Total War: Shogun 2
The argument that a recent PC game or port has been “consolized” is all too familiar for many people. Call of Duty, The Elder Scrolls, Crysis, and other games have all recently come under scrutiny by diehard PC gamers, complaining that the benefits of the computer are being overlooked by developers looking to make a quick buck on the console market. Total War, in that regard, is a bastion of hope. As long as we pretend that Spartan: Total Warrior doesn’t exist, the Total War series is a PC series through and through. The marriage of real-time tactics and turn-based strategy, which gives players command over massive armies made up of hundreds of troops at a time, is practically married to the mouse-and-keyboard format.
However, that doesn’t necessarily make it good. While impressive in scope, Empire and Napoleon weren’t stunningly well received by fans. Shogun 2 is a sequel to the original Total War game, so symbolically, it means a lot to fans of the series. It has a pedigree to uphold, and a plethora of issues to resolve. Shogun 2 succeeds monumentally as a single-player experience, offering up hours upon hours of campaign goodness. The multiplayer is also ambitious, although it’s less triumphant. On the whole, though, Shogun 2 is a game no self-respecting PC gamer should miss.
After choosing a clan, players are effectively tossed into Japan’s warring states period, politics and all, without any guidance other than a few tooltips here and there (unless you opt for the massive tutorial, which might be a good idea). In a turn-based mode similar to Civilization, players are able to queue up units to be recruited and buildings to be constructed, which relies on gold earned at the beginning of each turn. Logistics like taxes and family business are offered here too - marrying off the Shogun’s daughter to a decorated general is an available facet of gameplay, as well as ordering a disgraced general to commit seppuku. Commands are also given to armies in this view, until two opposing factions collide. Field battles and sieges are handled in real-time, typically with hundreds of troops at each side’s disposal.
On the battlefield, it’s important to shift into a quicker mode of thinking. Controlling an entire fighting force can be daunting, especially in the face of bigger armies or an enemy stronghold. There are many types of units, ranging from infantrymen to cavalry to heavy siege weapons, and most of those come in flavors like ashigaru (your typical rank-and-file recruit) to various types of highly trailed samurai. There’s a complex game of rock/paper/scissors within all the troop choices, and learning what soldiers do well against other kinds goes a long way in the face of a bigger fighting force. Individual unit formations can be changed too - a spear wall can make or break a unit’s chances against an oncoming charge. There are also gorgeous naval skirmishes available, set between the islands of Japan. In campaign mode, all battles can be automatically resolved - a handy feature in many cases, although the battles are fun enough to ignore it. The difficulty in single player can be overwhelming, particularly during one event which will remain unspoiled - suffice to say, earning the title of Shogun is quite a feat.
As well as virtually endless opportunities for solo fun, Shogun 2 has a robust multiplayer mode that allows for regular skirmish games between players, or a more in-depth experience called Avatar Conquest. Here, a custom clan is created, including a unique general. This character’s armor can be customized with unlocks earned through battle, either as random post-battle drops or by completing battles on the Avatar Conquest map. Between fights, the player is given the opportunity to move a small icon representing either their general or their navy to different segments of a map of the country. If battles are won in these segments, they are “conquered”, and a reward unique to that part of the country is awarded. These rewards range from units, to armor pieces, to retainers, which are effectively Total War’s equivalent of perks. Your general also earns experience, and earns points that can be spent on a vast skill tree. Not only that, but veteran units can also be individually upgraded, as well as visually customized. It’s a vast and ambitious multiplayer mode that has a lot of room for players to progress through.
However, multiplayer has some caveats. There are some apparent exploits that enable players to have armies bigger than they really should have, as well as ways to cheat the ladder system and rankings, including glitches that allow players to duck out of games they’re losing to avoid a blemish on their record. In a game that encourages competition and conquest on such a grand scale, it’s a shame things weren’t a little more airtight upon release.
The same thing can be said about the visuals. Fundamentally, Shogun 2 looks gorgeous, but it lacks a few key features like anti-aliasing. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue as it is if the missing options weren’t actually visible in the graphics menu, simply greyed-out to prohibit access. Shogun 2, as of launch, doesn’t support DirectX 11, and many of its more enticing visual features simply aren’t available. According to developers, a patch is coming; but still, it gives the product an unfinished feel when there are several features that are still in the pipeline at launch. There are other issues, like how the game only utilizes one CPU core, that prevent the presentation from feeling truly polished. Still, the game does look fantastic: individual people are very detailed, and the landscapes they battle on are idyllic and colorful. The game will undoubtedly look more fantastic later, but it could have and probably should have been 100% done when it was sent out the door.
These frustrations aside, Shogun 2 is a triumphant game. It’s wonderfully complex and detailed, and vibrantly decorated with historical trappings that will satisfy anyone with a passing interest in military strategy. While the presentation and multiplayer are a little rough around the edges, there’s more than enough content to make the game a more than worthwhile experience. It’s dense in the best sense of the word - a classic title that yields more and more excitement the further players explore.
Eight out of ten