It is fair to say that we are Total War fanboys here at Atomic. There’s not been a Total War game we haven’t liked – and we’ve played them all from the very first Shogun. So it goes without saying that we peed ourselves just a little when Creative Assembly announced a return to where it all started, bringing everything the company’s learned – and a lot more besides – to bear on Feudal Japan.
And oh, what a glorious thing it is to return to Shogun - the game that started it all with its 2D sprites on a rolling 3D landscape - with units up to 200-men strong, in the most amazing 3D, warring across a countryside that is almost riotous with colour and movement.
It is also, however, a slightly rocky return, as this is arguably one of the rougher launches we’ve seen in the franchise’s history – so how does that balance out the experience?
Five rings, no waiting
There’s a myriad of ways to get to grips with Shogun 2 – instant battles, historical refights, multiplayer battles, and even a new and very intriguing ‘avatar campaign’ that sees you accruing experience and upgrades in an almost CoD-like fashion as you conquer Japan. But we’re bit of a purist, and as we’ve stated in many a Total War review in the past, we always go straight to the biggest campaign we can find.
Like in Shogun, in Shogun 2 you play as a discrete clan fighting to dominate Japan, and ultimately rise to power as the titular Shogun. However, there’s a lot more clans to choose from this time around, though the usual system of bonuses, such as one clan being better archers, another being better at farming, etc, apply. From the minute you choose that clan and drop into the game, it’s easy to feel that the game’s more or less the same – the music, the look and feel of the UI, do remind one of the original. But the increase in the game’s complexity, and the challenge of running your clan in thus difficult historical period, immediately become apparent.
So too does the incredible beauty of Creative Assembly’s work. Whether it’s the interstitial screens of period artwork, the carefully chosen period quotes that accompany each loading screen, or even the voice acting of each rival Daimyo or your advisors, this is a wonderfully detailed game.
Even prettier is the game’s strategic layer, which depicts either a flat parchment-style map (for regions you’ve not yet uncovered), or a glorious 3D Japan complete with sharp mountain peaks, deep river valleys, and vegetation that changes with each season. In particular, Autumn is stunning, when falling leaves or orange and brown drift downward – it’s like a woodcut come to life.
However, it’s in the actual battles themselves where Shogun 2 stuns the most. Rivers run, waterfalls trickle over great drops, and forests sway in the breeze, along with swathes of flowers and undergrowth. Torches light small villages and great castles alike, and if a coastal mist has come up, the effect is awe-inspiring. As to the units themselves, they’re bigger and more varied than ever, not to mention much more detailed. Even rain effects have been added to soldiers , with lacquered armour now showing rivulets of water streaming off the soldiers. Flights of arrows stud castle walls, and the fields of slaughter after a battle ripple with the struggles of the wounded and dying.
It is, without a doubt, the most epic Total War instalment to date.