Ten years ago, The Creative Assembly, released Shogun: Total War. Now, ten years on, CA return to their roots with a sequel to the title that started it all. The Total War games, for those unfamiliar with the series, are a combination of turn-based and real-time strategy. From a stunning 3D campaign map of Japan, you take control of one of 9 Clans (10 if you get the limited edition) each with the goal of becoming Shogun. In addition to the playable clans, there are about 55 minor factions to destroy and/or ally with.
From the campaign map, you guide your clan from a single province and develop it into a major power. You’ll manage your cities and castles, train troops and direct armies. You’ll use ninjas and other special agents to complete assignments to undermine your opponents. You can use diplomatic options to forge alliances, negotiate trade or declare war. When 2 opposing armies/navies meet, you are transported to a 3D representation of the battlefield where every unit is stunningly recreated in exquisite detail. From this battlefield, you take direct control of your units, which engage the enemy in a brutal and brilliantly animated large scale war. If all this sounds a little overwhelming, fear not! Shogun 2 is extremely accessible for those taking their first crawling steps into TW. There are extensive Land, Sea and Campaign Tutorials, an in-game advisor to offer assistance if needed, as well as a full in-game encyclopaedia.
The return to Japan was a great choice to mark the ten year anniversary of the series. There was a concern that by focusing on one country, one culture, and by greatly reducing the unit roster that we had enjoyed in Empire and Napoleon that Shogun 2 would be a step backwards for the series. But in Shogun 2, CA wanted to return to the `core’ TW experience, to effectively clear away the clutter. CA describes Shogun 2 as the first `art led’ TW title and it shows. By far, it is the most immersive game in the series. Every aspect of the game, from the music, to the menus, to the UI, are gorgeous to behold. In previous titles, things like the Unit Cards could best be described as `functional’, but in Shogun 2, they are beautiful.
The greatest new addition to the Campaign is the inclusion of Skill trees for your Generals and Agents. As they win battles or complete missions these units will gain experience points, which you can now use to specialise them in different areas. The result? These units mean a lot to you, and the loss of one of them can be devastating. The campaign feels a lot more personal now, especially if the sneaky AI assassinates your favourite General.
The artificial intelligence in TW games has always been one of the weaker aspects of the series, in Shogun 2 the AI is a marked improvement over previous titles -in particular, on the Campaign map. Diplomacy is especially important, as the AI now `remembers’ your dealings and will treat you accordingly. It will hit you where you’re weakest, look to protect its investments, use agents intelligently against you, launch naval invasions behind your lines…in short, it is devious. You will not be disappointed. On land and sea, the AI is not such a jump forward as the Campaign AI, but the return to melee based combat (as opposed to the gunpowder warfare of Empire and Napoleon) and a smaller, but more defined unit roster, has certainly enabled the AI to behave more intelligently on the field of battle. If you’re a veteran of the series, it probably won’t be long before you get the measure of it, but if you’re worried about the AI doing stupid things all the time, worry not! Yes there is the odd hiccup but it reacts as you would expect a real human opponent to do so, it uses its units intelligently and it may even surprise you on occasion. The battle AI IS better, but it’s not the leap forward that the Campaign AI seems to have taken.
However, if you really find the battle AI not challenging enough, then you can enable `drop-in’ battles, whereby a human opponent steps in automatically to take charge of the AI’s forces in your single player campaign. This and the inclusion of a new `Legendary’ difficulty mean you won’t be short of a challenge.
The multiplayer in Shogun 2 is a large part of the games continuation. There is a 2 player co-op/ vs. campaign, and 4×4 custom battles to start with. But there is also a new online campaign whereby you create a General (fully customisable) and fight across a lovely 2D campaign map against other players. Your General levels up as you fight, you gain access to new troop types, veteran troops, new skills…it’s extensive, to say the least. There’s also a clan system in place, where clans fight it out and gain points to move up a leaderboard.
Shogun 2 isn’t perfect. There are still odd hiccups in AI, in path-finding and animations, but they are so rare as to not cause concern. If you’re still not sold, there is a demo on Steam you can try.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.