Total War Returns to Japan
Total War: Shogun 2 is the last in a long line of Total War games, but it’s the first to bear the Shogun name since the series’ debut in 2000. Forget about Europe; it’s back to feudal Japan for this strategy title. Get ready to fight against competing warlords in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The change of scenery necessitates a change in the series’ trademark “turn-based strategy/real-time tactics” gameplay. The core setup will still be the same: You fight battles in real time, but manage your overall campaign, including your economy, cities, tech trees, diplomacy, and recruitment, in turns. But the folks at The Creative Assembly are working to make the details a little more suited to feudal Japan. You’ll have to protect your family so they can continue your lineage, and you can turn your son into a general or give your daughter to a rival faction to secure an alliance. Converting to Christianity gives you access to Western firearms, but risks upsetting your people. The tech tree will feature two main arts, Bushido (military) and Chi (economic and social).
The AI will be based on Sun Tzu’s classic military treatise The Art of War (which is Chinese in origin but influenced warfare in Japan), and it will encourage you to use similar tactics. Presumably, this means you’ll pay very careful attention to how you position your units, react quickly to changing situations, use the environment as a weapon, spy on your foes, and defend the positions you hold until you can advance without too much resistance. (Confession: Everything we know about The Art of War we learned from Wikipedia just now.) The developers have been promoting the element of surprise, as well; in any given situation, the AI might choose to do any number of things.
In many ways, the game may be a return to the series’ gameplay roots, with the excessive feature sets of recent games stripped back to the basics. There will be fewer types of units, and the ninja and geisha assassin agents from the original Shogun game will be back, accompanied by some brutal cutscenes. Early reports indicate that diplomacy is more accessible than it has been in the past, but no less nuanced when it comes to strategy. Night battles make a triumphant return, and you’ll fight in a variety of weather scenarios. Generals become much more useful with experience and an expanded family-tree system. (Those generals also develop larger-than-life personalities as you customize them.) The longtime fans who were put off by Empire: Total War will find all this to be good news.
New features will include ultra-powerful hero units, as well as castles that are built differently depending on the surrounding terrain. Unlike European castles, which depend on walls for protection, Japanese castles in this time period were built with multiple tiers, and the game will reflect that. Similarly, the ships in the game will be based on Japanese naval vessels. There will even be sea mines in naval battles.
The story begins in 1477, after the Onin War (roughly the same period covered in the original Shogun). What was once an oppressive but stable government has lost its grip on Japan, leaving the country in the hands of rival warlords. Your job is to unite or pacify the country under your control. That is, you’re to become the next Shogun.
Graphically, this game promises to be a real treat. The trailer features a photorealistic cutscene of an epic sword fight, and the available screenshots show an in-game world of castles, units, nature, and resource points that are remarkably detailed, with a rich color palette and fluid animations. The battle scenes give a visceral sense of destruction as massive numbers of people (supposedly, up to 56,000) slaughter each other with arrows, guns, and swords, which should liven up the strategic gameplay. Judging by the trailers, the voice acting, music, and sound effects will be impressive as well. Shogun 2 will also boast a fair amount of accuracy, with animations based on motion captures of real Bushido fighters and sound effects created by recording real weapons and footwear.
There will be several multiplayer modes, including simple battles, as well as an interesting mode that allows many players to join clans and play a campaign. Whenever you seek to expand your clan’s territory, the matchmaking system pairs you up with an opponent of similar skill.
The original Shogun: Total War was by all accounts a great game, and in the years since, the Total War series has applied numerous gameplay innovations to other regions and periods of history. We’re glad to see Total War returning to Japan, and the new campaign and multiplayer elements look very, very promising. From the excellent graphics to the improved gameplay, Shogun 2 promises to entrance strategy gamers worldwide.