Review: Total War: Shogun 2

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I got into the Total War series with Empire: Total War (and reviewed it here), then went back to Rome: Total War and thoroughly enjoyed both. But it was last year’s Napoleon: Total War that really hooked me – the gameplay had been refined and there was tons of content, but ultimately what hooked me was the setting. So while the Shogun era isn’t as compelling for me … Total War: Shogun 2 is undeniably the greatest achievement of the Total War series!

Total War: Shogun 2 puts you in charge of one of nine different clans in Japan in the 16th century. Your goal is to put your combat and non-combat intelligence to use as you work your way towards Kyoto with the goal of ruling all of Japan!

The game has both real-time and turn-based components, and each is absolutely brilliant in conception and execution. This is the standard mode of the Total War series, where the combat action happens in real time, but you can pause and consider the field of battle, re-allocate troops, change orders, and do pretty much anything you want. But of course, the actions themselves have to wait until time is resumed!

Technically the game is simply brilliant: it captures massive scope and scale on every level, from animations to graphics to sounds to music. However, it is a game that will bring your system to its knees. I have a Core i7 laptop and a 1GB video card, and the fans were blowing full-bore the entire time! Forget Crysis – now is the time to ask “can it run Total War: Shogun 2?”

While I prefer the Napoleon campaign based on personal preference, there is no doubt in my mind that Total War: Shogun 2 does a better job of drawing you in by telling a story in the game. Everything about the game puts you in medieval Japan with your family tree as a prominent part of the game, since members gain different skills and interact with other clans and different parts of the feudal system. There is a whole world going on outside of what you are doing, and it can impact your overall progress in the game. It makes for an amazing experience – especially at the end of a campaign looking back through the timeline and seeing what happened.

For me, the greatest thing about Total War: Shogun 2 is the enemy AI. In Empire: Total War I was occasionally frustrated by either cluelessness or blatant cheating at higher difficulties, something that got better in Napoleon: Total War but feels nearly perfect this time. Enemies use the same skills, tactics, and special abilities as you, and you really do occasionally feel like you made a critical error and the enemy jumped on it, or that you were simply out-maneuvered.

As the saying goes, all AI – no matter how good – is inferior to having a human player involved. There have always been multiplayer options in Total War, but never have they been this good. For example, if you choose, you can open up your game so that another player can join your single player campaign and play as the enemy for a battle. This adds a tremendous depth and wondrous variety to the experience.

Co-operative multiplayer has been greatly enhanced – to the point of being enjoyable rather than dreadful! You join another player, and you play as two allied clans. During each turn you take your actions as usual, but the other person can actually help you out if you choose to ‘share’ troops between your clans. This option keeps everyone engaged and makes it more fun. The entirety of multiplayer is definitely the best of the franchise.

My advice is simple – if you have any love of strategy games, and your system can run this game: get it. It is already the best strategy game you will see this year (bold statement in early April I know … but it is THAT good), and represents the pinnacle of the Total War franchise to date. It is a great game with such excellent multiplayer that it managed to draw a normally single-player focused person like me hard into multiplayer! No matter how you play, you will be greatly rewarded by what will surely go down as one of the best games of 2011.

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Pros:
+ Awesome turn-based strategy combat system
+ Massive scope
+ Engaging story draws you into feudal Japan
+ Tons of hours of gameplay
+ Great single player and multiplayer

Cons:
– Massive system requirements

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Sega
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Release Date: 3/15/2011
Genre: RTS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!