Strategy and tactics. Strategy and tactics. Strategy and tactics. No game, or game series, has blended these two military staples as well as the Total War series has. The campaign map allowed a grand scale of strategy to be played out more akin to Civilization than any other game but it was the battles – the frenetic tactically challenging battles that were the real innovation. It was warfare at it’s most potent – forget about supply lines and unit producing factories – you had to make do with what you brought with you and if you were tactically astute, you won. If you weren’t you didn’t win. simple as that.
Over the years, Creative Assembly have been making the Total War series much better looking and much much more complex. this wasn’t always a bad thing, but it did culminate in the awesome looking but thoroughly unplayable Empire: Total War. A game that in my opinion was so complicated it simply lacked the fun factor of previous games in the series. Well, with this new iteration in the franchise, Creative Assembly have decided to make the game slightly simpler and more streamlined. Long time fans needn’t worry though, as the core mechanics of the franchise are unchanged.
The interface is streamlined, simplified and accessible. The user interface is dead simple to understand and the game leads you into all of the mechanics deftly – simple, but quick. I have found myself using a lot more of the campaign options than I previously have simply because Creative Assembly have made it that much simpler to find and use everything. The diplomacy options have been reduced, but I do feel that the entire system is better off for it. It’s now much simpler to keep allies as allies and since the economic model rests so much on trade – it’s important to keep a few factions on your good side.
My favorite part of the Total War series however, was always the battles. most fans of the series know the drill – thousands of soldiers under your tactical control need to be told how to beat the opposition. the rush I always got from the Total War series is simply that you don’t need to kill everyone to win. Every battalion has a morale bar, and if you get it low enough, the entire battalion will run away. This way, using cover, high ground and flanking (to name a few) military tactics can give you a victory even if you are facing a force that is superior in numbers. The pathfinding can still let you down in true Total War style, though it is less noticeable in shogun 2 than in previous games.
Now having a general in the Total War series has always been important, but now a general will unlock points after every few victories and you can upgrade their special abilities RPG style. this great, as it means you can tailor generals for offense or defense and if you lose one – it becomes a big deal… particularly if you lose the wrong type of general at a crucial point in the campaign. If you don;t take care of your generals, they can also leave you or defect to another faction.
The multiplayer has a number of new features. You get an avatar general that you can kit out with cool bits of armor. Your avatar is basically your general that fights in a persistent campaign across Japan. The more territories you unlock, the more gear you get to pimp your general out and more units are unlocked for you to use. This works via matchmaking or host/client system, though I prefer the matchmaking option as I like playing with avatar. The hosting games system allows you to play a traditional match without the Shogun conquest mode enabled – which is kind of pointless for me. You also have the ability to drop into another player’s campaign. this is a cool feature that is perfect if you find that the AI is simply too easy for you. While playing the campaign you can choose to play against someone online instead of against the AI. Then there is the online campaign – the entire turn based campaign played online. this is for the truly hardcore crowd though, and I wont be making use of this feature at all. All the new things aside, the lag is HORRIBLE! I’m sure Creative Assembly will fix up a lot of the bad netcode, but right it is a gamble to play online. I still do – I’ve had more good luck than bad – but I can see that a sizable section of people will get very irritated with the problems.
So what do think based on everything I have seen? I’ll tell you what – it’s Total War as it’s meant to be. It’s the leanest, most streamlined game of the franchise and a great milestone for Creative Assembly. However, it’s still a Total War game and if you tried one before this is not going to suddenly make you love the series. the problems with the netcode also hamper the entire experience somewhat. That said, it’s my favorite game in the series and I have to give it a 9 out of 10. It would have gotten a perfect 10 had it not had the networking issues.