I am a huge Total War fan. I practically love everything they touch. It’s to the point that I just wish it was more often and even broader.
I grew up on what most know as RTS for my computer gaming selection. Back in the day I think many of us were basically all taught through Command and Conquer series. My big fascination in the 90s was the Age of Empires series and then into the Civilization series. It was in my sophomore year of college (2001), as I was talking about Age of Mythology as the next best thing ever, that I had a friend scoff at the game I mentioned.
“You know Total War: Medieval is coming out though, right?”
“And … ? Did you play Shogun!?!?”
I held my own, and never really tried the 2 games out for years. In my boredom I remember picking up Total War: Rome. And I was never the same. Basically the Total War difference, if you have never played, is simply that they separate the Real Time battles with the construction and civil side of progression. RTSs in the past had everything in one place and one time. We have a map, you need soldiers to battle, therefore you need buildings that require resources to make these forces. And if you want better stuff, then you need to research that.
The result of the old RTS method was simply that you learn the fastest way to do something and you win. The faster person wins. Total War takes buildings, resources and technology and puts those items on a turn based map (board game style familiar to RISK) rather than having them on the battlefield map and then implants the battle of RTS as a combat only dynamic. The result means that when you fight, you are fighting, and not gathering berries. It also means that you can put in fort and city sieges in a fashion that more of a resemblance to what you would expect to fight in. It’s just a system that many gamers can better enjoy with a hot beverage, instead of sitting glued to the monitor because they are in for an intense hour-long game of rush clicking.
In the middle of March, Total War: Shogun 2 hit the shelves. And I was there to buy it and play it. I gotta say, it’s as awesome as I hoped. It takes what you loved about Shogun 1, and uses the Empire engine to make your gameplay just amazing. One of the advancements in Empire was uniquely dynamic individual combat between your troops. So as all the chaos is taking place, if you so had the time or daring to do so, you could zoom in on a smaller portion of the battle and just watch the show. It’s no longer just troops running up and wacking on each other, with an every so often neat killing blow. It is actually troops fighting, parrying, kicking and falling in a more realistic manner. As soldiers are cut down, their bodies can go into animations of suffering or injury. It was one thing to have fields of static bodies littering the ground. But now the map resembles the aftermath of an actual battle.
The other nice advancement was the change from Empire in which you had satellite locations with resources that you could station troops in. The satellite resources still show on the map and belong to that city, but the areas themselves can’t fortify a force.
Another improvement was in the character advancement of Generals and Characters. These units now build experience and can gain abilities that help you define the way you want your force. Instead of receiving advancements on characters and random, you now can map how you want to advance each character in your nation.
The biggest Pro of the game above all the others is that it is a great game that utilizes many of our favorite features of Total War and they made a great running game. In my weeks of playing and with loads of game time, I’m yet to find a bug or even a crash. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to play an extremely involved game that doesn’t crash or mess up on saved data.
I don’t have an actual Cons list, because I really, really like the game. But there are some ideas that I loved about past installments that didn’t make into this game as well as some ideas that I would hope would improve in future installments and expansions.
I like the agent and general progression. But I don’t like how these units have no upkeep oosts. Which is something that was in prior installments. It kept players from creating endless Ninja forces, or just adopting as many sons as possible for ‘free’ general bodyguard forces on the map. Why build stables when I can just use generals? In Medieval the counter check for this, was that these units costs a fortune to maintain. Lost mechanic for balance I’m thinking.
The ability to improve existing troops in a city that could recruit better was also lost. In previous editions if you had ungeared or lowly trained troops, you could send them to a city that could better help them. Spend the upgrade costs and make them better while still keeping their experience. In Shogun 2, if you have an under geared unit, they are that way forever. Or until I put them in the very front of the next big engagement. Even then, they find a way to live. Bastards.
Being able to play as Clans/Nations that you defeat was also a lost idea I really enjoyed from the days of Medieval 2. You get to play as these first clans, but we should be able to take on different roles as we keep playing the game. Obviously, we don’t want to keep playing the same thing over and over. Trying to play as some of the lesser clans that have maybe even more unique and minor benefits would be more interesting for the long run.
The other missing part is city/castles that resemble actual cities. These castles are fun, but they are open and don’t really have anything within them. Just seems like a hill with walls. And to that, I have yet to see an NPC attack a door. The only strategy they seem to understand is wall climbing.
Beyond those lost ideas, there is only one big idea I would like to see more fluent in future installments and that’s in having better fights for heroes. I think one of the things most of us like to do, is plan out our battles and really just rely on our troops doing what they are supposed to do without much oversight in terms of micromanagement. To that, it’s to a point that we want to zoom in on the battle watch our favorite unit. It would be nice to have a Hero among each army that we can attach to a unit (this could be the general). But this Hero (agent/general) has better fighting abilities on the field. Much like the special abilities we can grant to our units now, the hero has special fighting abilities that make him not only keen to watch, but in a way control. This way, us camera zoomers can focus on something and be more interactive. Just an idea, I’ve been waiting for Total War to use ever since I played that feature in Warhammer: Mark of Chaos RTS.
In any case, Shogun 2 does not disappoint. If you pick it up as you should, I only have a couple of items of advise which lie around the idea of city management. It took me a couple of goes to finally realize that I needed to let go of my previous understanding of town growth in the previous Total Wars. You’re town grows despite the castle size. Castle and Market improvements use food surplus. So it is just a matter of managing these upgrades to what you can supply in food. Basically, my winning idea is that each city just simply needs to make a rank 3 castle so that they can can have 3 slots of improvements. These slots should be the Market, Gamble Hall and Temple. Maximize money and happiness. The more happiness, the more tax you can impose. Fairly simple. You use cities that have blacksmiths and artisans for army building as a means for your offensive capabilities. That and the Uesagi Warrior Monks are OP, FYI.