The Samurai Succumb To Total War
Last year, Total War: Shogun 2 managed to reunite the Total War faithful after a series of controversial games in the franchise. And now there’s been a welcome development: Those who didn’t get enough of Shogun 2 can try out a new expansion, Fall of the Samurai. The expansion doesn’t require the original game to play, and it’s a fascinating new take on the series, so it’s a great buy for just about anyone.
To be sure, Fall of the Samurai doesn’t mess with the basics of Total War—in fact, it doesn’t even mess with the basics of Shogun 2. You’ll be looking at the same beautiful graphics, hearing similar high-quality sound effects, playing through the same cycles of turn-based strategy and real-time tactics, enjoying the same kind of multiplayer battles, and unfortunately even dealing with the same load times and A.I. that you did before.
What’s great about Fall of the Samurai, however, is that it introduces a completely new historical context—and with a new place in history come thirty-nine new units, new reasons for fighting, and new societal dynamics. In other words, it’s the same game at heart, but you’re looking at it in a completely new way. This is exactly what an expansion should be.
Hardcore fans don’t need to be reminded, but Shogun 2 was set in Japan’s Sengoku period—it was essentially a retooling of the original Shogun title that stripped away the overly complicated aspects of more recent Total War games. When we arrive at the Fall of the Samurai, hundreds of years have gone by, and Westerners have arrived on Japan’s shores with superior firepower. The country is divided into two major factions—those loyal to the Shogunate, and those loyal to the Emperor. Whichever side you choose, you’ll need to walk a line between adopting cutting-edge technology on the one hand, and keeping your traditional culture intact on the other. You can even switch allegiances if you don’t mind shaking things up a bit and taking risks.
In real life, these were the events that forced Japan to eliminate its samurai culture and feudal system. The game is loosely based upon this history, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it. You’ll be forced to make various decisions, some large and some small, that affect the landscape. You’re not merely living through history; you’re participating in it as a major player.
The tensions of this era are immediately apparent when you step into the new game. While the expansion is well-balanced enough that you can rout stronger armies with careful tactics, Fall of the Samurai usually brings to life a simple historical fact: Guys with big guns will almost always rip guys without them to pieces. As much as your people might hate it, you will need to adapt to the times and keep pace with new technology. Otherwise, the battlefield will become a slaughterhouse.
All the major elements of Total War make a showing here, some of them with significant tweaks since the last time we saw them. The game is made up a variety of interlocking systems, and while each is fairly simple in itself, they create a very deep and complex experience when they all work together. At the outset of the game, you’ll choose from among a variety of Shogun- and Emperor-loyal factions, each of which comes with a variety of advantages, disadvantages, and victory conditions.
The campaign is turn-based, and this is where you’ll need to build up your armies, recruit soldiers, manage your economy, and make grand strategic decisions. You’ll choose the trajectory of your society’s development in a tech tree, and you can make a variety of decisions for your family, such as assigning jobs to your sons and marrying off your daughters in politically advantageous ways. You can also assign various “agents,” such as ninjas and geishas, to conduct special ops behind enemy lines, undermining your rivals without resorting to outright battle. This is a lot to take in at once, but there are video tutorials to help you out, an encyclopedia you can consult, and a variety of advisers who basically never stop yapping at you. (Personally, I think it would help newcomers if the advisers spent less time telling you what every menu does and more time telling you what you’re doing wrong, but maybe that’s just me.)
Once you attack an enemy army or castle, you see a completely different side to Total War. While you can auto-resolve battles to save time if you have a significant numerical advantage, you’ll want to fight more evenly matched battles in person. Here, the game becomes a pausable real-time strategy game, and you find yourself in control of a variety of different units. As was the case with the original Shogun 2, the battles here show the true genius of the folks at Creative Assembly. Each area of Japan you fight in has unique geographical features, ranging from natural landforms to man-made castles designed to keep you out. Every battle has unique characteristics—your units, the enemy’s army, the contours of the land, the walls you need to break down to get to the bad guys—that force you to think on your feet and adjust your strategy to the situation at hand.
While these broad outlines haven’t changed since Shogun 2, Fall of the Samurai features a whole lot of fun new toys for those of us who love destroying things. From the first time a line of gun-toting enemies mows down a bunch of your advancing spearmen, you’ll be hooked to the pursuit of technology, no matter what your populace thinks about it. How could you not love pounding the enemy with artillery, or mowing down lightly armed enemies with a Gatling gun?
While naval battles aren’t new to Total War, they are far more prominent here thanks to the new seafaring technologies that have come to fruition and the new option to siege ports. This is a great development in a way, because it distinguishes this expansion from what came before. However, naval battles were never quite the crown jewel of Total War’s various features, and there’s something about them that still doesn’t quite satisfy. Things are not helped by a new system that allows you to control some of your gunners in the first person. It just doesn’t feel right—in a strategy game, the human player is supposed to be a god or a general, not a grunt aiming a gun. Overall, I found ships most fun to use when they were assaulting on-shore targets, rather than engaging in frustrating fights with other ships.
If you’re a graduate of the School of Shogun 2, Fall of the Samurai will be a toybox containing countless new ways to play, along with an intriguing overarching plot. If you’re a newcomer to Total War, Fall of the Samurai’s status as an expansion doesn’t keep it from being a great place to start. No matter who you are, if you like turn-based and real-time strategy, Fall of the Samurai ought to be at the top of your must-buy games list.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
This is a great-looking game, but that comes with the price of long load times. 3.5 Control
The menus could probably be streamlined a bit, but they’re not terrible./div> 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are on par with Shogun 2: excellent. 4.5 Play Value
This is the rare expansion that’s a great buy even if you don’t have the original game. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best