Total War: Shogun 2 - Friv Review

Total War: Shogun 2 - Friv Review. On March 15th we saw the release of the latest game in the Total War strategy series, this release takes us back to where it all began with the sequel to Shogun: Total War. I can’t believe that it’s been eleven years since the release of that flagship PC title. But, with the return of Shogun, it seems that unique Total War blend of both turn-based and real-time strategy has lost none of its appeal.

Total War: Shogun 2 needs very little introduction, but I’ll spare a little time as not all PC gamers are wizend old husks who’ve been tapping away since 2000, or in many cases well before! So then, Shogun 2 takes the player back to 16th century medieval Japan where, in the single player campaign, you take charge of one of nine Japanese clans and you use military, economic and diplomatic tactics to re-unite Japan and become Shogun. The thing that really distinguishes Total War from its rival strategy games is that you take control of your clan in turn-based gameplay on a continent map, as well as taking direct control of the battles in a real-time strategy situation. It’s a blend that’s made Total War one of the most popular PC series and I’ll say right now that Shogun 2 is not a disappointment.

Shogun 2 offers a couple of one off battle modes, historic battles and custom battles, which are good fun if you just want to drop in and take control of an army, but the real linchpin to Shogun’s single player is the campaign mode. First off you have to pick one of nine different clans who each offer different bonuses, for example if you’re someone who likes the idea of using a lot of cavalry you’ll want to try out the Takeda, who benefit from bonuses such as improved morale and cheaper upkeep of cavalry units. Each clan starts with a different situation, so basically you have nine separate campaigns to play through, though the goal of re-uniting Japan under your rule is always the same. These varying situations make some clans harder to play than others at the start and the game does give you a nice little intro for each clan as to how you might want to go about successfully becoming the Shogun, whether you listen to this advice is totally up to you. I managed to complete one campaign which I’d estimate took me around twelve to fourteen hours so, as always, there’s a hell of a lot of single player content available.

As already mentioned in the campaign you can please yourself really — there is a turn limit, 120 by my calculations — but it’ll take you a good while to hit that limit. So, if you want to explore the Master of Arts technology trees, build up a fleet for some naval escapades or simply get straight into producing a land army you’re good to go. I should also mention that there’s a great set of tutorials in Shogun 2 for both the veteran and the newer player. The tutorials cover from the very basics of unit movement to more intricate details like new unit special abilities. Even as a long term fan of the Total War series, I’m glad to see these tutorials are as thorough and easy to use as they are. I know from experience that Total War games can be a little daunting at first, if anyone remembers the instruction manual (perhaps tome would be better) from the original Shogun, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The campaign mode in Shogun 2 works beautifully, there’s something about the medieval Japanese era that suits Total War down to the ground. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is and this is what I’ve come up with. First of all the clan system seems to be tailored to this style of turn based strategy, it’s starting with something small and gaining more and more power as you try to eliminate or bring alongside your opponents. There’s always something that feels a little off the mark in strategy games, where you kill off a historically massive empire in the first couple of turns or find yourself fighting against a tiny tribe for world domination. You’ll never get this in Shogun 2 as each clan has a similar area to start with and can all plausibly vie for power.

Secondly, the units available to you in Shogun 2 just work so well with the Total War formula. They’re simple enough to understand their basic role on the battlefield, but distinct enough to feel as though you can tailor your clan into the style you wish to pursue. Thirdly, as the campaign takes place over thirty to thirty five years the technology available to each clan isn’t going to skew too far, but investing in the right little technological boosts, such as capturing the Portuguese Black ship to gain European cannon technology will give you a slight edge. Finally the art and sound design is excellent, in a game where you can easily play for many hours at a time, little things such as the menu background sounds and loading screen art really do add up. There’s also some excellent little touches such as the return of character cut scenes, there’s something very satisfying about watching your ninja assassinate an enemy general, and the ‘Braveheart-esque’ pre-battle rallying cut scenes. It all fits together remarkably well to make a thoroughly enjoyable single player experience.

If you’re a returning fan of the Total War series you’ll want to hear about the new options available to you, I would be tempted to just say “go and play it yourself”, as I believe Shogun 2 is certainly worth the investment, but here’s a quick run down of some of the new features you can enjoy. There’s obviously a new roster of units to take control of, the highlight of which is probably the Kisho ninja — these guys are available to you in battles now, not just as agents on the world map — and have some nice special abilities such as stealth and smoke bombs. There’s also character progression, as an extra little layer of customization, your generals and agents gain experience as they perform successful actions and as you level-up each agent or general you gain extra little perks, such as more movement range on the world map or faster technological advances. There have also been nice terrain additions to the 3D battles, my personal favourite of which are in the naval battles where you can run ships into trouble on submerged reefs. I must also add that the 3D battles look as good as ever, and I spent a good few minutes just staring at all the terrain and close ups of the units the first time I was placed into a battle in the snow. I should also add that there’s support for DirectX 11 for those with compatible hardware, which I can only imagine makes things look even more impressive.

That’s the good stuff, though there are a few drawbacks. There was much talk from Sega that the battle AI had been improved, but even on the most challenging settings you can lure AI units away from their cover pretty easily and on lower difficulty settings you’ll find the AI opponents make some very questionable decisions, charging cavalry into well set up spear units and the like. Leading me on to another development of the Total War series over the years; the multiplayer options. First of all multiplayer isn’t all bad in Shogun 2, I’m aware I’m putting it with the criticisms, if i was going to jump into the game for thirty minutes or so I’d be happy to play a human opponent instead of the AI, and have done so on a number of occasions. Generally the quick ranked matches seem to work well and right now you’ll find an opponent immediately. There’s also a couple of little additions like strategic positions to capture mid battle that are interesting and add an extra element to the one versus one battles. However, the battles basically boil down to trying to line up the right unit to counter what’s in front of you, of course this takes some strategic thought; such as the right army composition, using the terrain to your advantage and some reaction based unit control which can lead to some satisfying in game moments, but it’s not a multiplayer format that will have me coming back. One thing that might keep me coming back to multiplayer is the progression of your avatar and conquest across Japan, but personally I feel like single player is what Total War games do (and have always done) best.

My one major problem with Shogun 2, which is accentuated in multiplayer and perhaps why I haven’t really enjoyed it yet, is the control of single groups of units in the 3D battles. Unfortunately Total War still hasn’t quite ironed out this aspect of control, you’ve still got to select a group of units then right click and drag to face them the way you want which has always felt very clumsy to me. On occasion this can be a little temperamental and you can end up with some frustrating moments, in single player this isn’t a problem as you can pause the game to make sure everything’s lined up the way you want, but when playing online it really can cost you a battle. Having said this, these complaints are minor and I have whiled away a few enjoyable hours in the multiplayer modes of the game, and the single player is well, fantastic. If you’ve ever enjoyed a PC strategy game I’d say you have to give this one a go — and if you’ve never played a Total War game before, I think this is the time to give it a try. The Japanese setting and the thorough introductions for new players make this a perfect opportunity. As a long term fan of the Total War series I can safely say that this is about as good as it gets, I’m still not decided whether I prefer it to the original, but that’s probably just nostalgia!

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