As the Creative Assembly’s sequel to the game that launched the Total War series, Shogun 2 is a big improvement in and represents a culmination of the learning the developer has done over the years. With a return to fundamentals in combat with a distinct feel and look, Shogun 2 is a well-polished game that serves as a great entry point for players who enjoy turned based strategy fused with real time tactical gameplay. In this Shogun 2 review, we will go over the different parts of the game.
What is Shogun 2?
Shogun 2 is a game in the Total War series that focuses on the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) of Japan. The player chooses one of the prominent clans of the period and vies for the title of Shogun among many factions.
The Total War games focus on two aspects: Strategy and Tactics. The strategic side focuses on campaign map management, which includes using agents such as Ninja and Buddhist monks, planning and developing provinces, researching new military and civic technology, trading with other clans, and diplomacy. The tactical side involves set piece battles, the hallmark of the Total War series, involving (mostly) period accurate units such as samurai, warrior monks, ninjas, and ashigaru (levied) units.
The gameplay is more polished in Shogun 2 than in earlier games in the Total War series. Units are recruited out of settlements and formed into armies. Due to the fact that the game takes place in Japan entirely, the unit rosters between clans are pretty similar, with most units being fielded by everyone, and only a few unique variations of base units available as clan specific units. While this doesn’t detract much from gameplay, many Total War veterans will definitely notice the lack of the usually diverse units and factions a player can interact with in older games in the series. A player can choose the composition of their armies and take them to the field of battle against another clan.
Combat is fought on battlefields in a set piece manner. The battles have a higher than average pacing, lasting usually five to ten minutes. Some may find battles too short/fast, but I personally found that it lasted a satisfying amount of time. In a typical campaign it isn’t unusual to fight a hundred battles or more, so there is no shortage of combat. Tactically, the AI knows what it is doing but has a tendency to do dumb things, like misuse generals as well as not taking opportunities to flank your troops. Players may find the AI tactical abilities lacking in some areas.
Units are pretty responsive to commands and overall controls are easy to learn and use. Tactics have a lot of depth, with players having to manage unit morale, field positioning, and maneuvering. The camera look system is robust and designed to allow a player to zoom in on the battlefield and watch individual units fight.
The campaign map includes most of Japan, with the game taking place on the Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu islands. Mountainous areas allow for choke points and forests act as ambush points. A player can move their army along well-trodden roads, or cut through a mountain pass to make an attack deep in enemy territory. Ships allow for faster movement across the map, which can take a long time to travel on foot. Certain provinces have special resources important for research and development, which adds in another strategic layer for war planning.
City management is smarter now, and with the encyclopedia, it is easy to plan cities. As you upgrade the castle in a province, more building slots open up, allowing the player more room to build. As there are a limited number of building slots possible in a province, it is important for the player to consider the purpose of the province and plan accordingly. Provincial combat focuses on field battles and castle sieges. As provincial control lies in castles, most of the important battles you fight will involve one.
The AI seems to be an improvement over previous games in terms of decision making, although diplomacy with the AI is still pretty clunky. It is hard to know the decision making process behind the AI, but it isn’t unusual for a very weak clan to declare war on a much stronger opponent, among other obviously self-detrimental actions.
User Interface (4.5/5):
The game has a distinct period-specific Japanese feel, with the art and interface design reflecting those themes. The campaign map retains a parchment look until explored, and the four seasons of Japan play a role in campaign strategy.
Campaign map management has been improved over the earlier titles in the Total War series. The Creative Assembly has gotten better with each iteration with how they present relevant information to the player. Family trees are very user friendly, and allow for promotions and adoptions for generals. Finances are easy to manage through the trade and tax windows, and the Shogun 2 encyclopedia can be opened on just about anything clickable in game, which provides deeper information found in just the tooltips.
The graphics are pretty well optimized. The game can run on lower end machines, but to appreciate the detail put into the individual units on the battlefield, a mid-tier and up machine is necessary.
Zooming in during battles will reveal the detail put into the individual unit’s appearance, but also mundane things like grass and rocks. The details presented in every iteration of the Total War series improves, and Shogun 2, especially with the Blood Pack DLC, is incredibly visceral up close.
The music and sounds are Japan-themed, with the sounds of the Koto and Shakuhachi prevalent through loading screens and as ambient sound in places like the campaign map. Units respond in Japanese, and the unit advisor speaks English with a Japanese accent (the adviser can be turned off).
Overall, the sounds and music are subtle and unobtrusive. You’ll notice it if you’re listening for it but otherwise it sort of blends in with the game.
In this Shogun 2 review, I covered a lot of reasons why this game can serve as an entry point for those new to Total War, as the series can be daunting for the uninitiated. Shogun 2 provides great fun for new comers while offering to Total War veterans a great gaming experience with a distinct look and feel that builds upon the things The Creative Assembly has learned through the years, knowing what works and what doesn’t. While it isn’t anything revolutionary in terms of new mechanics, it doubles down and nails a lot of the positive characteristics of the older games. Some may not like the narrower unit roster or gameplay focus on castle sieges, but it doesn’t noticeably detract from the game. Shogun 2 is definitely a title worth picking up.