Preview: Total War: Shogun 2

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“Be both lion and fox.”

This was the advice given by Kieran Brigden, Studio Communications Manager for The Creative Assembly, during a preview of Total War: Shogun 2.

We discussed tactics like these and gameplay for the upcoming sequel to one of the most renown strategy games of its era. During our recent visit to SEGA of America, we previewed this Feudal Japan-themed real time strategy/turn based game, discovering some new leaks and information along the way.

Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Publisher: SEGA
To be released: March 15, 2011

Developed by many of the team behind the original Shogun, it’s clear that Total War: Shogun 2 is a bit more than a cinematic and graphically enhanced version of its predecessor. I was initially impressed with the polished field play, but the crisp aesthetics of the game’s map page won me over — it had an airy, clear look, mixed with a traditional, austere monochrome style of ink painting.

Impressively, the game supports processing for up to 56 thousand units across a satellite articulate map of Japan’s terrain. While the amount of on-screen troops was striking, it was the changing visual elements of the game’s seasons — some of which had a serene feel against the game’s war backdrop — that wowed me the most. Spread across 60 seasons of gameplay will be unique environments, each of which will present their own challenges. For example, unit efficiency can be dampened by dramatic environment elements, such as whipping wind or the downpour of rain.

The game has you controlling from one to 20 units, defeating enemies in battle by simply overpowering them with force or by damaging their moral. The lifelike toy soldiers on the field each have unique weapons for each encounter, such as “screamer arrows” which are designed to make noise, putting fear into the enemy and damaging their moral. As you’d expect, certain weapons are more effective depending on the situation. In once confrontation, I watched as a heard of horses ran almost blindly and directly into my units’ spears; it was a victorious massacre, to say the least.

While Shogun 2 has its basis in historic fact, even the simplest decisions can alter the course of history forever. For example, converting to Christianity will allow you to have early access to guns and cannons, but at the cost of honor. For each strategic choice that I made during my demo, I felt emotionally liable, pushing me to think carefully about my next move.

If you’re the type that wishes to avoid direct battle, Shogun 2 is adding an element of assassination-style combat that you can use to take out enemy generals. Here, you’ll find a combination of strategy and character development which appears to be executed quite smoothly, and one of my favorite aspects of the game. Ninja and geisha can be hired to expand your empire, and using them for successful assassinations will give you points that you can allot to a talent tree for leveling up your scouts. But you’ll have to be careful, as botched assassination attempts can lower your honor, and your once-loyal ninja and geisha may turn against you.

You’ll have the option to pick any of ten playable factions, each with their own different strengths in both honor and tactics. Along with the standard edition of the game, Sega will be releasing a special edition of Shogun 2 which will feature a unique faction, the Hattori. This faction relies on underhanded dark arts such as the use of ninjas, not only in the battlefield, but also politically. In my head, it’s clear that the potential for distinct strategies are there for Hattori; I look forward getting hands on with them in the future to see if my theories will be successful.

Shogun 2 will also feature two separate online systems. The first will give players a persistent general character that will gain rank and experience through battles. As you rank up, you’ll unlock more skills, allowing you to customize your unit. The second is a social interactive clan game, that plays out like a massive communal tier/league-style system. This kind of persistent multiplayer experience seems like it could lend itself well to the series, a much-needed overhaul that might even bring new audiences to the Total War series.

Overall, I was impressed by what The Creative Assemble has to offer with Total War: Shogun 2. With a stunning presentation and key multiplayer elements could make it one of the developer’s best strategy offerings to date. Total War: Shogun 2 hits shelves on March 15, 2011.

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