The year is 1545 and the Ashikaga Shogunate is weak, unable to control the Japanese clans as they have for centuries. It is sengoku jidai, the Warring States period. Every Daimyo, or clan leader, is rising up, clamoring for its chance to succeed the Ashikaga clan as Shogun of Japan. In reality, the Tokugawa clan succeeded in uniting Japan again, but in Shogun 2: Total War, you’ll get the chance to either re-enact history or change its course.
As with all Total War games, there’s a strategic overworld, where the empire-wide decisions and management take place, and a tactical battle system, where orders are given on a battalion level in real time as you attempt to outmaneuver and outwit your opponent.
There are three different types of battles to participate in: standard land battles, sieges, and naval battles. In a standard land battle, up to 20 battalions of troops per side can participate at a time, with any extras coming onto the battlefield as reinforcements as other battalions retreat or are killed off. These battles will continue until either a time limit is reached, in which case the defender wins by default, or until one side retreats or loses every soldier. In a siege battle, the defenders are in a castle, and the attacker is charged with assaulting it and either killing every defender or taking control of the central tower. While this sounds to our Western minds, to be heavily weighted in the defender’s favor, it really isn’t. In Japan, castle walls were made to withstand natural disasters, which required the walls be slanted. This means infantry can, and do, climb them in Shogun 2. This is a big tactical change from previous Total War games. Naval battles are similar to the standard land battles, though with mines added to the mix. Mines don’t care who set them, they’ll sink any ship that touches them, so be prepared to lose a few ships to your own mines in the heat of battle.
In the strategic overworld, the map comes alive with various animations, making it feel more like running an empire than in past games. As for the actual strategy, you’ll be faced with decisions on a province level such as what type of military units to specialize in, where to station your troops, what arts (technologies) to learn, and where to upgrade your ports, castles, and other provincial buildings. You’ll also be charged with running your own intelligence network and the political and diplomatic systems of Shogun 2. Neglecting any of these systems can spell disaster for your reign. While the AI is somewhat weak in the tactical aspect of the game, it does very well at the strategic tasks.
There’s a fairly robust multiplayer system as well. There’s a multiplayer campaign where multiple humans can fight through the standard campaign for the title of Shogun, a drop-in battle system in the single player campaign (where you can allow a human to take charge of an AI force for a single battle) and a clan wars mode where you join a clan and fight cooperatively against other clans to take over all of Japan.
Graphically, Shogun 2 is a step up from previous games, even on lower graphics settings. A customizable camera allows you to control the action from almost any angle or distance you want. The audio is spot on, with war cries, yells, and clashes of metal on metal ringing out throughout the battles.
Going back to its roots seems to have had the effect of revitalizing the Total War series. After a couple less-than-stellar outings in Napoleon: Total War and Empire: Total War, the return to the sengoku era of Japan’s feudal times has renewed the series in a way that any PC gamer should appreciate.
Pros: Great, deep tactical combat, deep strategic empire layer, graphics are great, multiplayer options could provide long-lasting replay value, AI is better than many strategy/tactical games
Cons: Hefty system requirements