In the realm of real-time strategy games, few can hold a candle to Creative Assembly’s Total War series. Imagine combining the legendary Civilization games with an RTS like Age of Empires and you start to scratch the surface of what Total War is all about. The ability to create immense armies that have superb graphic detailing and send them into battle is like directing and watching your own personal version of the movie Kingdom of Heaven or The Patriot. This has become somewhat of a trademark for the Total War series and the latest chapter, Total War: Shogun 2, certainly does not disappoint. Shogun 2’s battles radiate in the masterfully detailed units, vivaciously colored environment and absolutely brilliant sounds.
The single-player campaign starts in mid-16th century Japan, allowing you to pick one of many warring Japanese factions fighting for the shogunate. The goal in every campaign is to secure territories and eventually capture Kyoto. There are two parts to the single player campaign: the campaign map and the actual battles. As mentioned earlier, the campaign map portion of the game is very similar in style to the Civilization games. You develop your cities by choosing what buildings and infrastructure to construct and upgrade. You also recruit your armies, conduct diplomacy with other factions, levy taxes on your empire, secure trade routes and research technological advances. Units like monks and ninjas that operate exclusively on the campaign map utilize abilities like sabotage, assassinations and demoralization. Depending on what faction you choose to play with you can start in an easily defensible starting position, or one surrounded by potential enemies. Whether you try to make friends with your neighbors or make them burn entirely depends on your strategy. However, should you find your armies at the business end of an enemy’s katana, then it’s time to do battle.
If you have never played a Total War game before, then prepare to be amazed. I cannot emphasize enough how epic these battles are in both animation and graphics. Every arrow shot is shown as it flies through the air and strikes its resting place. Individual units that are felled writhe on the ground before dying. What’s more impressive is that these battles are not just fifty or a hundred-something units duking it out, it’s more like thousands of units. It is absolutely uncanny how amazingly detailed these battles are. Of course, these battles are not thoughtless encounters. Utilizing other terrain features also can help tilt the battle. Hills, valleys and other geographical features allow you to take a weaker force and potentially turn the tables. For example, if you place your army in a forest during the battle and they attack you, then you can defend using trees as a cover to spring ambush attacks. Alternatively, if you are defending your city, strategy can depend on how developed your castle is. A highly developed castle gives you multiple walled layers, allowing you to retreat and regroup further in the castle without letting them occupy it. Still, tactics are the name of the game. Knowing your unit’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial to success in battle. For example, a basic spearman unit excels in combating cavalry but is miserable when under missile fire or engaged by katana-wielding units. Knowing this kind of information will help dictate how you set up your unit’s formations and how the order of battle will unfold.
The multiplayer has changed considerably from the previous Total War titles in a very good way with the introduction of Avatar Conquest. Players start by creating their own custom avatar general and army, detailing the banner color and symbols, the army’s armor colors and the general’s armor styles. Then the player goes to a map that looks relatively similar to the single player campaign map. Each region either unlocks a special trait, such as archers get +5 accuracy or something like that, or unlocks a unit type, like katana samurai. You then create your army with the units available to you. When you have just started off, all your units are basic ashigaru units unless you unlocked a samurai unit when you placed your army token. Once you feel confident in your army’s structure, find a battle against other players and fight. At the end of your battle, you will notice that units that ranked up in battle still retain that rank. They can become veteran units capable of having their own special unit name, specialized armor colors and their own abilities. Likewise your avatar general can level up and upgrade his abilities as well. All these features really add a personal feeling to Shogun 2’s multiplayer. It no longer is just a randomly assembled army; it is YOUR army that you assembled, grew with and customized. Avatar Conquest is truly a brilliant addition to Shogun 2’s multiplayer.
Shortcomings of Shogun 2 are far and few. The largest thing that continues to be a moderate annoyance in the Total War series is the occasional complete ineptitude of the AI. One such example is that occasionally when storming the wall of the castle, the AI will wait for the entire unit to scale the walls before attacking or moving on. Sometimes the unit scales the wall and just sits there, allowing me to rain arrows upon the poor unit until there are no more arrows and they are utterly decimated. That being said, the AI in Shogun 2 is still improved from past game and will certainly continue to improve. Another thing that isn’t really a flaw but might be detrimental to some players is that Shogun 2 is a relatively complex game. Even though it is considerably less complex that it’s immediate predecessor, there still is a learning curve. This might cause some casual gamers to get frustrated early. Also, it should also be noted that since this game is so detailed, you will need a pretty powerful computer in order to get the full effect of all the detail and not run into massive lag, which can be incredibly frustrating when you are trying to maneuver armies in battle.
Fans of the Total War series will find Shogun 2 very familiar feeling all while enjoying a very new experience with the entire new feature put out by this game. New players and veterans alike will relish this well-polished and very playable addition to the Total War series. Its ravishing real-time battles, stunning graphics and innovative gameplay undoubtedly mark a high point in the Total War series, setting a very high bar for future titles in the series.
Final Rating: 9.5/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: PC – Steam
Approximate Time to Completion: Many, many hours or until your heart is content.
Game Achievements: 29/71 (Steam)
Price: $59.99 (It now is $29.99 via direct download from Steam)
Recommended Purchase Price: $59.99 (I say this because it was worth every penny when it first came out, now at $29.99 it is a steal!)