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Back to the Beginning
The Total War series goes back a long way. It all started with a board game style, mountainous maps and hordes of Japanese warriors in the original Shogun: Total War released in 2000. Since then we’ve marched in ancient Rome, scoured medieval Europe, launched crusades, fought the American War of Independence and relived the glory of Napoleonic fame. Now we come full circle as developer, The Creative Assembly, brings all their knowledge together from the last decade. Total War: Shogun 2 revisits the “Warring States" period of Japanese history (16th century) as various clan leaders send their armies to war and struggle to unite the country under one banner, with them as Shogun.
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Veterans of the series will feel right at home with Shogun 2. Rather than introducing anything radically different it cherry picks features from previous iterations and combines them to create an absorbing and addictive blend of turn-based and real-time strategy. Coming straight from Empire: Total War or even Napoleon: Total War you’ll find the main difference is actually that this release is refined, more tightly focused and easier to get a handle on.
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The Total War series really made its name with the RTS side of the game. It always featured epic real-time battles that challenge players to think strategically. Various units possess different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and the terrain on battle maps can spell victory or disaster. This is still the underlying strength in Shogun 2 and with the return to an earlier period the unit types suit the gameplay perfectly. You’ve got the classic split between cavalry, infantry and ranged units. Positioning and timing are key factors if you expect to emerge victorious. Shogun 2 also introduces a variety of formation options and units with special battlefield abilities, such as Ninja units who can advance to a city’s walls without being spotted.
Going back to the original Shogun and comparing it with Shogun 2 the most striking difference is the turn-based campaign map. What was once a simple board has become a living and breathing country. Each city has territory and various resources to be exploited. There is a range of buildings to construct from harbours to dojos to temple complexes. You need to choose carefully to make the most out of rare resources and ensure you have the right mix of money flowing in and armies flowing out.
Both sides of the game work extremely well. While earlier iterations have had their problems Shogun 2 is finely honed. Plotting your path to Kyoto, sending agents out to scout, making and breaking alliances and guarding your trade routes is absorbing. While many features from earlier series pop up here, such as trade routes, diplomacy, ministers, a tech tree, agents, character development and city specialization, they are streamlined. For example your family tree is combined with an option to appoint members as ministers and they’ll get bonuses as a consequence. There are only a handful of trade route spots and everything is presented on a single map. You’ll get an indication about how diplomatic overtures will be received before you make them so striking a deal with another clan is fairly straightforward.
In short the gameplay is the perfect blend of Total War games over the years and it has a powerful addictive hook that will keep you at the PC into the small hours.
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Total War: Shogun 2 looks absolutely fantastic. The intro cinematic draws you in and washes up on a beautifully styled menu interface. The whole game is really well themed and it hangs together superbly. The campaign map is highly detailed and includes effects and character animations. The battles kick off with a rousing speech from your general that sets the scene. All of the animations, the models, the terrain and the visual effects are well crafted and they create a real sense of atmosphere. The voiceover, sound effects and musical score complement the visuals and complete the illusion that you are leading a clan in 16th century Japan.
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AI and Multiplayer
The AI has always been an Achilles heel for Total War games. They will give you a real run for your money on the harder difficulty settings, but there are moments in the single player campaign where you’ll encounter tactically useless or just plain buggy AI armies. For example in one battle in my first campaign a group of bow samurai and a dismounted general who were attacking my city just stopped and sat bunched together beneath my fortress wall. While the AI is definitely better than earlier Total War games if you want a real challenge, that’s much less predictable, then you need to venture online into multiplayer.
Options for multiplayer action have been beefed up in Shogun 2. You can play a co-operative multiplayer campaign or enable drop-in battles, like you could in Napoleon but there’s more. You can create an avatar and embark on a career that allows you to level up as you conquer the board by winning battles. There’s loads of content to unlock as you fight one-on-one or team battles. While there is plenty to keep you occupied for weeks in the single player the multiplayer options give the game real longevity.
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Best Total War Game Ever
Within a few hours of playing Shogun 2 it was obvious that this is the best Total War game to date. Empire: Total War probably tried to do too much, Shogun 2 never over-reaches and yet it still offers an amazing level of depth. There’s an awful lot to like here. The level of development on offer for your agents, generals and family via a skills tree and the ability to select retainers is really satisfying and you’ll find yourself getting invested in the well-being of your favorites. That attention to detail and high level of polish extends to the whole experience.
For strategy fans this is an essential purchase. The only real problem of note with Total War: Shogun 2 is the fact it is so addictive that you’ll have trouble not playing for days on end.
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All screenshots and references from Total War: Shogun 2 developed by The Creative Assembly.