Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)


Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun to play, really polished, Avatar Conquest mode is awesome
Cons: No single player Avatar Conquest

Introduction

Total War: Shogun 2. The previous titles in the Total War series were all named the other way around -- Rome: Total War,  Napoleon: Total War, Empire: Total War, etc. Even the previous game, Shogun: Total war, was named this way. Why they decided to switch this one to Total War: Shogun 2 is beyond me, maybe they just wanted to confuse people.

The game takes place in the Sengoku Era of medieval Japan, the age of the samurai, where every Daimyo (leader/king/ruler) is struggling for power and control of the nation. It's a great setting for a game of war such as this, and it works well. You take control of one of the 9 different clans and fight your way, kicking and biting, to complete control of Japan.

Gameplay

There are two distinct and separate gameplay mechanics to Total War: Shogun 2. The first is the turn-based world map, where you focus on managing your clan, building up your provinces and training troops. You deal with researching Bushido or Chi arts, finances, diplomacy, religion, etc. You must train troops, organize them into armies, and bring them into battle where they all gain experience and get stronger. As you upgrade your provinces they gain additional building slots where you must choose which of the different buildings would benefit you the most in a given town. You may dedicate a town to earning more gold for you, while you may dedicate one entirely to producing swordsmen. Some provinces have special features like increased wood production or the ability to train warhorses, and leveraging these features by making a town that fits in with them is mighty beneficial.

In fact, if you desire, you can play through the entire campaign mode using only the turn-based portion of the game and never do the real-time combat at all by using the auto-resolve battle option. I've played through the campaign once this way myself, and it was really fun. It made the game considerably shorter, but let me focus all my attention on the turn-based strategy portion. Granted, you'll be missing the best looking half of the game...

The other mechanic is the real-time combat. It's like an entirely different game in the middle of the turn-based portion. Here, the turn-based portion of the game is completely replaced with a real-time strategy/tactics mechanic where you can deploy your various troops in different formations around the battlefield. Each unit is individually controllable, and strategic use and placement of them is key to victory. These battles can take place on the land with your troops against enemy troops on the open field, sieging enemy provinces or defending your own, or even at sea with your naval units. The battles are intense and incredible, and there are a few gameplay mechanics that help make them exciting. The topography and terrain really come into play during the battles. Cliffs to prevent direct assaults in some areas, forests to hide your troops in ambush in other areas. It just adds an extra level of complexity and strategy to the battles. Archers have limited ammunition, troops must climb castle walls to get inside, it's a lot of little details that make the difference.

The artificial intelligence is truly great. You can wholy expect the AI controlled factions to take advantage of anything you do wrong, especially on the world map. In the battles, it's also pretty good but not perfect. One game I was attacked by an overwhelming force, and all I had was a general, a unit of spearmen and a unit of archers. All general units are on horseback. My spearmen and archers were completely decimated right away, but the enemy had no cavalry except for their own general. Instead of splitting their huge army up and trapping me in, they just stayed clumped together and chased me around the map. I was able to circle the outer edge of the battle map for the duration of the battle timer and avoid losing the battle. In order to win, the attacker must destroy all the enemy forces or rout them before the timer expires. Granted, it was a 60 minute timer and probably not worth all the trouble, but still.

The Historical battle mode lets you replay a few famous battles from the past. There are only 4 battles though, I would have liked to have seen a few more. These battles are Kizugawaguchi, Sekigahara, Okehazama and Kawanakajima.

In Avatar Conquest mode you get to create an avatar that gains experience and levels up. You get to skirmish against other avatars online in the conquest map of Japan, which is a zoomed-out version of the campaign map. Each province in Avatar Conquest mode contains a bonus such as unlocking units or giving you a new retainer that provides a bonus stat. Both the winner and loser gain some experience after each battle that you can use to upgrade your avatar. Even your normal units can level up and become veteran units, which lets them learn skills as well as making them permanently deployable units. Units cost different amounts, and there's a limit to how much gold you can use so it doesn't become too imbalanced... though newer players will have a rough time against seasoned veterans because the veteran units are a lot better.

There is also a multiplayer campaign mode, which lets you fight with or against a friend. If your playing against a friend, you even get to control any of the AI troops that your opponent has to face. If you're playing with your friend, you can both fight at the same time or you can let your friend control some of your units. Still, if I'm going to play online anyway I'd rather play the Avatar Conquest mode personally.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics in Shogun 2 are beautiful. Incredible detail, even during the real-time battles when zoomed right in on your army at close range fighting and cheering. The models are terrific, the textures are crisp and clean and everything fits well together. The seasons change, rain coming down obscuring the battlefield, snow covering the ground, etc. The environments feature vast mountains and rolling plains, and these features not only look great but can have an impact on battles because they are fully interactive. Your armies even lose troops due to attrition while traveling outside of your territories on the world map during the winter.

The interface is beautiful and easy to navigate. It looks great, responds great, and doesn't appear to be missing anything. It's fully featured and complete, showing what you need when you need it; but at the same time it's unobtrusive and mostly stays out of the way.

Rome: Total War made pre-battle speeches famous, and the this feature remains present in Total War: Shogun 2. There are over 100,000 possible speeches that your Daimyo or generals can deliver to inspire your troops on the battlefield before battle. The voice acting is great, except for the accents being a little thick so some parts are occasionally hard to understand. At those times however, you can simply read the accompanying text. The ambient music is filled with flutes and strings and really sounds like what you'd expect from a game taking place in Japan. It brings a real sense of atmosphere. The sound effects are good too, consisting of your standard swords clashing, bows firing, soldiers yelling or cheering. They work well, but it's nothing we haven't seen in a multitude of other games.

Downloadable Content

There are three DLC (downloadable content) packs optionally available for Total War: Shogun 2

The Ikko Ikki Clan Pack (Currently $4.99) - This DLC pack adds the Ikko Ikki, clan of warrior monks. It works for all game modes and has new specific unit variants and skill trees. It includes a new hero, an armor set and retainers to use in Avatar Conquest, and a Warrior Nun unit that other clans can train.

Sengoku Jidai Unit Pack (Currently $3.25) - This DLC pack only contains 10 new "elite" units for you to use in the different game modes, but only one of the elite units is available to each clan. In Avatar Conquest you only get one total because they are hero units. Some of these, such as the Wako Raiders gained by the Mori clan are pretty decent. Others like the Takeda clan's Fire Cavalry aren't really worth bothering with.

Rise of the Samurai Campaign (Currently $9.99) - The biggest DLC pack yet, this one features an independent campaign that takes place during the Gempei War 400 years before the regular campaign. It a number of new land and naval units, heroes, agents and special abilities. It also includes a new historical scenario, the Battle of Anegawa.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Total War: Shogun 2 is a terrific game that will keep you occupied for a long time. It's really fun, has a high degree of polish, and is being actively worked on further by the developers. There are a number of different things to do so the gameplay doesn't get stale too quicky, especially if you participate in the multiplayer game modes.

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