Shogun: Total War Review: The Start of a Tactical Gaming Revolution
Shogun: Total War was an excellent blend of real-time and turn-based strategy which spawned a fantastic series of strategy games for the PC. It challenged players to unite feudal Japan and featured stunning battles on an epic scale.
Shogun: Total War was the first release from developers The Creative Assembly in their Total War series. It was a clever blend of real-time and turn-based strategy which challenged players to unite feudal Japan. The clever AI presented a good challenge for players taking part in the single player campaign and a multiplayer mode extended the life of the title. This was a revolutionary title on release and it spawned the greatest series of games currently available in the strategy genre.
The overview map in the game is like a simple board game layout and the action here is turn-based. Players control a number of provinces and must conquer more in order to win the game. They can build various buildings and troops in their provinces but graphically speaking it is very basic and the situation in individual provinces is not obvious at a glance.
The real focus of the game and the genius of the game-play is in the real-time battles which feature huge numbers of units on detailed maps with varied terrain. The terrain and troop types have an impact on the battle and it is important to choose a good location to set up your men. With up to ten thousand units on screen at once the battles soon degenerate into vicious chaotic fights. The AI here is tactically fairly basic and the bulk of the troops are archers, spearmen or cavalry. The game does include a few special units such as samurai and warrior monks and the Dutch and Portuguese factions have gunpowder units.
The most important facet of the tactical approach to battles is to use the terrain to your advantage. You can hold off huge numbers of enemies by setting up on the brow of a steep hill. Manoeuvring your troops on the battlefield is quite tough and while they work best in formation it is sometimes tricky to get them laid out how you want.
The spy and diplomacy options in the game are also quite limited and the turn based portion of the game is something The Creative Assembly developed to much greater heights with later titles in the Total War series.
This was hugely impressive when it was released back in 2000 and the battles still look great. The environments feature a range of terrain and they are detailed and very attractive. The styling of the Japanese troops is also very nicely executed and the view of their fluttering banners approaching is a great sight to behold. The troops are fairly basic in terms of modelling and animation but they easily create the illusion of a massive battle and there were no games around when this was released that looked as good on such an epic scale. The menu screens and general visual design is excellent and although later titles have surpassed this it impressed me the first time I played it. The visual effects were also a talking point on release and the fog, rain and snow effects really added some atmosphere.
The multiplayer portion of the game was where I spent most of my time because the AI in this title was somewhat limited tactically speaking and you could have much more interesting battles with human opponents. You could engage in huge one off battles with up to seven opponents and players could be divided into teams if you preferred. There were an amazing 85 maps to choose from and the lack of a multiplayer campaign mode was not something I missed.
The system requirements were quite taxing at the time but they seem tame by modern standards. You’ll need at least a 266MHz processor, 64MB RAM, a DirectX 8 compatible 3D graphics card and around 500MB of hard drive space. I first played the game on a system which was only slightly better than the minimum specs and it ran well even with huge troop numbers. The initial release had some stability issues but these were soon fixed with a patch.
The Total War series has come a long way since this title, all the way to Empire: Total War, but this was the starting base they built upon and at the time it was a fantastic release which quickly gathered a legion of fans. The best aspect of it was undoubtedly the real-time battles and, while they have improved the AI and visual effects over time, the essence of Total War was first to be found on the battlefields of Japan.