Total War: Shogun 2 Limited Edition Review

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Date Released: 15 March, 2011
Date Reviewed: 19 April, 2011
Players: 1 – 4 typical, more possible
Length: 20 – 40 hours for one standard campaign
Replayability: High

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Introduction

Total War: Shogun 2 is the newest entry in the Total War series, and is a direct sequel to the first title: Shogun: Total War. It stays true to the series’ core design of having real-time battles and a turn-based campaign, and also includes newer features such as naval battles, as were seen in Empire and Napoleon. Focusing on late feudal Japan, the game covers a limited time frame but also opts for a greater level of detail and immersion that is not commonly seen in the series, making it a unique title. It was created by SEGA’s Creative Assembly studio in the United Kingdom, who are responsible for most of the Total War series.


Concept

Shogun 2 follows the series’ long-standing formula of campaigning and battling. During the campaign mode the player is expected to recruit armies and agents, and then interact them with settlements and forces. Along with this is the construction and improvement of buildings and settlements, diplomacy, financial controls such as tax levels, and many more management options to control every key aspect of the player’s clan. It all takes place in a seasonal turned-based environment where planning can be done at the player’s pace, allowing time for strategies to be thought up for as long as needed. The features are in excess, which allows for a high level of immersion not before seen in a Total War game, giving players the highest possible control over their settlements, forces, and clan management. Additionally the game does not hinder newer players as the game offers both advise at various levels (low, medium, and high) and many ‘auto’ functions, such as auto-tax management. Newer players or those uninterested in certain features can still progress normally.

[Campaign map, fully 3D and rotatable.]

The second core part of the formula is the real-time battle system. While agents are exempt from this, all army forces engage on a battle field or inside castle walls under direct control of the player, turning the game into a tactical experience, similar to titles found in the ‘RTS’ genre. Players are able to control groups of units together that form

small regiments, and can issue them a variety of commands ranging from marching, running, charging, attacking, special abilities, garrison duties, and guarding. Depending on game settings, there can be thousands of units on screen at once in 3D, making the game stand out from ‘RTS’ titles that typically end in the hundreds at most.

[Katana Samurai charging into battle.]

The recent addition of naval battles in the previous two games has also carried over to Shogun 2, allowing players to engage in a traditional style of naval engagements unseen in the series previously. This includes a heavy focus on arrows, fire, and ship boardings, as opposed to simply relying on cannon firepower, although cannons are available on advanced warships. Naval battles are of a smaller scale than previously seen and when compared to the land battles, but they make up for it by providing a refreshing change to gameplay and a detailed waterscape to engage in, which includes land masses for tactical manoeuvring.

[View from a Siege Ship; sail boat and land intrusions visible.]

Story

Shogun 2 lacks a formal story mode, but features a variety of ‘sub stories’ and an overall theme. The basic plot of the main campaign is for a player to take leadership of a Japanese clan then lead them to victory over the Shogunate in Kyoto, giving their clan’s leader the title of Emperor. Each clan features its own opening, giving the player a different feel for each clan’s motivations, circumstances, and methods. It is an improvement over the previous entries which had dropped faction introductions altogether.

[Artwork showcasing a defeat, done in a traditional Japanese style.]

Another element of storytelling comes from the historical battles. Each of the battles includes a narrated description and text introduction to the battle’s context and provides relevant commentary during the battle in addition to cut scenes. During gameplay it is told from the context of the battle itself as to not seem like an educational piece, but rather to immerse the player as if they were actually commanding the army. The battles themselves are all unique, giving interesting situations and covering themes such as facing overwhelming odds or betrayal. It stays true to Japanese notions of honour and warrior spirit that tend to define how people view samurai.

Gameplay

Shogun 2’s gameplay benefits from a mixture of variety and simplicity. Unlike ‘RTS’ games that the series is generally compared to, Shogun 2 does not require intensive micro-management skills or extremely quick reflexes, allowing for a more slow-paced game experience which still manages to be engaging, fun, thoughtful, and interesting to watch. Units are presented in groups and a maximum of 20 are available to control at once, thus the player is free from frantically trying to control more than is practically possible – a fault of many similar games. This makes the Shogun 2 very accessible to new or casual players, and battle difficulty adjustments are included to suit any type of player’s taste in challenge, which can be changed mid-campaign if the game becomes too easy or too hard.

[Buddhist Bow Monk; Christian clans can use imported European firearms instead. Religion changes a clan’s available arms.]

Controls are simplistic and cover all the basic functions that one would expect from this series, although some faults can be mentioned. One notable issue is the lack of a cooldown timer on special abilities, with instead a graphic clock being present with no countdown available, best compared to a sun dial. Other notable games such as Starcraft 2 feature timed cooldown details on unit abilities to show the exact amount of seconds left until the ability may be used again, making this title feel outdated in comparison, in addition to being annoying at times. Another long-time issue with the series is pathfinding troubles, where a unit ends up not properly making its way to where the player ordered it. This has been greatly improved upon and is only a minor issue now, although players will still become confused at times when they notice one of their units scaling down its own castle wall to its death while it attempts to chase away invaders it was defending against. Some abilities also cause minor irritation, most notably the classic wedge formation which still seems useless for cavalry just as it was in earlier titles.

[Burning heavy ships. If it were raining, fire would be ineffective, changing the balance of power in this battle to favour boardings.]

Thankfully innovations to the gameplay are more noticeable than the game’s faults, making this the most playable Total War game yet. Units now tend to run when issued a command instead of requiring the player to issue it. This removes the tedium of having to constantly order units to run as most of the time they should be doing this during a battle anyway. Instead marching is now what needs to be ordered, which is more suitable. This may cause initial confusion and can be finicky at times, but players will appreciate not having to constantly double-click and press the r key over time. Another innovation in controls exists with the ‘movement’ functions from Empire. Now an entire army can be issued to move forward in its position, or backwards, making it easy to relocate large groups of units or advance the entire force towards an enemy without breaking formation. Rank controls are also available in this feature, although they are not as useful as units have different numbers of soldiers, still making it a challenge to arrange precise numbered lines of soldiers.

[During online battles, buildings like these can be captured for area-specific and whole army bonuses.]

Roleplaying mechanics are another newly expanded feature to the franchise. Players can now control which traits and followers/items their agents, generals, and family members have, allowing for direct development of characters. An entire skill tree is available for each type of special character, be it monks, priests, ninja, generals, diplomats, or commissioners. Characters will level up and gain new skill points as they are used, allowing for custom development of each unit to be specialised, much like the game’s main research feature for the clan’s overall technology/development. For instance, a monk could be used to convert enemy agents, inspire armies by following along, spread Buddhism to settlements (friend or foe, making it a weapon and a defence), or calm unrest in Buddhist populations. As this monk levels up, the player can choose which type of focus the character has. This allows for great versatility in agents, giving each type so many uses that there will always be a purpose for them; merely being stationed in a settlement is enough for most to function well and gain experience now.

[Customised online avatar, seen here in-game as General.]

Multiplayer features have also been expanded. Now players can campaign online, engage in player clans, and battle each other more easily than before. Like the single player game, roleplaying is also included online with level ups to the player’s general. Gameplay changing abilities can be learned through battle, as well as cosmetic features which include creating a general and dressing/purchasing clothing, armour, and accessories for him, which is visible in game. Multiplayer tended to be lacking in previous titles, but it is now fully developed to the point where one can likely enjoy the multiplayer component on its own and still have just as much entertainment and content as with the single player.

Sound

Total War has long been praised for having original, well-done soundtracks and Shogun 2 makes no exception. Series veteran Jeff van Dyke has composed the musical score, giving it an authentic Japanese feel and maintaining a high standard in musical quality. Music fits the tone of every situation with tracks changing mid-game as the context changes, most notably when armies engage in hand-to-hand combat. The soundtrack is vast, as usual, giving each part of the game its own style and collection of musical tracks. Sound effects are well done, sounding realistic and high in quality, and featuring no sound bugs as were present in Empire. On a technical level sound is also well represented, allowing for independent control of sound quality and providing options for nearly any setup – from stereo to headphones to 7.1 surround.

Voice-work also deserves mention, although not only for praise. Announcers tend to sound over-the-top and exciting, perhaps losing some realism but gaining personality and excitement in replace of it. This is used to best effect during the historical battles where unique lines are used, with a good display of emotion being used as characters report to you on events in the battlefield. Overall voice work is also well done and is featured in both Japanese and English when relevant, such as advice being in English, while speech is confined to Japanese with subtitles to provide realism (such as a General’s speech pre battle). One complaint is the voice work performed by the female advice character. Speaking in an odd form of broken English, an attempt is made for her to sound exciting and authentic, but it just comes off as squeaky and awkward. Unfortunately for her volume to be turned off and replaced with text, the male voice actor must also be disabled. A separate speech control would have benefited the game, or simply a voice actor as talented as the rest of the cast.

Visuals

Graphically the game succeeds in every regard. On a technical level the game both performs smoothly and provides fantastic looking models, even on lower settings. Animations are fluid and well done with advanced examples including scenes of sword duals, enemies getting shot off of horses and the animal fleeing the battle, characters charging into battles, characters rolling, and soldiers scaling walls and dropping to their deaths. Artistically the game maintains its intent on a Japanese feel, providing authentic artwork, environments, characters, and buildings. The game’s limited focus allows for much closer detail than was possible before.

[Multi-layered castle, found in Siege Battles.]

Special Notes

Shogun 2 was released in a variety of packages, and received several bonus pre-order items. A special edition included features such as a unique ninja-based clan named the Hattori, an exclusive historical battle at Nagashino, starting experience that allowed for one free upgrade for the player’s online general, and a special suit of armour called ‘the goldfish’ for the player’s online general. This armour is bright yellow and of excessive build, making the general show off on the battlefield as distinct and colourful. Other editions of the game included bonus physical material (along with the previously mentioned bonuses), such as figures, an art book, a chess set, and a special wooden box. The chess set is only available in the UK and Australia, likely due to retail regulations in many countries that limit the size of PC game boxes, rather than SEGA or Creative Assembly’s actions.

[Pre-order bonus at GameStop.]

Preorder bonuses included downloads on Steam software, such as Team Fortress 2 items, as well as additional funds for a minor financial starting boost in the campaign. The most notable preorder bonus was an historical battle at Kawagoe. These were available separately at a variety of stores, both online and retail, depending on location.

Conclusion

Total War: Shogun 2 can best be described as a technically solid, dedicated experience. While it lacks the epic expansiveness of some previous titles, it also lacks all the troubles of bugs and poor balance that usually came with such large games. Rarely will the game present any bugs or major annoyances, making it completely enjoyable without the need for extensive patches. Some may be turned off by a lack of interest in the game’s exclusive Japanese theme, but those looking for a top-quality gameplay experience with high performance and graphical capabilities will be pleased, as will anyone who simply enjoys the idea of creating their own Japanese society and battling their way to the title of Emperor of Japan. Both fans of the original Shogun and Total War fans who never experienced the original should get dozens if not hundreds of hours of gameplay out of this title.

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Format(s): PC. originalreviews

An iPhone/Pad/Pod complimentary application for Shogun 2 exists, which allows for players to view game information on their Apple handheld device, such as unit descriptions and statistics. It is free of charge.

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