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Shogun 2: Rise of the Samurai Preview

Play it again Sam(urai)

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...

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Will Porter