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Serious Samurai- A Total War: Shogun 2 Chat

Jim's already presented his robust review of Shogun 2, but why stop there? Why, indeed. Quinns has also been dropping hour after hour into this fathomless construction, like guppies into the mouth of a coy carp, and met up with Jim in the Talking Room of Castle Shotgun for a chat.

Jim: OK, so, we've been playing Shogun 2, the latest of the Total War games, and the first one they remembered to be put Total War at the front of its name. And that's sort of indicative to me, because it symbolises the Total Warness of the game being at the forefront.
Jim: It's more Total Warish than Empire was, because it hasn't tried to do anything particularly new or different. Instead, it's a kind of gently refinement.
Jim: Did you find it to be refined, Q?
Quinns: Yes, absolutely. It feels pure. If I were the kind of man to take an illegal drug, I would at this point make a comparison to the game being like a bag of such a drug cut with almost no household cleaning supplies whatsoever.
Quinns: Instead I'll say it feels zen. As zen as the cherry blossoms and death poetry that fill the game.
Jim: Yeah, the loading screen quotes are of a particularly fine vintage this time.
Quinns: If I'm honest, I didn't think Creative Assembly had this game in them.
Jim: I dunno, I feel like they've re-evaluated things. This feels like the game they should be making, after all this time. It's little things, like the fact that bridges are superfluous and people just cross the shallow rivers, or that sieges are straightforward because anyone can assail the walls.
Quinns: Sure. But you mentioned them not doing anything new, and while the setting is obviously familiar I'm actually finding myself consistently impressed at the quantity of new stuff in the game.
Jim: Well, it's a new game, I'm not saying they didn't make it afresh, what is over-familiar is the Total War template that is stamped across everything.

Quinns: Yeah. The difference this time around is the new stuff isn't a new era of history, with new units and new content, it's in all the new game mechanics. The naval battles, the skill trees, all the multiplayer stuff. I'm surprising myself at how much I'm enjoying it. It feels like the game's been elevated. And God, I'm thrilling at Total War tropes I haven't been impressed by for the better part of a decade. The other night I was sieging a fort and the single unit of samurai retainers hiding inside came out to face my army of thousands. 40 stern little men marching into the mouth of death. It was genuinely touching.
Jim: I didn't care much for the naval battles, I have to say. I ended up auto-resolving them. I just didn't enjoy the battles
Quinns: I haven't got properly stuck in to the naval battles yet, but the tutorial seemed entertaining. You find them too slow? Too cumbersome?
Jim: They are pretty slow, but I don't think they represent that interesting a challenge. Perhaps it's the lack of real terrain, but really it becomes force of numbers. There's no cavalry charge. You pile on damage with bow-ships and then get in close to finish. It's just less interesting than land battles as a tactical conceit.
Quinns: I guess that's why they added some sea terrain- the shallow waters and islets.
Jim: Yeah, but it's just like stuff you have to move around, it's not exactly the same as taking a hill, or fighting for a castle
Quinns: Maybe I'll grow to hate the naval battles. At the minute I'm just enjoying making use of my high-powered force of monks. Were the unique building chains in each province in previous Total War games? I don't think they were. That's a lovely new feature. I know previous games had unique resources, but this is something else.
Jim: Previous games had specialised units from particular regions, but this has more depth.
Quinns: Depth is the word. I think depth on a smaller scale, that of individual provinces, agents and characters, is why Shogun 2 might be kickstarting my love for the series again. My interest in the game wanes the moment I have more than, say, 10 provinces. Here, I can be a clan of underdog hicks in the middle of nowhere scraping together pathetic armies for any number of last stands, and the game still gives me flexibility.

Jim: How have you found overall difficulty?
Quinns: I dived straight into Hard mode and am finding it pretty perfect. Which is to say, I'm receiving a bruise for each and every one of my mistakes. Conquering provinces feels like I'm clawing them out of my opponent's strong hands.
Quinns: Playing as the Date clan has given me a unique challenge to overcome. They're based in Northernmost Japan, where the provinces are so enormous that moving troops from my capital to the frontline take the better part of a year and a half.
Jim: Yeah, the back and forth is really savage, especially when you're brutally suppressing Christian rebels in your previously claimed provinces. I do like a bit of Christian suppression.
Quinns: I haven't encountered and Christian nations yet. All Buddhist-Shinto as far as the eye can see up North. My monks busy themselves by visiting enemy generals and talking to them about pacifism. When they're not getting shanked by ninja, that is. I hate ninjas so bad.
Jim: See I never had that much trouble with Ninjas, and equally didn't find them that effective. Monks and the secret police type dudes were my best agents.
Quinns: Ninjas gain experience veeeery slowly if you assign them to armies as scouts, or to cities as criminal informants.So I guess you do that until they're level 2.
Quinns: Still- unique skill trees for each agent! God, I'm so attached to every one of my leaders and agents. The narrative writes itself.

Jim: So one of my feelings is that the characters, your generals and leaders, have quietly been one of the best features of Total War for a long time now. The horror of losing your star general is always a big deal, but here you might have to have him kill himself for not respecting you.
Quinns: My star general is a vainglorious poet who has terrible loyalty because of his ego.
Quinns: Excellently, his brother fights in the army and is a superior warrior. I'm kind of hoping the poet general will be bribed away, and the two of them will clash on the field of battle.
Jim: it's interesting that the game doesn't really sell this stuff you directly, it's more sort of discovered as you manage your clan.
Quinns: I love it. Overall, I think I only have two problems with it. The first being it eats hour after hour without thinking about it. But it's also quite ponderous, with all the loading times and quickloads to correct your fatal mistakes.
Jim: Yes, Total War is a huge machine, slowly rolling forward with each turn. Undynamic and preponderous.

Quinns: Right. And I actually find myself thinking of it as quite a hostile presence in my life, if that makes any sense. I lost the whole evening to it last night and that wasn't really an evening I could afford to lose.
Jim: It's significantly lighter than Empire, too.
Quinns: You think? I think it's lost weight in the right places and gained it in the right places, like some gargantuan robot prize fighter.
Quinns: My other problem is the bugs. Crashes, inconsistencies. I think I'll be returning to the game in a couple of weeks.
Jim: Actually one of my main annoyances while reviewing it was that the separate difficulty slider for battle difficulty was gone, but it's actually there in the options once you start the game, I just didn't notice it. (And why would I?)
Quinns: Does increasing battle difficulty change enemy tactics or just how tough enemy troops are?
Jim: A bit of both, as far as I can tell. I spent a lot of time playing through the same battle. There's a marked increase in cavalry cleverness as they go up. Also the lower level difficulties will happily charge a hilltop group
Quinns: I want to get back in there. I want to experiment with fire throwers, and starting as other clans, and getting high level agents and citadels and all the rest. There's so much here.

Quinns: I wonder what they'll do next? Rome 2? I'd love to see Rome get this kind of attention.
Jim: I wonder if that's what we're in for: a second tour. Or third, if they do the Medieval period again.
Quinns: Urgh. I've just realised that Shogun 2 will almost certainly be getting an expansion pack. What an unpleasantly vast game that'll be.
Jim: Randomly, they should do a fantasy version
Quinns: King Arthur 2's inbound, at least. But yeah- I'd love to see them get their hands on the Might & Magic or Warhammer licenses.
Quinns: Or Lord of the Rings, obv.
Jim: Or their own world, Total Rings: Lord Of The War
Quinns: Totality is something that begs to be applied to everything, I guess.
Quinns: Greece: Total War, with all the gods and mythical monsters in there. You'd probably get a kick out of naval battles with a Kraken on your side.
Quinns: Or Hercules duffing up an entire regiment.
Quinns: I think I'm glad I didn't have to review it. I have such a history with this series and it's such an impressive technical feat that it's hard to step back and see it as a game.
Jim: Yeah, I tried to be as cleanly analytical as possible, but it's impossible not to see it in the context of the previous decade of Total War games. I've always been a Total War apologist, because I think they epitomise Pcness. That said, I wonder if I'm getting a bit tired of the formula
Jim: This time around it was - objectively speaking - quite the thing, but I couldn't help feel a little spent.
Quinns: At the risk of pissing off anybody reading this for some kind of neat conclusion, I feel the opposite. Reinvigorated. It's Total War presented so tidily and intelligently that it makes me remember everything I loved about it.
Quinns: No, I can't resist. I'm gonna jump back in and see about defending my new holdings from that ungodly large army coming my way.
Jim: What I want is a grand campaign a la Total War, with a battle map made of Men Of War. In Space.
Quinns: Why can't we just be happy, Jim? Why?
Jim: Because we are all dying, Quintin.
Jim: There are no happy endings.

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Total War: Shogun 2

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About the Author
Quintin Smith avatar

Quintin Smith

Former Staff Writer

Quinns was one of the first writers to join Rock Paper Shotgun after its founding in 2007, and he stayed with the site until 2011 (though he carried on writing freelance articles well beyond that). These days, you can find him talking about tabletop board games over on Shut Up And Sit Down, or doing proper grown-up journalism with the folks at People Make Games.