Total War: Shogun 2 – game review

PC; £39.99; cert 16+; Creative Assembly/Sega

Eleven years after bursting on to the scene like Civilization on steroids, Total War returns to its medieval Japanese roots. In some ways it’s an odd decision, a bit like remaking A Nightmare on Elm St, something unlikely to attract enough new fans to justify disappointing the old ones. Yet in other respects, by pegging back the global scale and ambition of TW: Empire and Napoleon in favour of just a handful of different clans, it makes perfect sense. There are differences between the warlords, which can affect both turn-based and realtime events, but being armed with much the same units and weapons does offer better balanced gameplay, particularly in the game’s new multiplayer modes. These include a co-op mode for the single player campaign and eight-player slugfests played out using an ambitious new clan system to determine suitable opponents.

Another attraction of returning to the original formula is to see just how far technology has moved on in just a short few years. Shogun:TW’s original scaling of battlefields and armies was impressive, but compared to the effortless 3D zooms and pans on display here, it looks decidedly last century. From the detailed yet stylised world map (even the fog of war looks good) where you build and equip your empire, to the majestic battlegrounds complete with new weather effects and naval battles that are streets ahead of anything the series (or indeed anyone else) has managed before. Just a couple of examples of the improvement to gameplay here is the way ranged units can now be ordered to skirmish, something that makes them slightly less prone to being outflanked, and the ability to lure enemy ships on to sand banks – although don’t expect the enemy AI to be easily suckered in.

Speaking of intelligence, Creative Assembly has made an effort to appeal to more cerebral gamers by placing a greater emphasis on civic and economic structures. As this is primarily a game of conquest, however, there’s no avoiding the need to recruit and maintain armies, albeit supported this time by sneakier diplomatic subterfuge such as geishas, monks and ninjas – who are particularly useful during sieges. Once you get down to fighting, battles can be long and turn on a minor tactical mistake. Only rarely does the AI play its usual trick of causing your armies to lose morale and run away in the middle of a battle. Invariably, such events are the result of failing to protect your Daimyo but on occasion they can still seem annoyingly random.

And of course, graphical splendour does come at a price – most notably long loading times before battles and lengthy gaps between turns. This was always a TW trait but it does seem particularly intrusive this time round, as it was for the excellent Civilization V. Nevertheless, Shogun 2 is a magnificent looking game with huge play and replay value. In terms of ambition and progression for the series, it arguably takes half a step back, but the huge leap forward in graphics and gameplay more than makes up for it.

• Game reviewed on PC

Rating: 4/5


Strategy games

Mike Anderiesz © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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