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Shogun 2: Total War Review

Shogun 2: Total War pack shot
Developer:The Creative Assembly
Genre:Real Time Strategy
Official Site:http://www.totalwar.com
Release Date:March 15th, 2010 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
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It's been a decade since the original Shogun: Total War set a benchmark for strategy games. Now, 10 years later, The Creative Assembly have returned to Japan once more, bringing with them another brilliant title in a long history of excellent games - Shogun 2: Total War.

The objective, as always, is to take over the country - by military force or diplomacy (or a combination of the two) - and though the scope is slightly less this time, being restricted to just the main island of Japan, the game is just as intense and complicated as ever.

Starting out as one of the ten or so clans, you have to lead your Daimyo (Leader) from his windy castle to the heart of Kyoto - feudal Japan's capital city - and seize power, becoming the Shogun.

It's annoying then that riots, taxes, battles, diplomacy, ninjas, enemy fleets, inclement weather and angry wives stand in your way - such is the burden of the Shogunate. The game itself will be instantly familiar to Total War regulars, but handily includes an in-depth tutorial for those new to the series.

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From your initial bastion you have to battle or palm-grease your way down Japan's mountainous terrain, balancing economic worries with the needs of an advancing army or navy and your loyal (and often not-so-loyal) subjects at home.

This intense micromanagement is never a drag, as the turn-based nature of the Total War gameplay helps keep things simple, clearly spelling out how long new buildings will take to assemble, and armies to raise.

As before, the gameplay is split into two parts - campaign and battles. The campaign mode is a wonderfully well-rendered screen which presents the hills and valleys of Japan in great detail - blossoms fall from cheery trees in the autumn, traders tug their wares between cities you've negotiated a trade route with, and sunlight flashes off the water in great arcs.

The family members and generals of your clan are far more important this time around. Each man and woman has his role to play, and steering your generals along their path as they gain experience - be it warrior or politician - can make all the difference as your campaign continues. This is done through a simple upgrade system, allowing you to spend points to advance your warriors how you want.

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A similar system is in place for your clan as a whole, and as the seasons pass, you must choose whether to concentrate on the way of 'Chi' - economy and religion, or 'Bushido' - the way of the warrior.

Similar decisions must be taken over religion, taxes or diplomatic policy - it's a lot to manage, and draws you into the campaign with great ease.

Thankfully even staring at tax reports is fun, as the artistic style the game adopts is fresh and colourful. Drawing heavily from the feudal period, the colourful strokes that border the menus are soothing to the eye, and the cards presenting the character information for your Daimyo and his family are presented in a style ripped whole from the history books - all graceful lines and soft colours. It's beautiful.

Aside from menu-juggling, troops move around the campaign map the characters animate, showing a little of their nature. Your generals take a seat between turns, or draw their blades when they encounter an enemy force - bringing you into the other part of the game - the real-time battles.

As in previous games, Total War's battle modes are an intense melee of strategic thinking, flank attacks, special abilities and clever ploys.

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Thankfully, the time-period of this title means most of the battles are all about the correct use of sword and spear, apart from a little of the matchlock riflery that the late feudal period saw. This means that unlike Total War: Napoleon or Empire the action is far more strategic than just waiting for riflemen to pick each other off, and presents a far better challenge.

The battlefield itself plays a much larger part this time around, with hills and valleys affording cover from flights of arrows, or allowing for a counter strike. Rows of spearmen box in cavalry formations as samurai meet in a blistering melee of close combat - each of them fighting an individual battle within the larger conflict.

This side of Shogun 2 is the true meat of the game, and the enemy AI is clever enough to present quite the challenge - punishing an undefended flank with a brutal cavalry charge, and fending off your unprotected samurai as you engage in the epic siege battles at Japanese bastions - it's stunning, immersive play all the way.

The AI does suffer from a few hitches, however, and will often ignore an impending flank attack, or run away from a battle it could clearly win. It's also prone to ignoring the constant rain of arrows I favour, which is plain odd.

The battle-based gameplay translates well to the game's multiplayer contingent, which features full multiplayer campaigns (with the ability to save and come back to the action, thankfully), free-battles and an interesting new mode called 'Avatar conquest'.

This mode plays a lot like Relic's Dawn of War, seeing you working your way through battles and earning new abilities for your general - your avatar - such as better armour or a sizeable and varied bodyguard. This gives the multiplayer a surprisingly personal aspect, and before long earning new abilities for your avatar can become an obsession.

The game's presentation is top-notch. On the highest graphical settings the action - both campaign and battle-wise - is excellent, and seeing a hundred warriors fighting for their lives, sunlight glinting from their swords, is quite the thrill. I had to turn it down a little, however, as the cooling fans on my PC couldn't handle the depth of detail and crashed out as the dual cores overheated. Once you find the right level of detail however, everything is just peachy. This attention to detail is carried through the in the game's score and sound effects.

A fantastic selection of authentic Japanese music backs the whole experience, mournful songs punctuating low points and high points alike, as the yells of your troops sound across the plains and generals give rousing speeches before each battle - it's brilliantly done.


Overall, Shogun 2: Total War is one of the best games in the series and a brilliant return to Creative Assembly's roots. Provided your PC can handle the graphics, whack it up to 11 and bask in the game's brilliant aesthetic design and addictive gameplay - you won't regret it.

The bottom line
9.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Addictive gameplay
  • Brilliant design, graphics and sound
  • Simplified interface

Not so good stuff

  • Multiplayer lobbies are prone to crashing
  • A.I. problems

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