting battles as armies clash. Managing your clan consists of choosing what buildings to construct in which provinces. Larger fortresses allow you to build more supporting buildings like dojo to train more powerful samurai or markets to make extra money and help train your secret police. Speaking of secret police –or metsuke, they, monks, and ninja compose the cast of agents to serve a rock, paper, scissors like espionage system. Metsuke catch ninja, ninja assassinate monks — and anyone else you sic them on, and monks send metsuke into contemplative retreats. Each of them can also have effects on towns and allied armies when stationed with them. They can also effect enemy armies and towns in a myriad of ways. Castles and certain buildings also constrict your food supply and starving people are angry people so don’t build too many huge castles without the farms to support them — gotta throw that out there because most of my early campaigns suffered because I didn’t understand that.

Your playstyle is sure to be influenced by whichever clan you’re playing as, each one comes with their own unique abilities. For instance, the Chosokabe Clan make more money off of farms and produce superior archers, or the Oda Clan who produce superior Ashigaru (Peasant troops, cheap, affordable, bodies on the field). Between these traits and each clan’s starting location, and the inherent randomness of events each campaign ends up being unique.

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Or you can choose your clan by the quality and design of their hat. I ain’t gonna judge.

It’s finally time to get on the battlefield and it’s pretty simple. The player is given a tactical view to deploy troops and then they march around engaging in combat and occasionally disobeying orders — some inexperienced troops will charge without orders whereas others will prefer to stand and fight rather than flee. Certain troops are more effective against others so battles come down to having good troop compositions and getting your men where you need them when you need them there.

DLC

I’ve already mentioned the extortionate clan DLC packs but I’ll bring it up again. Three clans and over twenty different unit types meant for the main campaign are held to ransom behind a pay wall. I just checked it out, BLOOD IS HELD BEHIND A PAY WALL! Want your samurai to bleed their last miles from home at the behest of a man far from this bloodshed and mayhem? Welp, you’d best be willing to dish out two dollars for it.

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This is what you’re $1.59 gets you, and shame, mostly shame.

Not all the DLC is bad actually. The game comes with two different campaigns, the Rise of the Samurai and the Fall of the Samurai. Each of these campaigns actually completely revamps the entire campaign with different units, goals, and tactics. The Fall of the Samurai even has a different map and has a modernization mechanics to determine how much of the old ways you’ve left behind. That being said, Fall of the Samurai is thirty goddam dollars but blissfully does not require the original game to play — it’s standaloneness has got to count for something… what it counts for I have no idea.

The Gush

NINJA ASSASSINATION CUT-SCENES ARE BACK! One of the best parts of the original Shogun returns with fanfare. Whenever you send one of your shadow warriors to dispatch an enemy commander or agent you’re treated to a mix and match series of scenes showing how your agent sneaks into the enemy midst, dispatches their enemy — or fails miserably, and how they make their daring escape — or fails miserably.

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They can really strike from anywhere.

The incidental dialogue from each of the characters is in japanese. It’s small but it’s certainly better than the voices from medieval and their insensitive accents.

The mod library for this game is incredibly verbose. If it’s not in the game there’s a mod to put it in. If there’s a problem there’s probably a mod to fix it.

It’s something small but your generals can gain retainers and each one offers small bonuses to various stats like unit morale or general loyalty. Included in the pool of retainers is the Seven Samurai themselves, you know from that movie…

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No, not that one.

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Nope, still not right.

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THERE WE GO! That’s the bunny.

The Kvetch

The land divide is one of the most frustrating mechanics implemented into the game. Once your clan becomes renown enough the other clans will realize you’re a problem and send everything they’ve got at you. Ignoring war with each other, you become the universal enemy of all Japan. And there’s no clear indication that this will happen and once it begins there’s no undoing it. It’s this bizarre point of no return and if you’re not ready for it, the results can be disastrous.

The research system is actually quite interesting but it suffers from one gigantic problem. It takes too damn long. Even if you go full bore for one of the highest level research topics you will never finish it before you’ve completed the campaign. Even in the long campaign. Even on total domination campaign. You can construct buildings like temples and castles to improve research speed but it barely puts a dent in these research times. And some whole units and buildings are locked off behind these research trees so it’s impossible to play with all the toys in a single campaign.

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Each wing takes about 70 turns and that’s for each category. It’s madness.

Naval combat is fucking wizardry. It takes long enough for infantry to change their flank directions or take cover behind a castle wall but the ships move ponderously even by that comparison. I was also never able to figure out how boarding works. The whole thing baffled me so utterly so I ended up employing the auto-calculate function for all naval combats.

Cavalry really seems to get the short end of the stick. The basic unit is a spearman so most armies are composed with the innate ability to defeat cavalry. How far cavalry has fallen since the days of Medieval. Strangely enough cavalry is generally best at defeating more expensive more well put together armies made up of archers and swordsmen. But most armies either have spearmen or naginata wielding samurai so I’m not exactly sure what to do with them. They’re also more expensive to boot so I generally feel like I’m wasting my time hiring these guys.

The Verdict

I know the kvetch is super long but I actually love this game. It’s a super solid Sengoku Jidai based world tactics game. It does a lot to spice up its content between different clans and game styles. The DLC is pretty punitive at full price but it goes on sale often — not that it excuses the badness. The base game goes for $30 and $50 if you want all the DLC, not including the Fall of the Samurai campaign. I would catch it on sale if it sounds interesting.

Next Week: The Guild of Dungeoneering.

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