Wot I Think: Total War: Shogun 2

The horses were actually pretty embarrassed.
Shogun 2 is set to be released on the 15th of March. For the past week I’ve been playing the single-player campaign, and I’ve written up my thoughts on this below. What I haven’t done is play any of the multi-player. While Sega did provide a multi-player test for press and other interested parties, I don’t really see the point of talking about it until there’s a live service. That should, all being well, arrive with the game’s launch on the 15th. We’ll take a look at it after that time.

So then: how do I get busy with that shogunate?

Let’s start at the beginning. THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Actually, the beginning of Total War will probably suffice. 2000’s Shogun was what started it: a two tier strategy game set in ancient Japan. The turn-based campaign map saw you moving armies about between provinces, in a mild Risk type game of unit-production and army-positioning, while the battles between armies could be fought in real-time on a 3D map. This has set the template for the series and, despite colossal movement in all kinds of directions, this structure remains largely the same in 2011.

The Total War games are not interesting because they are tightly-honed, rule-governed systems, as many RTS games aim to be. They can’t be said to be interesting because they are perfectly balanced, or cleverly structured in terms of progress over time. Nor are they interesting because they represent any kind of state of the art in technology. They are interesting because they represent a kind of exploratory simulation: what might it be like to govern in era x, and what can you do with a limited set of military, economic and diplomatic tools. While the Total War games take history as their inspiration, they are a counter-factual, and an abstract take on the processes of history. They are a big “What If” that allows you to play with war in unlikely situations, and see what might happen if Denmark had been a ruthlessly aggressive power throughout the Middle Ages.

The issue with this wide-open, sandbox approach to strategy was that when it gets too big, then things start to become messy. Empire was arguably a step too far, and consequently everything suffered. Shogun 2 is a step back, and everything has benefited. Because of the tighter focus on the single island of Japan, and the more comprehensible mechanics of spears, swords, horses, archers and not too much in the way of gunpowder-based conflict, the game is better encapsulated, and a purer Total War experience. Sadly that means it is also far less interesting than Empire as an experience. While flawed, Empire was at least braving new ground, and its scope was titanic. I’ve enjoyed Shogun a great deal, but I am nevertheless filled with a kind of longing for Empire’s silly, all-encompassing vision. Sure, the release was buggy and it took months to be patched into happiness, but it was nevertheless something a little different. Shogun 2’s ambitions are much closer, much more in line with the previous games, and as a result it feels overly familiar. If you have played every Total War game, then nothing here will surprise you too much, and if you require novelty, then that might just be a problem.

So then: to the heart of the beast. First up it’s worth taking about the presentation of Shogun 2. This is possibly the most gorgeously a strategy game has ever unfurled its banners. Everything in every aspect of the game is exquisite. Partly this is because the Japanese theme makes for great design, while our Western medieval iconography seems a bit kitsch by comparison. The menus, the mist on the hills of the battle-maps, the aggressive bark of the ninja, the calligraphic UI elements, it all unites into one of the most rich and delicious experiences in gaming.

Choose a clan, and you can begin your struggle for dominance in the Sengoku period of Japanese history. The Tokugawa won in real life, but you can change that. You start off on the campaign map and you get your first taste of the of the aesthetics with the typically thorough clan presentation and follow up tips. The tips are generally explained to you by a wife or geisha woman, in quiet but insistent tones. Like all the voice-acting in the game, it’s well pitched. The battle-maps’ reports from livid and disgusted lackeys (“A SHAMEFUL DISPLAY!”) are a highlight, but it’s all consistent and strong.

The map itself is laid out as if on parchment where it is outside your visual range, and as you explore this it rises up into 3D, returning to the blackness of a fog of war when you don’t have a unit in the territory. The map becomes busy as the – very busy – as the game escalates. Again each region has a couple of outlying points, usually a port and a secondary village, which can be upgraded separately to the main castle settlement, and can also be attacked and damaged by raiding armies.

Development of your regions relies on two things. One, of course, is income, which can be modified in a number of ways – through developing farmland, developing road infrastructure, and developing sea trade (a simplified version of Empire’s trade routes) – and then through the mastery of the arts. The arts consistent in what are essentially two talent trees, one more martial, the other more domestic. Skills on this tree take a certain number of turns to develop, and their development will often by tied to clan goals, for which you will be rewarded. Of course the clan you’ve chosen will also have some basic bonuses, and have a weaker or stronger starting position, and this will have some influence on the arts you intend to master. Since you can only work on one at any particular time, and you will need certain arts to unlock particular vital technologies, deciding what to work can be crucial to early success. The turn-based progression here always creates some oddness, and I found myself hammering through turns to get to the skill I needed to expand.

That early success can be hard in any game played above the normal difficulty setting. I didn’t find “normal” to be too much of a challenge, but it was enjoyably tense thanks to pesky Christian rebels keeping me on my toes on the campaign map. I was able to win several battles against serious odds vs normal battle AI, which eventually seemed boring. Hard, however, was a little different. In anything over that the easiest starting positions I found myself getting seriously hammered in the early game, and it took some real grit and a bunch of replays to make progress. The campaign map difficulty does seem to be quite something, and I can scarcely imagine how impossible the top tier “legendary” difficulty must be. Surviving more than a couple of years must become the ambition at that level. The battle AI… well let’s come to that in a moment.

Surviving at any level seems to hinge on your honour. The honour of the Daimyo (clan leader) pretty much dictates your ability to work through alliances with other AI leaders, and dishonour (generated by attacking an ally, leaving disloyal generals alive, or becoming Christian) can have other ramifications within your own provinces. Remaining honourable is – as you can imagine in game designed around aggressive expansion – tricky. But so is staying afloat without some serious bargaining with the other clans, who are inclined to team up against you if you’re looking too much like or threat, or even the slightest bit like an easy target.

Agents too have a distinct and important role, too, although I admit that found the aggressive ninja to be far less use that others, such as a metsuke and monk, who have a positive effect in controlling your own territories. Offensive actions are relatively easy to come by and master, but a rebel army springing up in a lightly defended region is far more dangerous than any clan, when you’ve got your big armies at the frontiers of your realm. Keeping things together in a larger empire is also crucial when the current shogun finally decides to call you as the big enemy. This happens about half way into the campaign, and sees the other clans align with the Shogun against you. It’s a good halt for any military momentum you might have built up. Where you might have been able to flatten the map in other Total War games, here you necessarily run into a greater challenge.

So then. That battle AI. At easy and normal I didn’t find it to be any real challenge. Larger armies were easily convinced into entering my traps, and would blindly charge my forces entrenched on higher ground. Cavalry thought it was okay to run headlong into spearmen, and so on. On hard they are rather more cautious, and more likely to flank you effectively. Not that it always works – baiting with weaker units still means you can often draw off cavalry, although they will almost always avoid being drawn into a dangerous position versus missile units. Hard difficulty and higher on the battle AI seems to mean the enemy forces simply put on a more effective display, with missile units retreating to higher ground, and units selecting an appropriate target to attack – although I have yet to see them properly move behind other infantry for protection. I suspect the limited number of units is part of what makes the AI more consistent, but it is also the careful use of cavalry. The hard AI does seem comfortable the kind of harrying and attacking from the sidelines that these units need to undertake. Additionally, you won’t encounter too much in the way of artillery (although there are plenty of siege weapons and such), and although firearms are present, the game leans less on simulating them, and more on pushing you towards melee.

Combat on the field is extremely pacey, too, with units covering ground quickly and rapidly resolving their fights. I had to use pause more than I usually do to keep track of actions in the larger battles.

Sieges – which I was a bit worried about at the preview stage – actually seem pretty tidy, too. The earthwork basis of the castles means that any infantry unit can, pretty much, climb the walls of your castle, and this means there’s always a straight way in for any siege. It also means that as an attacker you can always come at the fort from several directions and often outwit the AI into not defending all its flanks. That said, it can do the same to you when you are defending. I was even surprised to see an enemy general dismount his cavalry and climb up to get inside and finish off my decimated defenders on a map I assumed I had won. Because the castles are much more open, much of the fighting is actually within the grounds. While you can hold the “battlements” such as they are, they don’t sit atop a wall like Western fortifications, and once you’re up the wall you’re back on a battlefield. Ultimately, I began to rather enjoy sieges, which had been something I’d begun to avoid entirely – auto-resolving all the way – in the previous games.

Oh, and naval invasions are working, too.

Speaking of naval stuff – the battles at sea are rather lovely, both in terms of being visually splendid and far easier to deal with than the Empire battles, but I couldn’t help feeling that the nuance of land battles was missing. With a larger force, and more missile boats, I would always win. I never really developed tactics in any meaningful way. At least with big sailships you know you needed to bring a big broadside as often as possible, here it’s a bit more like driving tanks in a more basic RTS. There wasn’t a lot more to it than that. It feels like these are really just in there for colour, and so I just built a large fleet and auto-resolved my way to victory.

There is – at least for my personal tastes – an still imbalance in all this. I found the campaign map difficulty pleasingly yielding on normal, with the battle maps being far too easy. I’d like to have been able to play on hard battle-map AI, and normal campaign AI. (In fact, wasn’t that an option in previous Total War games? Because it’s not an option here.) UPDATE: You can actually change battle difficulty in the options once the campaign has started. It feels like the game is tuned to someone else’s difficulty tastes, which wasn’t true of earlier instances of the series.

So, final words: a tight, coherent Total War offering. It’s a bit of a system hog, I suspect. My God-like monster PC chuntered a bit on the very highest settings and the biggest battles, so although the game can look dreamy, I should imagine it’s going to have to be scaled way back for the average gaming PC. Apparently the DX11 support is in a follow up patch in the coming weeks, too, and I should imagine there will be some bugs emerge in that time. I haven’t found anything game-breaking (just a glitch or two), although some other press types are reporting occasional CTDs.

The game is out on the 15th, and there’s no good reason not to buy it. I mean I guess there are reasons, as I’ve outlined, but anyway, just not good ones. You’ll make your own mind up.


  1. frenz0rz says:

    But can you invade France?

  2. eightbitrobot says:

    What kind of system did you play it on?
    I’m curious how well mine will run it.. Phenom II X4 955 @ 3,2Ghz, 4890HD 1GB, 4GB RAM.

    • demogamer says:

      @eightbitrobot – I run the demo on a 2.7 GHz Athlon 2 X2 and a GeForce 7800GT 256MB, and while not stellar, it is playable. I think you’ll be fine. Give the demo a shot, you can download it from Steam.

    • GenBanks says:

      My i7 930/ 6gb/ radeon 5870 chugs a bit with max settings on the demo’s historical battle. But no big deal, and anyway it still looks good with the settings a bit lower.

    • notjasonlee says:

      i have a similar setup to yours and was able to run the large demo battles at near-max settings at a reasonable fps. your cpu and ram are nearly identical and i have a gts450 instead of a 4890

    • 12kill4 says:

      I have the exact same set up as you, EightbitRobot and my performance in the demo was averaging around 35fps on max detail @ 1920 x 1080. Unfrotunately there did seem to be some big fluctuations during the historical battle so I guess I’ll have to wait and see. Out of curiousity, do you find your 955 to be extremely hot? When I bought the thing I ended up having to get a whole bunch of extra cooling just to keep it sub 60’C- eg. I have a case with a 200mm fan on the top as well as 4 x standard 80mm fans and an aftermarket cpu fan and currently I’m sitting on about 52’C… o_O

      I live in Australia so the climate certainly doesnt help.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I would tell you what I ran the demo on, if only I was allowed to play the thing in f-ing Japan!

    • eightbitrobot says:

      My CPU runs very hot as well, roughly 62 C when gaming.. wich isn’t good at all considering the specifications say max should be 60. I plan on getting a better heatsink.

  3. Monchberter says:

    It comes with ethereal hats?!


  4. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    Boo Hiss, CA.
    Does it come with my multiplayer campaign for Empire?

  5. cluddles says:

    Yes, you could choose separate difficulty settings for the battles and the strategic map in earlier games (certainly in Medieval 2, not sure about Empire as I skipped that one)

    • Mirqy says:

      yes, you can in Empire too.

    • anduin1 says:

      that’s a shitty omission on their part, a lot of the early balance players could find in playing previous TW games to make sure the campaign AI wasn’t idiotic (so setting them to normal or hard) and then to balance out of battle AI by making them very hard or hard.

  6. WMain00 says:

    So the AI is still as ineffectively useless as ever, unless you play on Hard, in which case the AI makes a solid attempt at trying to not seem so useless, but in reality can still be pretty stupid in ability?

    • skinlo says:

      And thats different from any other game on the market how??

    • rivalin says:

      It’s different that in battles of this type (i.e. realistic ones, not lame rts spam fests like starcraft) the AI can’t win by outdoing you in actions per second like in most other games, it has to actually be able to behave in a rational manner, understanding space, manoeuvering, counters and range. Obviously this is a difficult task, but A they’ve been doing this for ten years and they’ve gotten nowhere, so they should assign more people to AI research, and B its dishonest to sell a game in which a key feature is not fit for purpose and continually try to PR bullshit people, knowingly attempting to deceive them that it’s somehow fixed every new release.

    • Lightbulb says:

      Go and play EU3 with the Magna Mundi and tell me the AI can’t play the game.

      Or perhaps a better example go an play AI War v4.0 and tell me AI can’t play the game.

      Total War games – I loved Shogun. But they haven’t improved since then and my standards have grown far beyond their limitations.

      I just wish someone would make another Brave Heart game. I never got it to run. Old PC too crap, new PC too good it would appear but the idea of a realtime, real scale RTS was awesome!

  7. Stardog says:

    I’ve never understood why people buy this year after year. It’s the same every time. I’ve played it since the first Shogun, which was a classic, but since Rome there have been minimal changes. I’ve played the demos of them all since I bought Rome and found zero reasons to buy.

    • Bhazor says:

      You do know demo’s aren’t the whole game right?

    • Rich says:

      You might consider this to be an upgraded Shogun? Shogun looked horrible even when it was new, and had no sieges or real naval power. Rome was the first to use models instead of sprites and sieges with walls that men can stand on. Medieval 2 had much larger sieges and brought back the assassination movies. Empire, a.k.a. Napoleon RC1, was an entirely different beast and introduced actual navel battles, which are my favourite bit.

      It all seems like a natural progression really. Personally I’d like to see a Rome 2, and I’d be happy if it just had better graphics and navel battles.

    • anduin1 says:

      lack of unit variety? we must not have been playing the same game. It had the most diverse units in any TW game up to this point. The barbarian factions were completely seperate from anything else, Rome itself was a giant with completely unique units, Then the Greeks/Macedon were the defensive juggernauts. Moving east you had the skirmisher countries of Parthia and Pontus. The Egyptians were like a mix of east and west. The bugs sucked, yes, but when the game worked fine then it was beautiful. Add to that the dozen or so top notch mods that could pass for retail games themselves, only Medieval 2 rivals it in terms of quality mods.

  8. Zenicetus says:

    I’d like to have been able to play on hard battle-map AI, and normal campaign AI. (In fact, wasn’t that an option in previous Total War games? Because it’s not an option here.)”

    Uh oh… this doesn’t bode well. Yes, campaign and battle difficulty were separate settings in the earlier games. I used to play M2TW and Empire on Normal campaign and Hard battles, because if you went past Normal on campaigns, it made diplomacy ridiculous (relations gradually degraded towards hostility unless you did something to stop it).

    Also, if I’m not mistaken…. in previous games, moving from Normal to Hard for the tactical battles didn’t actually make the battle AI any smarter. The tactics didn’t change. All it did was affect things like morale and terrain movement. The enemy units wouldn’t break and run as easily, they wouldn’t get tired as fast when moving uphill, and so on. So either they’ve changed it for this game and there actually are different “smarts” for different settings, or it’s just one battle AI that’s looking a little smarter when it gets better morale (or whatever modifiers are being used).

    At any rate, I can’t believe they hard-linked the difficulty settings! I hope this is just an early build, or temporary. That won’t go over well with the TW fan community, I think.

    • Fede says:

      I confirm that it was possible to choose different difficulties for campaign and battles, and that it’s a pity if they have dropped it. Campaign AI has always been given very big bonuses on hard (4k money/turn, I think) and very hard (10k money/turn and, at least for Med2, full stacks of armies being created out of the FoW), because the diplomatic AI has always lacked. It seems there has been no improvement here.

      (According to a developer) in Rome on Hard the AI was given +4 attack, and on Very Hard +7 attack, and then there were morale bonuses which were “much more complex, as they work on a series of sliding scales”.
      As far as I know Medieval 2 gave the same bonuses.

      Both Rome and Med2 were playable and enjoyable on very hard; the biggest flaw of the AI was not being able to keep their army together (you could always get some units to attack you and leave their formation). It seems they might have at least partially corrected this, and that would be nice.

    • Lightbulb says:

      The funny thing was that because the morale was higher on Hard the game was actually easier because you wiped out their army faster.

      On lower difficulties it was hard as they would survive battles with more of their forces intact thus meaning you had a much hard fight next time.

      That’s great design folks! :)

  9. WombatDeath says:

    Which instalment in this series would be a good starting point for someone who hasn’t played any of them? I don’t really know why I haven’t been paying attention for the last ten years, but for some reason I suddenly quite fancy having a look.

    • zal says:

      Romes probably a good one to start with… works on any system looks pretty decent, lots of units/factions, and sports most of the features that are in the series today. shogun and medieval 1 are still a ton of fun though, and medieval 2 is a good time. can’t speak for empire, as I never actually got around to playing it.

    • The Pink Ninja says:

      Rome and its two expansions. I’ve never played Alexander but I’m sure it’s good and you can’t probably get all three for five pounds in a Steam sale.

      Rome and especially Barbarians Wars are the apogee of the series. My only real criticism of Rome is once you get to about ten or twelve cities and have been upgrading your city’s economic buildings you’ve basically already won the game. Of course on hard and very hard getting to that point is, well, hard, especially if you’re surrounded by enemies or a barbarian.

      While not true for every faction Barbarians Invasions partially fixes this. Why I recommend it over Medieval two are the Hordes, huge roving armies that are hard to take on even if you control a lot of cities.

      Completing Barbarian Invasions as the Western Roman Empire is one of the most satisfying challenges in gaming.

    • WombatDeath says:

      Thanks to you both! In case anyone else is in a similar frame of mind, I’ve discovered that Rome: Gold (includes the Barbarian thing mentioned by Mr Pink) is currently £1.25 on Steam.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Both Rome and Med2 are pretty solid, and both have great mods available. Rome with the expansion is probably the best in the series, although I’m especially fond of Broken Crescent for Med2, which shifts the map more into Asia and focuses mainly on the Islamic factions.

      Empire was a disaster (IMO). Napoleon was a little more focused and scripted, so it wasn’t as bad as Empire but still shared many of the same flaws. I never played the early ones — Shogun and the first Medieval — and there are some fans who still maintain that Shogun was the pinnacle in the series, FWIW.

    • Navagon says:

      Personally I find Medieval 2 to effectively be Rome with all the game-breaking problems fixed. So I’d definitely recommend that one first. Rome is good. But only until a point. Then all its imbalances make further progress actually counter-productive.

    • jonfitt says:

      Wow, Rome:Gold is £1.25?

      I already own Rome and BI and reinstalled them the other day, but I would have paid £1.25 to avoid having to find and download the latest patch, insert the many compact discotrons, and then have said discotron in the discomatic device in order to play.

    • jalf says:

      Ugh, I don’t get why people obsess so about Rome. It was the first game to introduce most of the changes that made later games a bit “meh”. Rome introduced the silly Civ-like campaign map, taking your attention away from what was actually *interesting*, it had a lack of unit variety, much more limited scope for tactics.

      The first Medieval (or the first Shogun, if you insist) were much tighter games. Medieval 2 fixed most of the problems from Rome (but not all).

      Honestly, I’d say Rome is the #1 game to skip. The rest really comes down to preferred setting. Medieval has huge scope and huge unit variety, with lots of places to conquer, and lots of units to do it with. Shogun is much smaller, for better or worse.

      For the rest, pick whichever you like. I suspect the pre-Rome games would look a bit dated to a newcomer, which is a shame, because gameplay-wise I really prefer those.

      Otherwise, I suspect Shogun 2 might actually be the best entry point into the series.

    • ezekiel2517 says:

      Rome is the #1 based solely on the mods, and it’s mods are the best of any TW based solely on Europa Barbarorum. Once you play that one, you will never want to play without it again.

      The Steam sale going on right now is probably the way to go. Almost all of their games for 65 dollars is excellent.

  10. zal says:

    Woo shogun, even if the ai is only slightly less dumb than previous outings, I’ll still get 100’s of hours out of it. my big choice is HDR or anti-aliasing. silky soft units or glorious lighting.. why must they always be exclusive.
    Also something I noticed in the demo that I’m hoping carries to the game, the unit level dialogue seemed to be in japanese. Great stuff, since honestly, the medieval 2 outrageous accents started to drag after a while. maybe its japanese with bad accents, but I can’t tell since I don’t speak it. We’ll see though, the general voice overs were english which helped filter out important news from selection sounds. It’d be a shame if it were ditched from the demo to retail.

  11. Curvespace says:

    Molyneux Worthy Insane Idea no. 22397: There should be a mode where a player can jump into a battle at any time, but what is actually happening is that he is hooked into someone elses game and momentarily acts as the AI in that battle. There’d perhaps need to be a ranking system and so forth for purposes of balance (so you’d match up against the players designated difficulty) and player incentive.

    Obviously it’s wildly unlikely that this would work in practice, but thought I’d share it none-the-less.

    Incidentally, does anyone know of any games that have tried this?

    • GenBanks says:

      It’s not that fanciful… Napoleon Total War already had that except that you couldn’t drop in any time, you had to replace another player’s ai from the beginning of any given battle.

    • Curvespace says:

      Ahh, cool! Thanks for the info :)

      I didn’t play Napolean after finding Empire to be a proverbial steamer.


      This feature will also be in Shogun 2.

  12. WombatDeath says:

    (Intentionally left blank)

  13. vodkarn says:

    I remember the exact same problem in the original Shogun: Battles on Hard were somewhat difficult, but even on Normal the strategy campaign was almost impossible. The other leaders would attack you for no reason, and often grind their armies down trying to defeat you, in a sort of bizarre WW1-style wave attack strategy. And they’d take turns.

    • drewski says:

      Really? I didn’t find normal to be too difficult in the original Shogun. I picked the clan at the very top of Japan, so I only ever really had one or, at most, two fronts to fight on. Took a while, especially once I’d got about half the island, and had to grind out a few battles to win provinces (attack with one army to get their units down, but lose, then hit again immediately with another army to win the province) but overall it wasn’t too hard.

      Shogun remains the only Total War game I’ve ever won, as inevitably in the later ones I got bogged down in the size of my empire and gave up because I’d forget everything I had to do every turn.

    • The Kodan Armada says:

      The problem I always have with these games is eventually you flip an AI switch and the endgame is everyone attacking you, even guys you’d been allied with. From reading the review, that applies here. And if it’s anything like the Medieval games, it’ll happen to an absurd extent. The last time I played before I gave up on the series, I hit that Point of No Return and a country I’d been allied with since the beginning of the game attacked me for no reason and a country I didn’t even have on the map/hadn’t encountered at all yet went marching all the way around the map just to attack me for no apparent reason. It’s a bit like the “fuck you” AI in EA Sports games when it just decides it’s going to win and that’s the way it’s going to be and I hate that. It’s a real shame, too, because I love the game up to that point, but it’s not even worth playing when I know I will lose in the end if I hit some point buried in the AI that sets everyone on KILL MODE.

  14. neems says:


    I have this ordered (in fact it’s been dispatched) and now I’m hearing about the lack of independent difficulty settings for campaign and battle. I’m a little bit worried, although I’ll probably be okay (I suck basically).

    I hope it is just a build thing, seems like a strange change.

    • drewski says:

      If you suck, it sounds like you’ll be OK on Normal as both the campaign and battle AI aren’t too nasty.

      I’m a little disappointed they’ve removed the customisable difficulty, but I always play on Normal-Normal anyway (as I also suck) so I guess it’s not too big a deal for me.

  15. Jimbo says:

    “Apparently the DX11 support is in a follow up patch in the coming weeks…”

    Suuuure it is.

    • Greg Wild says:

      Yeah, CA seem to borrow their time pieces from Valve, it’ll be a couple of months at least I’m sure.

  16. ALJA says:

    @jimbo exactly my thoughts. I think its not worth buying total war games until at least a few months after release. Everyone looks on with rose tinted glasses at rome and med 2 but the games had ctds, memory leaks, bugs that made them extremely annoying to try and play until after the first few months. Rome wasnt playable until patch 1.3 and med 2 was the same, I think it was the fourth patch that made it ok.

  17. Gunrun says:

    On one hand woo, on the other hand the reviewer did give 94% to Empire Total War when it came out, so…

    ( link to computerandvideogames.com )

  18. Tim Ward says:


    I say this as as an extremely vocal critic of Empire, and especially of the state of its AI; with the demo I played the freeplay campaign mod, which lets you play the tutorial campaign without any of the tutorial bullshit, and the unscripted battle mod that you can get from the twcenter forums, and my impression of the AI was was that it was actually pretty good.

    The campaign AI, in particular, is actually rather impressive. Easily the best in a Total War title so far. Playing as the Chosokabe I tried to establish a foothold on the mainland (the Chosokabe start on Shikoku, which is that island in Japan’s armpit), screwed up and got my army destroyed. There followed several turns of remorseless naval invasions from rival clans till I was wiped out. It’s still actually not that hard to outplay… but you have to actually *play*, unlike in Empire where you had to be trying to lose. This was on normal.

    Moreover the nature of the challenge is that the AI knows what it’s doing. It doesn’t cheat as outrageously as in previous titles (on normal, supposedly, the *player* is the one given a small bonus), so unlike in Medieval or Rome it doesn’t just produce full stack armies from nowhere, irregardless of the amount of territory or resources it might have, and throw them at a nearby city until you conquer them or quit out of boredom. It actually seems to have fairly limited resources and use them sensibly.

    I don’t want to oversell this. If you play Shogun 2, expect to win. But expect to have to work for it, too, which is a huge step forward from previous Total War games.

    The battle AI I found less impressive. I lost a few times, mostly due to general based blunders, but once you get used to the idea that the AI will actually *play* you, unlike in Empire where all you need to win was rough parity in numbers and the ability to make a line with the preset formations, it’s no too difficult to beat. I found it competent with melee infantry, but poor with calvary and archers. I played about 20 battles and won most of all of them. I wouldn’t expect an easy time where the AI has superior numbers, though… which has important ramifications for the campaign in that you can no longer take advantage of shit AI to win battles you wouldn’t normally be able to win, which means you can’t, for example, defend a settlement with half the forces you’d need too if you just autoresolved everything and go off conquering other lands with the rest.

    I think Jim may have undersold the AI here a little due to, uh, past misjudgments on that subject. What he says about the flaws of the BAI is true, but that doesn’t change the fact that the AI in Shogun 2 is a significant step forward for the series.

    And something to wave in the faces of people who said things like “Human level AI is not possible for a video game, therefore any half-assed crap is acceptable” around the time of Empire, as Shogun 2 truly proves there is a middle ground between the miraculous breakthrough that the electronic simulation of human consciousness would represent and producing something unable to coherently form a single straight line during battle, interact with the human player diplomatically in ways which do not involve the outright refusal of absolutely everything or place troops on ships. A great day indeed for Science.

    • Ysellian says:

      So they finally did something about the campaign AI? I know everyone kept going on about the battle AI, but the campaign AI being stupid is just plain unforgiveable. Even in Empire my opponents kept doing stuff which made me think: “Why are you doing that? You know I’m just going to kick your ass?”

  19. odd parity says:

    I remember playing the original, but I don’t think I ever figured out how to escape the pit. The graphics seem to have been improved quite a bit.

  20. Novotny says:

    Mmm. I want to believe. Holding for more opinions.

  21. Mr_Hands says:

    I’m really interested in all the stuff they added to the multiplayer aspect of this game. All of that sounded tremendously fun.

    Overall, I’m thinking I’ll pick this up. I loved the demo.

  22. Soon says:

    Inflate the balloons and take to the skies, noble horse. Trample your enemies from above!

  23. phenom_x8 says:

    My condolences for japanese tsunami yesterday! I think it was the right article to say it, right?

  24. James Allen says:

    I assume that, since multiplayer clans use Steam groups, that RPS will dominate the online competition?

  25. Quaib says:

    This was always a buy for me.
    Have it pre-ordered. Since I’m in australia they charge ridiculous prices for games (100+), so I bought it via a UK seller (that has a website specifically to sell games to AU).

    Btw anyone else going to play as Oda? (WINK WINK)

  26. pupsikaso says:

    “You’ll make your own mind up”

    IF I get a demo.

  27. orcywoo6 says:

    I wonder how my new pc will handle this…

    Phenom 955 x4 3.2 ghz
    Gtx 570 overclocked at 850/2100/1700

    It handled the demo pretty well, but its not really a true representation :P

    • Heliosicle says:

      I’d say you’ll be able to enjoy it at maximum pretty.

    • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

      800×600 16 bit color, windowed mode

      why would you spend $400 on a video card not knowing if it can run the latest games?

  28. AngryAmoeba says:

    Just gave up on proofreading, eh Jim? :)

    Sorry, I proofread stuff part-time for work, and this article had kind of a lazy eye to me. Great insight, but a little tough to look at.

  29. Ybfelix says:

    “while our Western medieval iconography seems a bit kitsch by comparison.”

    i’m interested would a native japanese find the presentation “kitsch”

    …though judging from their animes they have a very high tolerance for this kind of thing

  30. carvalho.mourao says:

    Nice review, I wasn’t hyped or anything but now I want to buy it.

  31. Dying Flutchman says:

    The AI does have some severe problems in this game, actually.

    1) Blitzkrieg AI. More than any other Total War game I can remember, in this game the computer has a tendency to do suicide attacks on enemy strongholds. The Oda *always* get wiped out in the first turn if you don’t play as them, since they take all their forces (leaving no garrison) and attack the Tokugawa, just to get assaulted from the North by the Saito and losing their only province. In a war against a large foe, all you need to do is break their first few armies and then you can make a trail through their territories without running into resistance, since there are barely any units in their cities.

    2) Legendary difficulty is not fun at all. I like how it removes the option for manual saves (only end-turn autosaves are available), the minimap during battles, the ability to command your units while paused during battle and makes the AI more relentless in diplomacy and during the fight. What I don’t like is the absurd degree of cheating the AI seems to do. The all-too-known “spawning two large armies while owning one undeveloped territory”.

  32. UK_John says:

    I find it very difficult to read Total War reviews. This is due to not a single review of Rome Total War having anything to say about the broad Australian accented voice-overs – which had a huge impact on my immersiveness in that game.

    Ever since I have wondered: “What have the reviewers not mentioned this time?!”.

    Hence my concern and why I cannot say if this is a good or poor review of Shogun 2.