In a declining PC market, Creative Assembly has taken a great risk in keeping true to its series with Shogun 2 : Total War. Unlike other sequels recently, Shogun 2 is just as complex as its predecessors in the grand scheme of things while only cutting back on the interface and trimming the fat of unused features of the last few games in the series. Rest assured that the Total War series has not been consoleified!
Even samurai have weaknesses, like flaming bombardment. Then again most things are weak to flaming bombardment...
For those of you that dont know what Total War is all about, its about pure conquest. You have two main views of gameplay. The first is a strategic province map where you can select your next targets, move armies around, and fortify territory and relations with other countries, resembling something along the lines of Risk or Civilization. But where the gameplay really starts to shine is the tactical combat that happens when armies clash, where the gameplay zooms down to a more traditional RTS level, albeit with a few thousand troops on the field!
The resulting clash is a matter of tactics and rock-paper-scissors, as each troop type has a natural advantage over others. There are often neutral buildings on the battlefield though, and controlling those will give passive benefits to your army and prevent stalemate style tactics on open ground. When the battle is won, the province is captured and youre one step closer to your ultimate goalbecoming the Shogun!
Shogun 2 has received a T for Teen. It's a semi-realistic depiction of warfare, and blood will spill. Assassinations, geisha 'diplomacy', and some swearing are involved. Keep this in mind if any of the younger ones are playing.
One doesnt conquer Japan in a day though. Over a multitude of turns, youll have to deal with the other lords. Some prefer offensive actions and a show of strength to keep you at bay, but diplomacy is often better than open war. You simply cannot fund a war with opponents on all sides, so keeping people content with offerings and pacts until youre ready to destroy them is a preferred (and historically accurate!) way of dealing with things.
Assassinations return, and over the course of both tactical and strategic gameplay youll get treated to mini-cutscenes of events unfolding. Oddly enough, the cutscene for a failed ninja maneuver is better than a successful one! Warlords issue inspiring speeches at the beginning of combat, and that greatly increases the epic feeling of a war game.
Does the formula still work though? Absolutely! The unit balance is a little confusing at first (Do you know the difference between a Yari and a Naginata?) but once you get the feel for things, youll be issuing decisive orders and uniting Japan under the banner of your choosing. Its a little bit of a step back from the previous Empire and Medieval II from a unit depth standpoint, but thats actually for the better. Those games were filled with useless units and dominant strategies and neither of those problems have reared their head thus far with Shogun II.
The attention to detail is outstanding, and it even looks this good in motion. That is, if you have a graphics card from the last 6 months.
There is one word for the graphics of Shogun II : stunning. Another phrase could be used too though and thats incredibly taxing. While on the highest settings itll rock your world as men brandishing steel charge each other in bloody combat, itll also make your video card likely melt from the processing necessary. Even the map of Japan looks impressive as you zoom through it, with fog, crashing waves, and more to make each territory feel much more alive.
Is this a game worth upgrading for though? Perhaps not, but is there another strategy or tactics game in the near future that will push you that far? You might as well upgrade for this and the newest expansion to Dawn of War II because youll be hard pressed to get more impressive animations and scale than these games.
Warcries, rousing speeches, and the visceral sound of combat never get old. Shogun II delivers a solid musical score to complement the outstanding voice work and effects, and while it could use some more variety, it fits the setting well.