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Bev Chen
16 Apr, 2011

Shogun 2: Total War Review

PC Review | A decade later, and it's still going strong.
The Total War franchise is something of a front-runner in the real-time strategy game market. Rightfully so – since the series’ conception in 2000, the games have been highly praised for their intriguing campaign systems, as well as incorporating the beliefs and strategies of the era for an authentic military experience. But with the last six games in the series focusing on Western civilisations, it seemed proper to choose something Eastern for a change. Of course, with games like Sengoku Basara and Dynasty Warriors still name-worthy, wouldn’t it make sense to make a sequel for the game that proved the series’ roots? Hence Shogun 2: Total War, and it does a darn good job of proving its own worth not only in the series, but as a strategy game on its own merits.

Total War’s turn-based single-player campaign mode makes a welcome return, with the objective being to become the Shogun of Japan. You have the choice of one of ten clans, each with specific bonuses. The Hojo Clan, for instance, are master builders and as a result, castles are cheaper to build and repair. On the other hand, you also have clans whose benefits focus primarily on the military aspect of the game, like the Chokosabe, who specialise in bow infantry. No matter what you choose, all your actions take place on a gorgeous map that looks like something from a traditional brush painting, which is gradually revealed as you take control of regions across the country of Japan.

Gradually conquering more and more territories will result in a lush, beautiful map.

Gradually conquering more and more territories will result in a lush, beautiful map.
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As you would expect, the best way to become Shogun involves building up massive armies and crushing rival clans, which is nowhere near as easy as constantly churning out units like you have a bottomless treasury. Each unit has an upkeep cost, which means that the larger your army, the more you’ll have to shell out each turn. The logical thing to do would be to increase a town’s taxes but, just like in real life, this tends to make villagers angry and, if they are pushed too far, can lead them to revolt. Luckily, there are other forms of income to be found, such as by establishing trade routes and by entering agreements with other clans. The prosperity of your region also depends on how you’ve upgraded your buildings; for example, upgrading the default building into a castle will enlarge the town and allows additional buildings to be constructed, but the consequence is that more food needs to be provided to keep everyone happy. To ensure everyone is well-fed though, you can always upgrade the irrigation on your farms, which provides extra food. Once again however, you need to spend money to make money, which in the case of new buildings and upgrades can prove very costly indeed. But that’s all part of the fun – Shogun 2 balances this very well, but really reinforces careful thinking between turns: Do I really need those new archers? Can I do without a couple of trade ships for a few more turns?

'All hell breaks loose' does not begin to describe this.

'All hell breaks loose' does not begin to describe this.
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As for combat, Shogun 2 does an excellent job of making them easy to understand for newbies, yet encompassing everything a seasoned RTS player could want. The interface is, like the campaign map, lovingly presented with tradtional ukiyo-e art, and small symbols make everything understandable to an extent. Good news for players who don’t necessarily have the time to sit down and battle it out, or are just plain terrible at RTS games – Shogun 2 features an auto-resolve function that takes all the hard work out of combat. Just make sure you bring in enough units! The battle system takes into account several things, like weather (certain weather types will affect what kinds of weapons are effective) and terrain (an army hiding in the forest can ambush one that is marching along a plain). Most interesting of them all though, is the status of each of your units. Each unit starts a battle feeling refreshed and good about themselves, but all this can change if they are ambushed or sustain heavy causalities in battle, amongst other things. After some time, these units may flee the battlefield. This is where the importance of your generals comes into play. In addition to being a superior unit, they also have a circular area of influence around them, which boosts the morale of your units, making them more likely to stand and fight. We found that placing a great deal of emphasis on the General units worked very well for Shogun 2, as it makes you feel like the general is actually in charge of the situation, rather than just being another dispensable unit.

It's raining, and it's night time. This doesn't bode well for archers' effectiveness...

It's raining, and it's night time. This doesn't bode well for archers' effectiveness...
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Becoming Shogun isn’t just about juggling prosperity and military success, though. There are several other aspects of the game which add a whole new dimension to play. Firstly, generals aren’t quite the heaven-sent beings you may think they are, as they can turn disloyal and mess your plans for conquest up. There’s the family tree, which is your primary way of knowing how soon you will receive a new general. It is here that you can designate your heir to the clan as well, although choosing wisely is key; should several of your male family members be killed off or taken hostage, well... let’s just say there’s only so much a three year-old heir can do. Secondly, Shogun 2 boasts a tech tree (cleverly named ‘Arts’, to keep in line with the ancient Japanese feel). It’s well constructed, and branches out into the civics and military aspects of managing your empire, depending on how you intend to play. Of course, a good leader will be able to strike the balance between the two, and Shogun 2 often prods you in the right direction by having an advisor pop up and give you hints every so often (with ‘often’ being the key word) in Japanese tinged English. Thankfully, you can tell the game to tone down its hints, or even turn them off entirely. At any point during the game as well, you have the option to access the encyclopaedia, a new addition to Shogun 2 that contains everything you could possibly want, from the perks a unit gets under certain conditions, or for a quick recap on how to do certain things.

For players looking to quench their blood-thirst against human players, the multiplayer modes of the game will satisfy nicely. In addition to the standard skirmish game, there are also versus and co-operative campaigns. Co-operative multiplayer isn’t as exciting as it sounds as you don’t get to play as any clans, but you do get to take control of some units during battles. The major multiplayer feature though, is Avatar Conquest mode, in which you create an avatar and choose which province you’d like to fight for (leading into a skirmish match). If you win, you (obviously) gain control of the province and its specific bonuses. If you lose, at least you walk away with experience points, which can be used to buy upgrades for your avatar such as weapon mastery. It’s a fantastic take on the multiplayer modes usually found in RTS games and adds a neat personal touch to the whole experience.

How you will feel after utterly annihilating your opponents.

How you will feel after utterly annihilating your opponents.
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If there are any problems we had with the game, it’s that we found the individual types of units within the categories to play quite similarly. Sure, one might have slightly better statistics and perks, but even in the tutorial we weren’t really briefed on what these meant and how they would affect gameplay. Second of all, the load times were a constant source of annoyance. We’d understand if this only applied to when you were going into battle, but this would happen during instances like booting up the game or loading a save. Speaking of loading, we ran into numerous occasions where we would try and load a file, only to have the game crash on us.

Even after the favourable reception of Napoleon: Total War last year, Creative Assembly had some work to do in order to prove that even if a series is doing well, it can still be improved. Shogun 2 is a great example of this, featuring all the deep strategy and frantic combat of war scenarios. The game might be a little bit confusing to newbies, but additions such as the auto-resolve feature and a comprehensive encyclopaedia simplify things. This game is definitely one to pick up if you’re a fan of Sengoku-era games, or have the slightest interest in RTS titles.
The Score
Shogun 2: Total War is a great addition to the Total War series, and is definitely one to pick up if you’re a fan of Sengoku-era games, or have the slightest interest in RTS titles.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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10 Comments
3 years ago
Wait, what?

PALGN wrote
We’d understand if this only applied to when you were going into battle, but this would happen during instances like booting up the game or loading a save.
So you didn't expect loading when you load a game or load a save? :P

PALGN wrote
If there are any problems we had with the game, it’s that we found the individual types of units within the categories to play quite similarly.
And this... I don't get it. The individual types are upgrades, in most cases, so why would they be different? Archers beat infantry beats spear infantry beats cavalry beats archers.

What were the review machine specs, out of curiosity?
3 years ago
You're right, I should have elaborated a bit more - I was operating on very little sleep when I wrote the review icon_razz.gif

Re. Loading - what I meant was long loading times. I'm talking like 4-5 minutes.

Re. Individual unit types - I feel as though there was no significant difference in, for example, an upgraded archer compared to my basic archer, without looking too hard at the statistics. I'm not saying I expected substantially upgraded units to totally steamroll my enemies, but I didn't really feel like the game made it worth my while to upgrade units.
3 years ago
Wait, 4-5 min load times?

I'm quite sure that's your system dude. Longest load time for me was like 20-25 seconds max. icon_confused.gif

What's your memory, HDD and CPU?
3 years ago
4GB RAM, 1TB HDD and i5-2400 3.10GHz CPU.

Doesn't match up with your wizard's computer, Denny icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
Hmm, I still don't think that warrants super long load times though, because I'm not loading my game off an SSD or anything. Definitely a bit bizarre.
3 years ago
Maybe Denny's game loads faster because he has 3 screens sharing the load?
3 years ago
Hmm. I haven't gotten load times of more than a minute or so, either, and I'm playing on an old mac pro haha.
3 years ago
Clocked my load times at between 20-30 seconds with a pretty decent rig.
4-5 minutes is certainly out of the ordinary.
3 years ago
Very strange indeed, guys... hmm.
3 years ago
it doesn't look like you are the only one bev....

i googled long load times for it and it seems a few people are asking about that

also, dude?
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Publisher:
  Sega
Genre:
  Turn Based Strategy

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