Total War: Shogun 2 - Fall Of The Samurai (PC)
It's not often we review an expansion pack but we make an exception when the new content is a standalone game which offers a largely different experience to the original
. This is the case with Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai which is set during the 19th Century and explores the conflict between the Japanese Imperial throne and the last Shogunate.
Gameplay - What's New
Fall of the Samurai is set 400 years after the events of the original game and sees us picking sides in the conflict of that time. We can play on the side of Emperor as Choshu, Satsuma or Tosa clan which is a largely pro modernisation; pro-western trade stance or we can play as Aizu, Nagaoka, or Jozai clans that back the more traditional Japanese values and Shogunate power. The result of this scenario being a dramatic clash between traditional Samurai culture and the explosive power of modern weaponry.
But it is not simply a case of picking traditional Samurai and Ninja verses modern rifles and artillery. Creative Assembly have characteristically stayed close to the historical facts behind the game. Both Imperial and Shogunate factions have access to modern and traditional units and buildings, each faction is tasked with increasing the level of modernised development within the clan territory and this advancing modernisation causes civil disorder if not correctly managed. We are also able to change our clan allegiance at any time, switching from Imperialist to Shogunate supporter and vice versa to guide the ancient and introspective Japanese culture into the 19th century, using American, British and French agents and trading partners.
The new foreign powers and our relations with them are integral to unit recruitment and to advancing our technology. This involvement is personified by the new agent called the Foreign Veteran who assists with recruitment, army upkeep costs and can challenge a general or other agent to single combat. Two other new agents are present in Fall of the Samurai and these are the Ishin Shishi and the Shinshengumi. Broadly speaking these agents work to convert the population to pro Emperor or pro Shogun and they can also assassinate generals and agents. The three new agents have their own skill tree and the Ninja and Geisha agents have had their skill trees updated.
As well as the new political and technological slant the map in Fall of the Samurai differs from Shogun 2. To our surprise we found it is actually slightly bigger that the main game map featuring the new island of Ezo which extends the Shogun 2 campaign map northwards. The campaign map features have also had a makeover, reflecting the more modern time period. The most notable feature of this is the appearance of railways which is not just cosmetic; they give a region a commercial boost and allow us to move armies and agents between areas very quickly. The railway network can also be sabotaged and transport can be blocked by enemy armies who take control of parts of the line or railway stations.
We have a choice of 39 new land units to put on the railway or move in the conventional manner including the devastating long range artillery and the carnage inducing Gatling gun. The land based and naval guns have a new third-person mode which allows us to zoom down to the perspective of a gunner and manually fire the gun battery with a click of the left mouse button. The foreign power that we ally ourselves with also has an effect on unit choice as new units can be recruited from the foreign powers, including the British Royal Marines, US Marine Corps and French Marines.
Ten new naval unit types with a total of 21 ships accompany our land forces. The new ships are steam-powered, metal clad and armed with modern artillery. Foreign ships can also be purchased, including the Warrior-class ironclad. These advanced naval forces also have a new function; they are able to interact with land units that are close to the shore. If a land battle is close to the shore then armies can call in offshore artillery support barrages and the navy can also bombard the campaign map damaging armies and cities in adjacent coastal areas on the campaign map itself.
As well as all the campaign expansion, multiplayer has also had a bit of a spruce up. The conquest map has been refreshed to reflect the 19th century setting in the same way as the campaign map has and we are treated to a new Fall of the Samurai avatar which includes over 40 new retainers, over 30 new armour pieces and a new 19th century avatar skill tree.
As with other Total War titles the main gameplay is divided into two parts. We play a turn based strategy phase in which we control the production of our provinces, negotiate with other clans, set research goals and manage our armies and agents. The other play type is the real time battles in which we control each unit of our army directly.
As we would expect with a standalone expansion pack it feature new units as explained above but it is also a cut down version of Shogun 2. For example we start the game in the same way as Shogun 2 by selecting which clan to lead but we only have a choice of 6 clans, trade takes a back seat as well. While we can still trade with other willing clans and the creation of sea trade routes occurs automatically, trade post and consequently trading ships no longer exist.
Victory is achieved in a similar way to Shogun 2, where we had to claim a certain number of provinces, depending on difficulty level, and Kyoto to becoming the new Shogun. Fall of the Samurai changes things slightly but significantly. We still have to hold a number of provinces and a couple of named areas but we also have to have number of provinces held by our faction, e.g. pro-Emperor or Pro Shogun. This is typical of the shift in game play away from all-out war to a more diplomatic and precise tackle war. While it is possible to claim all the required territory ourselves, the reality of this action is that it ramps up the difficulty 100% and causes economic problems as we quickly loose trading partners and allies.
Fall of the Samurai draws a line in the sand, it's Emperor or Shogun, us against them. While this produces a clear cut division between friend and foe that wasn't present in Shogun 2 it also means we have to pick our battles much more carefully. Frequently we found ourselves surrounded by allies and clans of the same allegiance, forcing us to put our armies on a boat and sail to the other end of Japan only to claim an province that was surrounded by enemies and clans of the other allegiance with no hope if speedy reinforcement. It is of course possible to attach province occupied by clans of the same allegiance but as stated above the economic ramification can be dire.
The games adds an extra layer of complexity as not only is it a war for the future of Japan, it is a war with its people as well and this stems from the technology research aspect of the game. Fall of the Samurai puts a strong emphasis on "Modernisation", it puts a numerical value on our clan's level of modernisation and this in turn unlocks up to four tiers of Civil and Military research goals. Certain building and research topics increase our level of modernisation and some like the Traditional Dojo or Mahjong Parlour decrease it. The conflict arise because all modernisation causes unhappiness within our population regardless of our clan or allegiance. Failure to modernise will result in less chance of losing our provinces to revolt but it means that we will be beaten by a clan with a bigger economy and more advanced weapons.
The really spectacular difference with Fall of the Samurai isn't the increased focus on political wheeling and dealing but the inclusion of the most advanced weapons ever seen in a Total War game. Bringing us up to the 19th century gives us access to an early machine gun, rifled artillery with exploding shells, armour plated ships that fire extremely long range guns and torpedoes and ashigaru (now re-named Levy Infantry) equipped with a firearm that can drop the bravest of Katana wielding Samurai at 200 paces. Visually and tactically it is interesting and new for Total War as the battle field can be completely dominated by careful placement of the most accurate and deadly artillery the game series has ever seen. Essentially we find ourselves employing similar tactics to those used in Napoleon or Empire when we deploy our rifle armed infantry only to have them attacked by disciplined traditional Samurai or Ninja and engaged in close combat for which they are ill equipped.
An additional layer of playability comes in the form of the multiplayer. As with Shogun 2 we can create an Avatar and take part in the Avatar Conquest multiplayer mode. Once our avatar is ready we can starts our assaults on the multiplayer map. With each win we gain experience points which unlocks new unit types and technology. We are also able to level up our avatar through the experience gain; this can also be done in the campaign game for generals and agents. Generally the multiplayer experience with Fall of the Samurai is very similar to Shogun 2 but this time we play with guns, lots and lots of guns.
Graphics and Audio
Fall of the Samurai is a work of art. Every aspect of the graphics has a rich quality and detail to it without comparison. Load screens are beautiful works of art in themselves, depicting scenes in the Japanese artistic style with extracts of Japanese death poems accompanying the visual feasts.
The campaign map is extremely detailed; it mirrors the terrain of the battles and changes as we develop building. It also changes with the seasons. As does the battle map which is beautifully crafted and extremely realistic. The new gunpowder weapons are also extremely well rendered. The artillery hits produce huge clouds of dirt, dust and the dead and persistent volley fire can leave the battle filled with a drifting artificial fog of cordite smoke.
The sound effects that accompany these battles are spectacular. The clash of weapons, screams of pain, crack of gun fire and the whizz of shells bearing down on their target can all be heard.
Fall of the Samurai places a greater emphasis on the non-combat aspects of the game than any other Total War title. It groups us with a philosophical allegiance rather than creating total war and while on the surface this allegiance is easy to understand; Shogun = traditional and Emperor = modern, the reality of the game is much more about shades of grey.
We found that this game mechanism made it more difficult to attack clans of the same allegiance and caused our population to be generally unhappy, regardless of which side we pick. This meant that as some points we were bogged down managing our provinces rather than getting on with the fighting which some may like and others wish to avoid.
The inclusion of advanced gunpowder weapons is spectacular, particularly in naval battles. These are slightly less slow and ponderous than pervious Total War titles due to the use of steam engines, but the real improvement comes from being able to lob exploding shells or fire torpedoes great distances. Once we got the hang of them naval battles became a cacophony of explosions and burning boats.
A similar thing can be said for the land battles, while we only have four types of field gun (effectively small, mediums and large artillery along with a machine gun) the inclusion of one of these in a battles can dominate it and adding a hand full of artillery to an army makes it a winner every time. The firearm equipped infantry are essentially the same as those featured in Total War: Napoleon or Total War: Empire and are just a longer range and more accurate version of the basic gun infantry in Shogun 2. Melee infantry and the one type of archer we are able to recruit perform in exactly the same way as Shogun 2.
Overall this game is as spectacular as Total War: Shogun 2. It is a visual and auditory feast that is challenging, engaging, rewarding and extremely good fun. Our only real issue is that the load times are still long.