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Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)


by Michael McGhee - 31st Mar 2011
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Total War: Shogun 2 (PC) Review

Total War: Shogun 2 (PC) Review


Yesterday was a tough day. It started like any other day as I woke to the sound of birds chirping on my window sill and the sun creeping in through a crack in the curtains. I headed downstairs and filled my stomach with a good ol' English breakfast then logged on to the PC to continue my review of Total War: Shogun 2. That's where things went wrong. You see, I had stupidly decided that it would be a good idea to attack an ally, pillaging their army and city and taking their land. It was all too easy given the size and strength of the army I had at my fingertips, yet just as quickly as I'd taken their land the rest of the clans had turned on me, deeply upset that I had dishonoured them. I watched as trade stopped, my economy collapsed, resentment grew within my own city walls and civil war eventually broke out, tearing my empire apart from the inside.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, Total War has returned once more and this time it's gone back to its roots, seeing players seize control of a clan in the Sengoku-era of Japan. It seems like a strange move to make given the last few ambitious releases from the TW series - TW: Empire and Napoleon - yet in some ways it makes sense, scaling things down to just a few different clans, units and weapons creates a level of intricacy never before seen in such a title and investing time and effort into a campaign can be very rewarding.


Gameplay
As mentioned the series has taken a different direction after the continental affairs that were Empire and Napoleon. Times are tough in Japan as the current shogunate's grip of the nation loosens, leaving the country in the grips of civil war as each of the nine clans look to become the next ruler of Japan. Players will select which clan to lead into the battle and as the Daimyo (clan leader) they will be tasked with the financial and military growth of their own clan whilst suppressing any challengers, eventually claiming power of Kyoto and becoming the new Shogun.

If anything the scale-down has given the developers more time to focus on the minor details, something that is apparent as soon as the game is booted up as the level of detail is incredible. As with other titles in the TW series there are two different modes of play, a turn based strategy phase in which players make changes to their armies, cities and empires which can take days to play-out and a real time battle mode in which players will go to war with an opposing faction, controlling their troops and using various strategies to out-think their opponents, coming away with the glory or not coming away at all.

It's a thinking mans game and there is no room for gung-ho, shock and awe warfare, especially in the early stages of the game. Diplomacy is the key to early success and it's wise to forge as many alliances as possible with clans of a similar stature, yet be weary when doing so as their demands can be ruthless and a break-down in relationships could result in all out war, on higher difficulty levels that can be the worst thing to happen early game as other clans focus a lot of their energy into increasing their armies and kitting them out. Players will at times feel slightly overwhelmed by the grand scale of opposing armies but following the same path isnt necessarily the way to success as the game forces users to spread the wealth and turns evenly across both military and domestic growth of the clan. Focus too much on creating a destructive and highly trained army (Bushido on the techtree) and the people will grow tired, morale will drop and eventually civil war will begin, alternatively focus too much on keeping people happy and growing the cities (Chi) and we become a very easy target for any would-be takeover attempt from a rival clan.


There comes a point in the game where diplomacy goes out the window and that is as our clan hits 'Legendary' status. This feature in the game means that once the players clan becomes the biggest threat on the map the current Shogun declares war and enemy clans use it as an excuse to attack whilst former allays see it as an opportunity to grow. It guarantees a lively end game and has been put in place in order to stop the free run to the finish line that plagued the original Shogun all those years ago. So, regardless of the friends or enemies made along the way, in the end players must march their troops onto the battlefield and take what is rightfully theirs. Building an army capable of doing that takes time and effort and can be extremely rewarding. It also appears to be the area of the game that Creative Assembly devoted most of their time to, given the variety of troops made available to players. As always the core of the military force is made up of infantry, archers and cavalry, yet how they arm themselves for battle depends entirely on the players choice of technology to research and structures to build, meaning there are a huge amount of variations in how the armies are kitted out throughout the game.

In the early stages of the game players must make do with what are more or less farmers with weapons (Ashigaru), yet as time goes on players are given the chance to explore the world of the Samurai. Highly trained, brave, hard to kill and as smart as they come they will soon become the backbone of our army. Another great feature is that each clan have their own specific traits, for instance the clan we chose (Shimazu) had increased loyalty for generals, cheaper upkeep costs for Samurai forces and the ability to recruit superior katana samurai, these traits vary from clan to clan and each carry their own benefits.


Another perfect example of the huge level of detail gone into the game is the ability to recruit various agents and generals, each of which can be crafted in very specific ways and build numerous skill-sets to help gain the advantage over an opponent. Firstly we have the ninja, the ancient times Black Ops agent and a master in the art of deceit, players can have their ninja swoop in and dispatch of an enemy clans commander mid-battle, leaving his army in disarray and paving the way to victory. Then we have the Metsuke, the Sengoku-era SS agent, used to hunt down opposing forces ninjas and bribe their army generals. There are a number of different generals and special agents and each can come in handy for a particular task. The game is incredibly engrossing and players will find themselves lost in their 15th century world for hours on end before they even think about the battlefield. Yet the game doesn't truly come to life until players are in the midst of a battle or siege on an enemy location.

The AI in Shogun 2 is the most advanced to date and when playing on higher difficulties can be extremely challenging. Cavalry is used wisely and should a gap be left at the players rear then the AI will have no trouble in flanking and surrounding our army, when charging in they will also be wise enough to place their most dangerous spears and anti-cavalry weapons at key points throughout the front line. The only issue we noticed was the apparent reluctance to use the sea to their advantage, a problem that also plagued Empire: Total War on release, there were plenty of instances enemy troops would come charging at us through heavily guarded land areas when the opportunity to land, undetected down the coast lay open. One feature that adds to the immersion of the game is the mirror like reflection of the campaign map and the actual terrain, something that the AI is quick to exploit. If the opposing force has hill advantage they will use it well, arranging their troops in an orderly fashion in preparation for waves of attack whilst it seems a lot more difficult to pick off troops one by one as units, armies and squadrons seem much tighter than in previous versions of the game.

On top of land and sea battles players can enjoy the experience of sieges, in which they must defend or attack enemy castles and doing so can be extremely challenging. Players must set-up so that attacking forces walk into traps, ambushes and assaults, as such the castles are set-up in a way that allows players to arrange "Kill Rooms", luring foes through tight corridors and sparse rooms whilst slowly but surely picking them off with an arrangement or archers. Attacking on the other hand is something that must be given careful thought and consideration to, where and when to dedicate which type of soldier and how many to send to their almost guaranteed death. It's a lot more difficult than it was in previous titles as the advanced western weapons are nowhere to be seen here (players can trade with the west for cannons, but they will have to accept Christianity to do so, something that is a no-go for many Japanese factions). If players don't enjoy playing against the AI they can always play against a real life counterpart thanks to the inclusion of Napoleon's revolutionary 'drop in' battle system. There are also various multiplayer modes including head-to-head and co-op campaign mode in which a second player can take control of a section of the army.

Those who crave competitiveness and one-upmanship will fall in love with the brand new Avatar Conquest multiplayer mode. A multiplayer mode so vast it almost merits a price tag of its own. For the first time in the series the focus is put on community play and long term progression. Players begin by creating their avatar then begin their assault on various territories on the multiplayer map, with each winning battle and conquered state comes experience points and unlocks, from new unit types to new technology which can be used in later battles. Players will also have the opportunity to level up through their experience gain, and doing so opens a whole world of possibilities, building their own skill-tree to unlock various different battle abilities for the general and his army. Good news for achievement hunters too is that (as with most Steam games these days) players can unlock various pieces of armour for their avatar which offer real bonuses to their army in-game. The community element is pushed through by the new clan system in which the clan leader can mark a rival clans area of the map for attack, winning the resulting battle will result in the entire clans ranking rising in the global leader board. Battles are also fair as similarly ranked and equipped players are selected as opposition, meaning there are rarely any walkovers.

Click here for full resolution image - 5760x1080

Graphics
The world Creative Assembly have created is completely spectacular. Everything is styled in medieval Japanese art and writing, from the scrawlings on the menu to the beautifully decorated panels and banners carried into battle by the troops. Whilst the players are bombarded by various Haiku's or famous quotes throughout the game, instilling the sense of immersion that make the game so great. The detail put into infantry, archers and cavalry is also awe inspiring. Each and every soldier will have intricate designs, armoury or facial expressions, from mental hats to mental moustache's whilst the campaign map is also beautifully constructed, it may well be the most beautiful fog of war we've ever come across.

Once in battle the terrain is beautifully crafted and watching armies clash will bring a tear to the eye of any lover of realism. The season-specific effects also go a long way to proving that the CA guys have raised the bar completely in terms of graphical brilliance, from the glinting reflection of sunshine off body armour to the dripping, murky reflection from puddles left by torrential rain it truly is spectacular. Of course this comes with a cost and long loading times on low to midrange systems and this can become tiresome after a while.


Audio
Once more the attention to detail paid by Creative Assembly is unbelievable and the sound effects are spectacular. After winning battles soldiers celebrate with a sense of vigour that makes it believable whilst losing will leave the battle commander fuming at his troops, we could almost feel the anger escape as he screamed at his dishonourable military force.

The soundtrack changes depending on the situation, during the campaign map players indulge in plenty of soft, breezy flute and string music straight from medieval Japan whilst upon entering the battlefield the pace changes. Gone are the calm, mellow tunes, replaced by banging drums and horns which creates a sense of excitement in the very soul of the player.

Summary
Creative Assembly have achieved something spectacular with Total War: Shogun 2. There really isnt anything which could be considered a real issue with the game. Sure there are a few niggles and areas that could have been better, such as long load times, but on the whole the game is as near to perfect as it can get.

An enthralling and immersive campaign mode will have players lost in the medieval world whilst battles throughout the game remain supremely challenging and engaging. When players tire of the campaign they can enjoy hours upon hours of fun with the brand new Avatar Conquest multiplayer mode which adds a completely different element to the game.

Gameplay 98/100 Probably the most immersive and brilliant game we've come across. Intelligent AI, difficult to deal with enemy factions and supremely fun battles make for some fantastic action.
Graphics 95/100 One of the best looking worlds ever created. Heavily influenced by Japanese culture and beautifully constructed it's a joy to behold.
Audio 90/100 Excellent sound-track which changes depending on the situation is mirrored by brilliant speech and sound effects that will have players hearts pounding in the heat of battle.
Value 95/100 Excellent sound-track which changes depending on the situation is mirrored by brilliant speech and sound effects that will have players hearts pounding in the heat of battle.
Overall
(Not an Average)
98/100 Probably as close to perfect as is possible.

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