Ever since the release of Total War: Medieval II Creative Assembly’s Total War series has been undergoing constant changes as experiments are conducted to increase the level of depth Total War games are able to provide. Total War: Shogun 2 has continued that development by departing from several notable aspects of the Total War genre; namely in its graphic design and technology development system.
It’s important to note that unlike other Total War games (with the exception of the original Total War: Shogun) Shogun 2 focuses solely on the islands of the Japanese homeland. Factions, units, and architecture are homogenous with alterations of existing units and different faction economics providing the only variation among playthroughs.
Shogun 2 covers the period of Japanese history called the Sengoku Jidai or Warring States period in which the central authority of the Ashikaga Shogunate collapsed allowing the many clans of Japan to make their own bids for regional and even national domination. Ten of those clans (increased to twelve with DLC) provide the playable factions that players can use to achieve dominion over feudal Japan. Each faction possesses a unique faction trait which provides a single economic benefit as well as benefits to a specific type of warfare that the faction specializes in. A few factions also emphasize alternative religious aspects providing unique challenges and opportunities when dealing with the other factions.
Analyzing Shogun 2’s campaign story is difficult for a variety of reasons. The backdrop of events is, for the most part, historically based and most of the starting characters among the factions actually existed (albeit sometimes in different roles). Additionally in Grand Strategy games, much like 4x games, the single player story is crafted for the most part by the player.
This blend of a simulated starting situation with personally crafted narratives creates a situation where the game’s ‘story’ as it were is quite often only as developed as the player is willing to invest in it. Yes, characters like your generals develop certain traits that can distinguish them from others in the same role, yet how much these transform from numbers and stats in the game to living personalities is dependent mostly on the player’s immersion in the game. This immersion is facilitated primarily by the introductory video of each faction which displays the faction’s strengths in practical terms and also introduces potential enemy factions in the surrounding area. The motivational speeches given by generals at the start of the RTS style battles also provide flavor, with specific references to the general’s status in the faction as well as the nature of the foe.
Shogun 2 is the first Total War game to offer multiplayer co-op. Players take turns in sequence with the host serving as first player. Mercifully players are able to manage their cities, unit production, and tech research during another player’s turn. Co-op is shared victory for the players and during real-time battles the currently active player can gift units to the other player for the duration of the battle providing a unique cooperative combat experience. Interaction between players is heavily integrated and de-synchronization can slow down play; however recent patching has largely removed any performance issues.
If there was a weakness in Shogun 2 it would be the homogeneous nature of the setting. Naturally nothing more than Japanese factions fighting over the Japanese mainland should be expected from a game of this nature and focus. The narrowed focus also keeps the central importance of the office of Shogunate, the campaign’s principle objective, as the single motivated factor and ultimate goal for the player. Yet the similarities in faction builds, units, and for the most part religion gives play-throughs a depreciating factor of enjoyment. This aspect presents Shogun 2’s novel co-op multiplayer as the primary factor for enjoying additional playthroughs once players have mastered Japan two or three times.
Overall Total War: Shogun 2 is an excellent showcase for the changes and improvements that Creative Assembly is applying to its venerable series. It also provides a marvelous historical overview of Japan’s history during this period. It shouldn’t be considered a sequel so much as a remake to the original Total War: Shogun. It may not possess the geographic and historical scope of most Total War titles but is still a welcome and necessary, as gaming technology improves, addition to any Total War library.