Total War: Shogun 2 (2011, PC)

By Lobstag / May 17, 2017

In one turn I...

-Murdered 10,000 Christians
-Married my only daughter to my 43-year-old general, hoping it would keep his loyalty (it didn't)
-Assassinated two priests whose only crime was trespassing
-Let dozens of my own men starve in the snow, on purpose, so I could capture Honma Island a turn early
-Made that same general commit suicide, for honor or something
-Burned Kyoto to the ground just to show everyone how much I truly care about my "Shogun" status
-Spent all my money on a gold mine, instead of food
-Put down a rebellion that was my own fault for not providing enough food
-Totally f-ing fell in love with this game
P.S. she was 14 D:

   I've played every Total War title since Rome 1 (bar Warhammer), and to this day will happily argue that Shogun 2 remains CA's magnum opus. "But who cares about what you think, Lobstag?", you'll say. I get that, but just hear me out. The game isn't perfect, but it's as close to it as you'll get from any Total War game. I also realise reviewing Shogun 2 six years after it was initially released is a little late to say the least, but having invested over 300 hours, and it being the second most played game in my Steam library, I'd say it's about time I put my love for this game in writing. I also hope this review will be helpful to newer Total War fans who are on the fence about getting Shogun 2.

Why the best Total War?

1) It isn't overly ambitious — I'm looking at you Empire. Shogun 2 does really well to keep everything about it focused and narrowed-down without removing elements of the series that make Total War grand. Of course, it helps that it strictly takes place in Japan, but Total War games that attempted to encompass too much with too little ended up being worse than those that attempted to cover a niche with plenty of detail. That's not to say that CA won't ever succeed in, for example, a Victorian era globe-encompassing title. They just need to make sure every nook and cranny, every ounce of detail put into the game is tailored to each individual faction's objectives, buildings, tech, units and play style at the very least. Let's put this into an example. In Rome 2, you can play as the Iceni — a remote tribe in Bronze Age Britain — or as the mighty Roman Republic. Their objectives don't differ. Both have to "capture X number of provinces" to beat the game. This works for Rome, but it doesn't work for the Iceni. Instead, they should have the Iceni's objective as "form a Celtic federation with at least five other tribes". It gives me absolutely no reason to suspend disbelief that the Iceni had ambitions to conquer continental Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I think CA realised this for Attila. But this is precisely why Shogun 2 succeeds, because all clans have a common focus.

2) Immersion — Everything from the music, the speech and the UI, to the environment, the events and the clan behaviours creates an atmosphere that is truly feudal Japan. Shogun 2 is also the last Total War to include cutscenes for events and agent actions. From your first encounter with the Nanban (Portuguese traders), to a plentiful harvest, there is a cutscene to keep you entertained. It becomes something you look forward to. You end up with a level of immersion not seen since the days of Medieval 2.

3) Graphics — I could swear Total War graphics haven’t changed since Shogun 2. They might have even downgraded. The Fall of the Samurai expansion campaign map looks and runs ten times better than Rome 2’s and Attila’s. Either Shogun 2 had state of the art graphics for its time, or CA got lazy with their recent titles. The graphical jump from Napoleon to Shogun 2 is unrivalled. The jump (or rather, step-down) from Shogun 2 to Rome 2 is the exact opposite.

4) Mechanics — Let’s start with the bad before I start creaming myself over how good this game is. CA has historically always been bad at developing AI and Shogun 2 is no exception. As you tone up the difficulty level, the AI doesn’t become “smarter”. Instead, they are equipped with ridiculous buffs and multiplier bonuses. You can widdle the enemy down to one town and they’ll still be able to support two full stack armies. It’s lazy programming. The AI also haven’t got a Scooby-Doo on how to use a navy. Expect stupid single-ship “fleets” scattered all over the campaign map, doing nothing but acting like annoying little mosquitoes. On Very Hard and Legendary difficulties you’ll end up spending a quarter of your time dealing with those irritating motherpluckers instead of fighting real battles. The autoresolve is equally as broken, where you’ll see your British-made ironclads ripped to shreds by wooden ships. Iron versus wood, CA. It's not rocket science!
   Right, so with that rant over I can get onto the good:

  • Family tree: you end up caring a lot about your Daimyo (clan leader) and his family, as a result. I grew so attached to Takeda Shingen during one campaign, that when he finally died in battle I felt actual sadness. It can also create some hilarious storylines. I managed to stave off war with a neighbouring faction by giving them two of my grandsons as hostages. Twice they were executed, but hey I didn't lose a single province!
  • Variety of agents: ninjas, ishin shishi, geishas, shinsengumi, monks, priests, metsukes. YES.
  • Game changing decisions: adopt Christianity and receive access to European cannons, trade ships and matchlocks or stick to Buddhism and conventional Japanese weaponry? And in Fall of the Samurai: adopt modernity, artillery and ironclads or stick to traditional bows and katanas? Both have their pros and cons and give meaning to the way you manage your clan.
  • Dynamic campaign map: the geography of Japan is totally unique, with only 11% of the landmass being arable. This makes resources rare, meaning declaring war just for a bit of superior wood can make or break your campaign. There are also plenty of mountains, making the map feel tight and cramped — as it should be. Prepare for a ton of ambushes.
  • Unit variation: historically, for the lack of different units available in the Sengoku jidai, CA has done terribly well to include as many units in the game as they have.
  • Multiplayer avatar system: pure genius. Create a general, customise your general's clan and specialties. Send him into battle. Decide if you want to be a traditionalist or a modernist if you fancy.
  • Co-op campaign: extremely fun to play with friends. Set the AI to Legendary and strap your seatbelts folks. You're in for some gargantuan battles.
  • Mods: I highly recommend taking a look at the workshop if you want to spice this game up. But play the vanilla first.
  • Mouthwatering achievements: I've never been an achievement hunter, but this game made me one.
  • Community: highly supportive and friendly as ever, with plenty of enthusiastic players still on this game on a regular basis (including me).

Conclusion — You don’t have to be a fan of feudal Japan to be a fan of this game. It is unique in its own right and effortlessly combines graphical, mechanical and immersive elements into a tiny collection of islands on the edge of the Pacific. Shogun 2 proves that you don't have to make everything big in order to make it epic. Here’s hoping that CA’s next historical title will be just as good, if not better.

Total War: Shogun 2 is runner-up to Insomnia's 2011 Game of the Year.