I could probably sum up Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai in a few words, but what fun would that be? Set in the 1800′s it is a time for change in Japan. Foreign dignitaries and traders have flocked to the island nation and modern technology and ideas are prevalent across the entire country. It is a nation polarised, inherently curious about new ideas after 200 years of isolation on one side but rooted in tradition and resistant to change on the other. The perfect setting for any game in the Total War series.
You have two broad routes available, remain loyal to the Shogunate and follow in the path laid out by Tokugawa Ieyasu at the start of the 17th century or support the Imperial throne and drag Japan into the 19th century. These choices will not only affect the alliances you re able to make but also dictate the unit types your armies will be made of. Whilst you will have the option to build most units in the game provided you’ve researched and constructed the relevant structures the will of the people will be affected in a very literal way. Let’s say you’re loyal to the Shogunate, they are broadly opposed to the influence of outsiders; that means you’ll be encouraged to maintain an army based on traditional units. Should you spend time and effort researching western technologies you’ll start to accrue negative points towards happiness based on modernisation. Continue down this path and eventually you’ll have a rebellion on your hands. And unlike earlier games where rebels would crop up from peasant stock in uneven numbers, more often than not these are hardened troops. So to avoid a more difficult or less rewarding gameplay experience take a few extra minutes when selecting your faction.
So you’d think it’s be an easy decision right? Surely Imperial is the only way to go right? Well it depends; both sides have their advantages, charging a solid line of rifle troops with melee weaponry is not advisable obviously. But traditional units have their own bonuses; one which came as a horrible shock to me whilst defending a castle is range. The enemy had been throwing themselves at one of my frontier towns for a while and I’d worked out the best positions and the absolute minimum number of troops I needed for defence against anything other than a truly overwhelming force. This time around the Shogun aligned faction brought bow troops rather those armed with matchlocks. I laughed, anticipating an all out slaughter. Turns out they have much greater range than anything I had, beware overconfidence in Fall of the Samurai. I won of course but I won’t say how, just in case I meet any of you online, a wily general keeps some secrets close to his chest.
In Shogun 2 they brought back the pre-battle speeches. Which was great, for 2 or 3 battles. Then it got annoying, well they’ve been quietly removed much to my relief. Terrain can get a little repetitive and advancing across a completely open snow covered plain still makes me a little nervous. But your army is responsive which is handy although when you make a move order they start running rather than walking which is a little irritating. The camera can be incredibly jerky and imprecise which can really put you on edge during a particularly tight battle; it’s not so bad on land but I find it particularly noticeable in sea battles although perhaps that’s because the maps are huge with no landmarks to navigate by.
Fall of the Samurai lives by the old saying “Size doesn’t matter”. You can build enormous cheap armies but all that’ll do is drain your coffers and leave you with startlingly high numbers of dead troops after each battle. My main attack force rarely exceeds 1000 men facing off against up to three times that amount. Far from being unbalanced it’s a major strength in Fall of the Samurai; because I researched and balanced my troop types as well as developing a strong General to inspire my men I know that no matter what the odds I can stand firm, plus I always go for the rout rather than positioning for maximum damage. Foreign units are incredibly useful, they’re expensive ad the tech level required is pretty high but it’s worth it. I currently have my eye on a British Ironclad to head up one of my fleets but it costs over 10k gold (way over). But be careful, not everyone likes to see non-Japanese troops marching through their backyard.
It’s a very good looking game on all fronts, particle effects and lighting are interesting consistently and movement animation is good (most of the time). My favourite is when troops are climbing a castle wall, hop over the ramparts and drop to a knee before firing, death effects are pretty good too although cannon strikes do tend to send people unreasonably high into the air (especially when attacking manned wall fortifications). It’s pretty demanding but frame rates are solidly high on my Alienware M17xR3. After a heavy battle the terrain is littered with bodies, discarded weapons and craters from artillery strikes, the level of detail makes it a harrowing scene; in fact, I felt a pang of guilt a few times after particularly one sided battles.
Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai has quite quickly overtaken the others in the series as my favourite; it balances unit types, it provides for multiple play styles and it has the “just one more turn” bug that successful turn based strategies should have. Battles are engaging and you’ll find you rarely, if ever automatically resolve them because this is probably the most enjoyable combat experience Creative Assembly has produced in the series to date. best of all, as a standalone expansion you are not forced to purchase Shogun 2, which didn’t really grab me in the same way. For as long as Total War has been in existence people have discussed the next epoch to be covered in the newest game. The First World War has been thrown around repeatedly but truth be told, I’d like something similar to FotS, with old meeting new and your ability the key factor to winning the day. Fall of the Samurai has shown that a game can be seriously engaging focussed on a single nation, so perhaps returning to Britain during the Civil War or yet further back to explore pre-Tudor Britain and the War of the Roses.
Either way, Total Ware: Shogun 2 – fall of the Samurai is a must buy for strategy fans or historical game buffs. Well worth the price on quality alone but the re-playability sets it in a whole new league. FotS is easily as addictive as Civilization or Football Manager.