Shogun 2: Rise of the Samurai Preview

Last week we sent Will Porter to The Creative Assembly to find out about their forthcoming campaign DLC for Shogun 2. These are his findings.

Shogun 2 Total War wasn’t fascinating for its campaign map politics and tactical intricacies alone. To my mind – a mind squeezed through an entirely western-orientated educational cookie-cutter – a primary draw was olden-time Japan itself. My own historical knowledge has only ever been gently simmered by Henry VIII being miffed with the Pope, or perhaps Harold bullshitting William the Conqueror in the presence of some special bones, so for Shogun 2 to suddenly present those fabulous castles, that intricate history and that awesome array of weaponry was faintly mindblowing. Everything was just so alien, and alluring, to my closed-off western hemisphere brain. It was like stumbling across this incredible new universe on the scale of LOTR or Star Wars, but this one was somehow real.

Continuing with this theme, then, the forthcoming £5.99 downloadable campaign Rise of the Samurai is essentially Total War: Shogun 2 – Episodes 1-3. Out at an as yet unspecified point this month, it’s a (good) Revenge of the Sith in the way it sets up the ruling order we are now so familiar with: a bloody patch of history, four hundred years before the start of Shogun 2, called the Gempei War. Within this conflict your skills on the battlefield, in diplomacy and in pretty Japanese lady placement will define just who becomes the first all powerful Shogun and who accelerates the Samurai towards being the ruling class of Japan.

“It’s an earlier civil war, on a much smaller scale – so the ideal size for PDLC really.” Explains Creative Assembly Battle Lead Jamie Ferguson. “It’s set in the late 1100s – so the way that the country is governed is totally different: there’s no Shogun as such. There’s the Emperor, there are regents and there are important families. The three major players are the Fujiwara, who are the regents at around that time, then the Taira and the Minamoto who are like feudal clans.”

Each family, however, contains a sibling rivalry – two strained factions sharing an uneasy familial alliance. This will spice up your campaign with a good dose of mistrust (in real-life the Taira family ended up ripping chunks out of itself) but will also make for some supremely engaging co-op and multiplayer. “It’s quite a complicated and interesting situation.” explains Total War lead James Russell. “But basically it’s a setting for a rip-roaring civil war with a smaller number of powerful, identifiable families rather than lots and lots of different clans.” Even within families, meanwhile, faction traits will be noticeably varied – one side of the Minamoto are all about focussing on recruiting top quality Samurai for example, while the other have less quality control and are all about buying cheap, stacking high and blitzing themselves across the map.

After a brief play (RPS TW impresario Rossignol will chime in with his own brain-thinks on the subject at a later date) the reduced number of clans seems to make early turns a mite less land-grabby than before, while at the same time you seem a lot more likely to stumble across a rival power block that can produce a frightful bowel-twinge far earlier in the game. Given that this is four hundred years previous to your more recent battling, meanwhile, the shape of your armies is significantly different. Aesthetically units have much more of a Chinese tang while, seeing as Samurai aren’t the dominant class yet, they feature a lot higher up and further away in the unit rosters. For the same reason you can also expect slightly less cavalry thundering through the wind-carried blossom.

“The way that they fight in this period is also quite different.” explains Jamie Ferguson. “You’ll notice when you look at the unit shapes and sizes, they’re a lot more spread out – the whole point here was about personal glory and victory. They weren’t as organised in this period, it was all about individual fighting.” As such your traditional tactics of having a nice heavy line of Ashigaru spearmen might have to be modified a smidge – smaller-scale powerful units are what it’s all about, and four new Hero units have been packaged in to complement the focus on personal glory.

On top of this are sixteen new land units (incorporating Foot Samurai who are simultaneously bow and sword specialists, and Sword Attendants who polite society would call ‘two hand-sworded melee-bastards’) and a gaggle of extra agents to deploy on the Japanese landscape. The Sou is a clever chap who can inspire and pacify with his prose – or demoralise with the immaculate delivery of some withering put-downs. The Monomi meanwhile is all at once: Assassin, Scout, Saboteur, Spy (though not Rich Man, Poor Man, Begger Man or Thief). He can also set up spy networks in castle towns to keep an eye out for enemy agents, or armies creeping around through nearby Japanese hills and dales.

Every new agent has their own independent skill tree, and as such will become ever more adept at (in the case of the Shirabyoshi seductress) doing unseen sexy dancing designed to boost morale of lucky generals, convert rivals to your cause and (magnificently) distract entire armies for a turn with the gentle sway of her hips. I like to imagine the grumpy Juntsatsushi, meanwhile, as looking like a bit like a Japanese Nick from the Apprentice. He acts as the sourpuss ambassador of your own personal awesome: ensuring the allegiance of generals, preventing corruption and demanding allegiance from amenable local nobles who’ll accept a lump-sum fee.

Rise of the Samurai also comes packaged with ten new sea units, as well as an extra – and faintly awesome – historical scenario: the dual river-crossing battles and consequent tricky castle ascent of the 1570 Battle of Anegawa. With Creative Assembly muttering about a potential 30-40 hours of gameplay time, the amount of content here certainly isn’t to be huffily sniffed at.

It shouldn’t go unmentioned, either, that the release will be backed up by a fairly vast patch to the main game that (amongst countless other tweaks, fixes and fiddles) will provide three extra castle types to spice up siege battles, a much-needed unit cap in MP and add in a bunch of COD-like MP game management features to boot. Your avatar will now be able to prestige multiple times, for example, while Steam will also play host to the likes of double XP weekends – the sort of stuff those rotten FPS gamers enjoy so much.

The only remaining question to ask, then, is just what’s coming next. “I think it’s fair to say that this is not the last bit of content that we do for Shogun 2. I hope that we’ll surprise and delight people in the future” mutters James Russell, doing his best to avoid our journalistic glare. “There’s stuff on the horizon that people won’t have expected” adds Ferguson. Well, bring it on then Creative Assembly. Let this saga continue…


  1. Jockie says:

    Actually sounds pretty good value for the price, especially when compared to the previous faction offerings, which have failed to recapture my interest.

  2. Anthile says:

    Sounds interesting enough but I think I will rather wait for Sengoku.

  3. John Connor says:

    When are they releasing mod tools? I’m waiting for some enterprising chap to work out how to have more than 1 other player in campaign mode.

  4. GenBanks says:

    lol the guy in the first picture looks so happy.

    Which pretty much sums up how I feel about this…

  5. TheLemon says:

    “Rich Man, Poor Man, Begger Man or Thief”

    Jethro Tull reference?

  6. Rii says:

    I’m still waiting on the GOTY edition.

  7. ChiefOfBeef says:

    The only question that matters: is it even half as bugged as Empire *still is*?

    Creative Assembly lost me almost forever over that, so unless Shogun 2 is now at a point where it is close to perfect I wouldn’t touch it or the DLC with a sky-hook (longer than a barge-pole, considerably).

    • atticus says:

      I bought Empire on a Steam sale and basically couldn’t play it at all due to my Crossfire-setup being unsupported. It artifacted like a moterf*cker. Still totally unplayable.

      Shogun 2, on the other hand, works like a charm. Almost finished a grand campaign, and no major problems encountered!

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s much more solid than Empire. On the strategic side, the AI works better than Empire because the map of Japan has limited pathways. It functions more like a Risk-style map, which helps the AI. Diplomacy is pretty good, everything just works better because they reduced the scale from Empire to something better suited to their game engine.

      On the tactical battles, I still have some complaints about how the AI loses army cohesion during a battle. Separate units running around and not re-forming, easy to tease apart the enemy’s battle line with feints, that sort of thing. That’s been a problem with the TW series ever since Rome, but it’s a little better now. The Japanese “soft castle” design is easier for the AI to defend and attack. Sea battles look more realistic because they use oar power, so it bypasses the ridiculous sailing mechanics of Empire.

      Also, they’re improved auto-resolve for both land and sea battles, so it’s more useful to streamline campaigns if you’re more interested in the strategic map than fighting battles. If you like the setting, I’d say go ahead and get it!

    • Duffin says:

      In short: no. Its a much more polished, well rounded and complete game than Empire was. Please don’t let a past grievance make you miss out on this because it really is a “return to form”TM for the TW series.

    • Dionysus says:

      If you want the version of Empire without the game-breaking bugs, you have Napoleon. Empire itself is mostly functional with the latest patches, but it can still piss you off half-way into a campaign…

      It’s a shame as I enjoy the huge multi-theatre free for all. Despite the silly notion of the Maratha Confederacy conquering Europe in most late games (if you ignore India).

    • Hensler says:

      Empire can be pretty amazing if you get the Darth Mod fan improvement pack.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      Well you’ve all bombarded me with too much optimism to cynically refute, so it must be true.

      Now, should I try starting an intimate (rough sex) relationship with the actress Emma Watson or is it likely to go really badly before I’ve finished speaking? Don’t fail me now.

  8. Darko Drako says:

    Sounds good, but will wait for the goty edition to turn up cheap. Creative Assembly burned their community relations with some very bad moves over the last few years, it will take a while for me to like them enough to buy their games on release.
    Having said that, I am yet to complete a campaign in Empire or Napoleon, (too many other games to play, not enough free time). When I finally complete a campaign in both Empire or Napoleon I could probably justify purchasing Shogun 2 more easily.

  9. Archonsod says:

    I played Shogun 2 for about 8 hours before going back to Napoleon, doesn’t sound like there’s anything in this to make me want to go back.

    • GenBanks says:

      I do sometimes miss Napoleon, but I love Shogun 2. I wish I could play Napoleon with the enhancements of Shogun 2 and the scale of Empire :p

  10. pazmacats says:

    Will this one feature battles that last longer than the loadscreens preceding and following it?

  11. Cinnamon says:

    Rise of the Samurai unfortunately reminds me of Rise of the Robots.

    For the MP I would like them to try and sort out the balance between the branches of general skill tree. Stand & Fight on the leadership tree is like an “I win” button with the current game balance and trying to play a more aggressive or sneaky strategy is harder than it should be.

  12. malkav11 says:

    I’m mostly just mildly irritated that they’re asking me to preorder DLC now.

  13. Tams80 says:

    No alt-text for the picture?! It’s just asking for some!

    Too unimaginative myself to think of some.

    • Aankhen says:

      I’m assuming that the post was edited to add alt text some time after you commented, as a result of which I had to take a break from the computer for a minute in order to catch my breath after laughing so hard. Are you happy now? >:-(

  14. says:

    All I see when I look at that picture is Toshiro Mifune.

  15. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Shogun2 was humongous return to form for Total War series after the poo-poo that was Empire. I will acquire this new content.

    • Dys Does Dakka says:

      It’s very strange how I vehemently agree with this -S2 is by all standards the better game-, while at the same time having 200+ hours logged in the overfluffed and overweight ETW, and only one playthrough on Shogun 2, after which I’ve felt no real inclination to play it again.
      Hell, I admit Shogun 2 is even better than my beloved Medieval II.
      -But I’ll probably still pick MTW II whenever I get the “Total Strategy”-itch again.

      I don’t really know why; Shogun 2 is simply the best TW made so far.

    • Grygus says:

      I think that’s because, while I will agree that Shogun 2 is he best Total War yet in terms of design, it’s also the most homogenous setting. I very much hope that the next Total War game is this same engine in a more varied theater.

    • Olivaw says:

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

      Total War: China.

      Think of all the batshit insane nonsense the Chinese invented to fight wars with!

  16. Davie says:

    This does sound excellent. And being a whole new campaign with a variety of new units for ten bucks, it’s DLC priced at a much more reasonable value than a certain game I could name, wherein $7.50 will only get you some fancy helmets and flash capes. *cough*RETRIBUTION*cough*

  17. Jnx says:

    I’m still waiting for the DLC that’ll add multicore support to campaign screen. I do like Shogun 2 but the horrible map performance kind’a ruins it for me. Battles look nice and smooth since they use everything you got.

  18. Trashcanman says:

    Ooooh, new castles. About time. Seeing the same three or four models in every seige is starting to become a drag.