Total War: Shogun 2 Review
A gorgeous game for anyone who wants a realistic strategy game or just likes Japan.
Total War: Shogun 2 is a slow, but entertaining game. You assume the role of a province leader with ambitions of conquering all of feudal Japan. This goal is achieved through two alternating gameplay modes. On a map of Japan you take care of the grandiose strategy that is required to subjugate a country. Human and computer players take turns positioning their armies, negotiating trades, researching technologies, and building additions to cities.
When a battle occurs, the second portion of the game comes to light. If the battle takes place on land you control your various lines of troops in what I imagine to be a close simulation of historical military tactics. Different lines of spearmen, cavalry, and archers all fight in real-time. Keeping track of unit positioning, type, and numbers is key for achieving victory on the battlefield.
If the battle takes place at sea a similarly realistic naval simulation occurs. Weather, unit type, and unit formation must be negotiated as your ships clash with the enemies’. You must decide whether to destroy the enemy or board his crippled ship. Battles can be auto-resolved, but you’ll do slightly worse in terms of causalities in addition to missing out on the fun. The two types of real-time strategy—on land and at sea—mesh well with the tactics portion of the game on the world map. Where you attack on the map determines what the terrain will look like in the ensuing battle. Together these alternating modes make for a more action-packed experience than a typical turn-based game and more deliberate thinking than most real-time strategy games.
What I like best is the detail put into recreating the time period. I’m not really a history buff about ancient Japan, but the game simultaneously teaches me and makes me want to know more about this time and place. It teaches in a way that makes me wish my history class had just used this game as a text book. What really makes the presentation is the voice-over narration, with its kind-of-cheesy-but-not-too-Japanese accent. As the narrator talks about the various regions of Japan and your duties as regional leader, the game connects you with your character in a way that marks it as a great RTS. The pre-battle speeches and unit detail add to the immersion. Haikus scattered throughout the text are also a nice touch.
The music is classical Japanese fare. It fits the time period and adds to the ambiance, but I wouldn’t listen to it outside of the game. The animation of the soldiers is a bit jerky, but their detail and scale is amazing as hundreds of them hack and slash at each other in combat. Just scrolling around the battlefield is one of the many ancillary pleasures of this game. Overall the production values are very high.
Where the game lacks is in the actual gameplay of its battle segments. While the world map gives you a lot to do in terms of tactics, the zoomed-in battle system seems to devolve into rock-paper- scissors. Overwhelming numerical superiority is a huge advantage as it should be, but when the odds are even it all depends on pitting the correct units against each other. Sometimes this is hard given the terrain, but usually you can bait the computer with your general or a weak unit then attack his overextended cavalry. The sea battles are also a little shallow for real-time strategy. The combat is gorgeous to watch, but even if repeatedly slaughtering lines of men is historically accurate, I’d still like a little more to do on the battlefield. Fortunately, Total War mostly makes up for this with the added complexity of setting up your battles on the world map.
For the most part this game is very similar to past Total War games. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as those games have all been good. This iteration’s additions only enhance the experience. Replay value has been increased with a new multiplayer mode. Multiplayer has the usual single battle skirmishes as well as its own separate campaign, and an avatar mode in which you gain new units by leveling up. If you like PC strategy games, Total War games, and don’t absolutely hate ninjas, Total War: Shogun 2 is a good choice.