PC Game Review: Total War: Shogun 2
Curtis Szmania heads to feudal Japan to check out the latest in the Total War series with Shogun 2. Is it worth the honor of bearing the Total War name?
- The Creative Assembly
- feudal japan, ground combat, turn-based, real-time, strategic, tactical, empire building, asia
Total War: Shogun 2
Developer: Creative Assembly
As an avid reader of military history and a fan of war movies I just couldn’t resist the urge to go out and get the latest addition to the Total War series, Shogun 2. I’ll confess I’m a huge fan of the Total War games and if my military history addiction wasn’t enough proof that I would be the first to get Shogun 2, then perhaps the fact that I have Rome: Total War, Medieval 2: Total War, Empire: Total War, and Napoleon: Total War PERMANENTLY burned onto my hard drive will suggest likewise. Blending turn-based strategy with real-time astonishing tactical battles, what more does a PC war gamer want?
Growing up in the bubble of Western Civilization I was quite naive about the feudal history of Japan for which the time period of Shogun 2 takes place. When thinking of shoguns and samurais what first comes to mind is the motion picture The Last Samurai. Oh, don’t worry, Tom Cruise isn’t in this one, but neither are Gatling Guns.
My first impression of the game, after the seppuku movie intro, was the old school Shogun: Total War music at the main menu. Ah, what fond memories; ninja assassination cut-scenes, 2D units running endlessly on the most mountainous terrain imaginable, and those damn Portuguese intruders! If you didn’t catch it when it came out back in 2000 Shogun: Total War was the first award-winning game of the Total War games. But old Shogun: Total War gamers don’t fret; Shogun 2 has all that, in 3D of course, plus much more. If you got the rig and you like big, dynamic battle scenes then Shogun 2 is the game for you. The battle scenes, now enhanced by Directx11 shaders (patch), are much improved. Focused primarily on melee combat rather than rank-and-file volleys like Napoleon: Total War, the intense action scenes on the battlefield will draw you into the Warring States period like no other game has done before. After my first battle I realized the AI mechanics for Shogun 2 far surpassed all prequels in the Total War games. The AI deploys its army on the battle map in a much more sophisticated manner: on top of hills, hidden in trees, and mobile units (cavalry) deployed on the flanks. Once the battle commences the AI will make a great effort at countering your every move, almost instantaneously. Revolutionary battle physics indeed.
Diplomacy was also enhanced in this katana-wielding sequel. Not only can you give and receive hostages of royal family members with neighboring clans, but you need to always be on your toes with every diplomatic move you make. So be cautious when you ally with nearby clans because breaking alliances will have severe repercussions to your clan’s reputation. All your diplomatic actions send shockwaves that can be felt several turns into the grand campaign. It also seems that allies and neutrals are more likely to draw the sword against your people than in the Total War prequels. But in contrast, a couple things were absent in this game: a player cannot give, trade or sell regions or technologies via diplomacy. So in essence the diplomacy of the game isn’t as good as its prequels.
Another change to the Total War interface was the complete overhaul of the technology research aspect of the game. The technology tree is now called the Master of the Arts”and it has two technology sub-trees called Bushido (military) and Way of Chi (culture, government, economy).
If you’re familiar with Total War games you’d know that the strategic map is where the player spends half of his time; but in Shogun 2 that isn’t a bad thing. The dazzling 3D strategic map of vibrant colors is accompanied by a free moving 360-degree camera. This scenery will be easy on the eyes for even the most disciplined shogun. In addition, after the first couple of turns you’ll notice almost immediately that the AI doesn’t mess around when moving its army stacks around the map. Once you find yourself at war with another clan you will see what I’m talking about. Do not leave your cities without garrisoned units because the enemy WILL find a way to besiege them. Five turns into my first campaign it seemed Frederick the Great was controlling the AI armies. I’ll advise that you shouldn’t put it on hard difficulty right out of the box just because you’re used to it in the previous Total War games; completing the Shogun 2 Grand Campaign should be a requirement for West Point graduates.
Playable naval battles made a debut in the over-reaching Empire: Total War and its latest sequel is no exception. But forget about thundering broadsides and crossing the “T” because in this Total War it’s basically arrows or nothing. That’s right, when I say arrows I literally mean huge colossal multi-leveled floating wooden castles filled with hundred of archers hurling medieval projectiles at other floating castles they can’t even see. Historical? Perhaps, but this makes the naval battles much less climatic then we were used to during the Age of Sail. Don’t expect much maneuvering with these enormous ships either, they’re just too big and their powered by rowers. So if you’re the naval supremacy type strategists, you might want to look the other way or you’ll be in for a frustrating campaign.
One of my favorite additions to this game is the multiplayer co-op campaign which is an upgrade from the multiplayer campaign of Napoleon: Total War, with its new spectator mode. The spectator mode is basically an additional battle option on top of the auto-resolve and “Play Battle” options previously available. It lets players spectate, or watch, the other human player fight the AI in battle if they’re at battle with an AI clan. This adds to the co-op campaign a whole new dimension for players who wish to play a true co-op campaign with another human. In the previous Napoleon: Total War the human players had to either play human vs. human battles or auto-resolve the battle regardless if there were human or AI clans in the battle.
An additional option to the multiplayer menu worth mentioning is the new “Avatar Conquest” multiplayer mode. Selecting this option will allow players to fight online battles with other players via the internet. Winning and losing these battles will increase or decrease the features available for your custom-made shogun avatar. This is a feature that keeps me coming back to Shogun 2 time and again. One can change their clan symbol and customize numerous color options, doing so will also change the color of the armor worn by your army and the clan flags worn by your troops.
There are some troubles with Shogun 2 that I experienced. The consistent multiplayer campaign crashes, hangs and freezes; this can get on ones nerves especially if you’re 50 turns in your campaign with a great teammate. So my advice is, save frequently, nearly every turn. But it is worth mentioning the crashes have become less frequent after subsequent patch releases, though they have not ceased altogether. This might be an issue with just my PC though.
A weird issue I noticed is the ninjas unit, actually a whole regiment of ninjas. Yes, a whole regiment of ninjas, you know the karate kicking silent assassins that wear black pajamas? And that’s exactly what they’re wearing, running in formation while un-camouflaged against a green forest-like terrain standing out like a sore thumb. It seems odd to include ninja regiments since most ninjas were assassins usually working alone, at night, stealthy, blending into their surroundings. Just little historical inaccuracies like this are worth mentioning.
The last issue with Shogun 2 is the lack of clan-specific units. Once you’ve slain your way through a couple battles you’ll notice many of the units in the armies you control or you’re fighting are essentially all the same. The enemies’ armies are going to be very similar to yours and this makes the tactical battle scenes a little less than perfect. But this may have been the case in real life during this bloody time period in Japan’s history; it sure makes the game a little bland.
To wrap it up, I’d say Total War: Shogun 2 is a must-buy for any wargaming lover. If you’re looking for some fancy battle scenes (with the PC requirements to back them up) and you’re in the mood for a challenge then this game is for you. But Shogun 2 does seem to miss the mark when compared to its recent predecessors in some respects. The naval battles are a bit slow, the lack of unit variety can make the game feel repetitive, and the small scope of the game (limited to just Japan) might turn you away. The eventless naval battles, repetitiveness and the lack of replayability in the campaign may force you to shelf-it for awhile after your 2nd or 3rd campaign. But to counter, the game’s strategic map and battle map mechanics supersede all other Total War games by a long shot.
The Good: A strategic and tactical challenge for even the best war gamers, great looking battle scenes, vibrantly detailed strategic map, greatly improved battle mechanics, smarter strategic and tactical AI, fun new multiplayer co-op campaign and new multiplayer avatar conquest which greatly increases the game’s multiplayer replayability
The So-So: Diplomacy adds the trading of family hostages to the game but in return loses the ability to trade regions or technologies
The Bad: Slow and eventless naval battles, lack of unit variety gives the feel of battle repetitiveness, small strategic map and small overall game scope, issues with multiplayer campaign crashes and freezes still, some historical inaccuracies
Review written by: Curtis Szmania, Writer
- AMD Phenom II 955 Quad-Core Processor Overclocked @ 3.7Ghz
- 8GB of DDR3 RAM Overclocked @ 1666 MHz
- ATI HD 6850 1GB Overclocked @ 850 MHz GPU and 1175 MHz Memory
- Windows XP Professional x64 Edition