Total War: Shogun 2 Review

Game Review: Total War: Shogun 2
Release: 3/15/2011
Genre: Turn-based strategy/Real-time tactics
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Available Platforms: PC
Players: 1-8 depending on mode of play
MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: T

A possible route that Shogun 2: Total War could have gone, like so many streamlined squeals before it, is to streamline all the nuances and intricacies out of the title, leaving it a mess that appeals to neither the casual market or the hardcore fans.
Luckily, this is not the case with Total War: Shogun 2. Much of the Creative Assembly development team actually falls into the category of hardcore fans of the series, and many of them have been aboard the team since the dawn of the Total War franchise. As a result, Total War: Shogun 2 still follows the basic conquer-the-continent formula, while keeping the nuances and intricacies of the series intact and adding new innovative RPG elements, a cunning and tactical AI from day 1, a first for the Total War franchise, and great development of battlefield tactics and the historical backdrop.

Total War: Shogun 2 is set in the Sengoku, roughly translated into the ‘Warring States’ period of Japan, the same era that the original Shogun covered. The campaign starts in 1545 in the aftermath of the Onin War, a conflict that fractured Feudal Japan and greatly diminished the influence of the Shogunate. As a result, rival clans led by local warlords, or Daimyos, began to rise in prominence, vying for control of Japan and to usurp the ruling power of the Shogun. In Total War: Shogun 2, there are eight clans (nine if your purchase the Limited or Collectors Edition) competing for dominance of Japan. Each clan has a unique history and specific traits that influence their play style.

These clans are the Chosokabe, descendants of the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang and have increased income from farms, reduced cost and upkeep of all archer units and access to higher quality archers, the Date, a warlike Samurai-based clan with a charge bonus and access to superior no-dachi Samurai, as well as reduced cost and upkeep of these samurai, the Hattori (available only in the Limited or Collectors Edition) that are a mountain clan reliant on Ninjas, reflected in their access to a specialist battlefield ninja with superior skills as well as +2% chance bonus on all Ninja actions, the Hojo a mighty builder clan that can recruit superior siege units and build and repair castles for a significantly reduced price.
Next is the Mori, a seafaring clan, has increased movement and reduced cost of ships, as well as access to better naval units. The Oda, a peasant, or Ashigaru-centric clan has improved morale for all Ashigaru units, reduced cost and upkeep for these units as well as access to superior forms of Ashigaru. The Shimazu, a clan with cemented loyalties with ties to Minamoto Yoritomo, a 12th century Shogun, has increased general loyalty, as well as access to superior katana samurai and heroes as well as reduced cost for these units, the Takeda, a mounted clan, has superior cavalry, reduced upkeep for these cavalry, as well as improved morale for all cavalry. The infamous Tokugawa clan, has superior kisho ninja as well as improved diplomacy, while the Uesugi, a Buddhist clan, has superior warrior monks as well as a monetary bonus to trade.

[Take a look at this video for more information about the clans]

Each clan offers a variety of benefits and also begins in a unique staring position in Japan, with pre-determined dispositions toward other surrounding factions. For my first playthrough, I chose the horse-specialist Takeda clan and used a hefty force of cavalry and Ashigaru bowmen, taking on one faction after the next, subduing faraway factions into alliances and trade agreements with false promises of military access and payments, all the while conquering three territories. That was, until a warring clan, made an alliance with one of my former allies, who promptly attacked my main city, which was under-garrisoned. I effortlessly lost that siege, which with the new castle format, is far more complex with the multiple layers that need to be taken and held, and then lost my main force in a close battle with another clan, losing my Diamyo’s brother, my primary general, in the process. This was about the time I gave up that campaign, and reflected on some of the changes that Total War: Shogun 2 brought to the franchise.

The first change I noticed was the way diplomacy and taxation works. The role of diplomat of an agent diplomat no longer exists, and all diplomacy is now conducted on a streamlined screen with all rival clans. The Diplomatic AI seems to be much more realistic, and players will likely know the logical outcome of any deal they attempt to broker before they actually make the attempt. The taxation system is also very streamlined and transparent, as players can now see the clear effects that higher or lower taxes will have on the development and happiness of the population. The two primary agents, the Ninja and the Geisha, both serve the role of spy, assassin and saboteur, and can be leveled up to specialize in one of these specific areas via a skills tree. Points are earned for use in the skills tree after either completing, or failing but living from missions in any of these three areas. Generals also work the same way, and can be leveled up to be a warrior or a financial administrator. The faction itself can also be leveled in the same way by researching different schools of thought not unlike Empire: Total War. I really like the including of these RPG elements, as it lets you develop a character’s personal skillet according to your wishes and playstyle.

Finally, the battle AI is phenomenal and highly reactive, as Creative Assembly claims to have based their tactics off Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In fact, if you ramp up the battle AI difficulty to Hard, they will use advanced tactics such as flanking cavalry, counter-charging and tactical reactions, such as pulling out cavalry when spearmen are introduced into the fray and picking off heavier samurai units with archers.
If you don’t want to fight against the AI in the single player campaign, there is also an option to have a random online player drop-in on the battle, taking command of the opponent faction and providing a greater challenge.

Speaking of the multiplayer, Creative Assembly has given it a great overhaul for the better., although it’s still far from perfect. There is now a ranking system,, a multiplayer avatar, leader boards, as well as stat-buffs and veteran status that is conferred upon surviving units of a multiplayer battle, allowing players to personalize their own units. In addition, there’s an eight player multiplayer campaign that is a bit more involved than the original iteration in Napolean; Total War.

Creative Assembly did a fantastic job in re-imaging the original Shogun: Total War. Although not without its flaws, mainly the lack of variety in zoomed in units in comparison to previous Total War titles, less varied units terrain and a still-imperfect multiplayer experience, Total War: Shogun 2 gives more than a bang for its buck, as it’s the first Total War game to be mainly balanced and playable without any form of mod.

+Keeps spirit of the franchise
+World map is beautiful and gigantic
+AI is realistic
-Multiplayer could be tweaked
-More variety of individual soldiers within the units would have been nice

Final Score: 9/10


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  • Good review.
    I wish I still had a PC powerful enough to play this (and all my other Steam games), but alas I went exclusively console and the PC became a media center.
    I miss RTS games 🙁
    Sounds like this is better than Empire: Total War though. My only problem with Total War games was that archers make for an easy win.

    • Daniel Horowitz (HavenDan)

      Archers are still really potent, but their morale is so low that a flanking cav charge will be good enough to get them close to rallying after a good 20-30 seconds of sustained combat with no interruptions. That, or a second cav or infantry charge.