Well. How have I managed to put over 40 hours into Shogun 2: Total War? That doesn’t make any sense to me, but Steam insists! I’ve always been fond of the Total War games (and their inevitable Lord of the Rings themed mods), but equally I’ve always ended up bored or frustrated well before finishing even a “short” campaign.
Like the Katana wielded by many of its featured troops, Shogun 2 is finely honed and masterfully crafted. It’s the best Total War yet. There, I said it. Yes, better than Rome. It’s a refinement of the formula of previous Total War games – it’s immediately familiar, but it’s not just Shogun with better graphics or Medieval 2 in Japan. The building of improvements in castle towns is simplified, but this makes the decisionmaking process much more interesting, particularly for newly conquered provinces. In a first level fort, you can only build one structure. You can upgrade the castle itself, improving its defences and permitting an additional structure to be commissioned, but that’s expensive and time consuming. What will you build? A military encampment to improve replenishment rates for units that have taken losses? A sword or archery school to recruit entirely new units? Or a market to improve the town’s income?
On the subject of towns, one of the most important improvements – possibly the most important improvement – is the way besieging a settlement functions. In previous games, you would need to bring specialist siege engines or build simple rams and ladders during the first turn or two of the siege. If your rams were destroyed by the defenders, you were basically screwed unless you brought some artillery with you. The Japanese castles of Shogun 2 are built to be earthquake resistant, but their massive sloped bases do have one disadvantage: You can climb up them. Don’t have the patience for a siege? Storm the walls right away. Your infantry can literally climb over them, and if necessary sieze the gates from within the fortress.
Don’t think for a moment that this trivialises sieges though. A large fortress has multiple levels and archers standing on the walls are very well protected. To get to the first set of walls you have to face their fire, then by the time you’ve breached the first set of walls the archers are all on the next level and you have to face even more fire. If there is an equal force attacking and defending, the fortifications give the defender a substantial advantage. Siege artillery is therefore not used to breach the gates or walls, but to attack the defenders and reduce their numbers.
While playing the campaign on the lower difficulties is relatively forgiving for the first two thirds of the game, the ‘realm divide’ phase can almost hellishly challenging. At this point, my military strength is listed as ‘terrifying’, I have a vast reserve of gold and the emperor has declared me Shogun. There is the minor difficulty of me being at war with every other clan at once though. I get the distinct impression that my rise to Shogun is not universally supported. I have however succeeded in uniting all of Japan (against me)!
Shogun 2 is available now for a certain amount of currency and is presently distracting me from World of Warcraft, sleep and work.