The map of Japan has as much graphical detail as recent RTS games do in their gameplay. It's quite impressive.
No one expected deep multiplayer, but Shogun II actually delivers a solid experience. As you attack and win matches against provinces, you unlock more units to mess around with. Typical battles are fought as single engagements, with each side having a funding allotment to buy X units. Battles are then won with tactics and strategic engagement, and capturing of the neutral buildings to gain a positional advantage. Its entirely possible to defeat a superior force if your units have a better position at higher ground, so no battle will play out twice as cavalry storm the field in one plains war, where as another one will charge forward with samurai armed with bow and katana! Both custom games and matchmaking are available, and youll never have to look far for an opponent!
The bugs get in the way of the fun out of the box though. Creative Assembly has been prompt with fixes, but its disappointing as ever to find a game ridden with camera and multiplayer bugs. Since the majority of the game-breaking bugs are toast, youre free to enjoy a game that will play out differently every time you play it, especially since you can change who you play as and customize each game appropriately. If youre sick of the strategy, you can get into a quick and dirty tactical war with another player within a minute, giving the game a surprisingly strong value for both single and multiplayer, something I certainly wasnt expecting from the Total War series at this point.
With a few more limitations on unit variety compared to previous games in the series, the lasting appeal of this game has taken a small hit. However, the speed and feel of the combat has improved for the better, and ensure that this is the go-to Total War game, especially for multiplayer. Of course, if youre not into the setting, youre not going to get a lot out of this game, but you know damn well what to expect with Shogun II. Knowing that, youre going to be playing this game for a long, long time.
So does Shogun 2 live up to the Total War franchise name? Absolutely! Returning to the warring states of Japan and simplifying the formulas slightly was a great move for the series, and with a fresh coat of glossy paint for graphics, itll give a new generation of gamers a taste of how massive battles were born with Total War. It might take every last bit of power for your computer to make it shine, but samurai combat and ninja assassinations never looked better. You dont need a geishas help to convince you that this sequel is worthy.