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Christmas Special: Total War Shogun 2 Review

Image credit: Creative Assembly
Puching Zhang
Written by Puching Zhang

Total War: Shogun 2: beautiful, streamlined, and one of reviewer Fegelein Puching Zhang’s favorite historical periods, the Sengoku Jidai or the Japanese warring states.

aNewDomain.net — On the first day of Christmas, Creative Assembly gave to me, a Total War game that was (almost) bug free. That’s right, it’s me, Fegelein Puching Zhang, and I’m back with a special Christmas review of the best RTS game I’ve ever played. It’s still around after all these years. I’m talking about the one and only Total War: Shogun 2. This game is sick. The graphics are beautiful, the campaign is streamlined and the AI is actually good. But most-importantly, Total War has gone back to its roots in one of my favorite historical periods, the Sengoku Jidai (Japanese Warring States period).

Shogun II Campaign

Image credit: Creative Assembly

For those who aren’t Total War fans, this great RTS franchise started back in 2000 with the release of the original Shogun: Total War. It revolutionized the RTS genre at the time by combining real-time action with turn-based strategy gaming. But unfortunately the graphics were far from ideal with the technology of 2000. Now fast forward 11 years to 2011 with the release of the indirect sequel Total War: Shogun 2. The changes Creative Assembly (CA) has made in the past decade have been simply extraordinary.

First off, the game takes place during Japan’s Warring States period, the perfect setting for a classic RPG or hack-and-slash. I initially doubted its potential for an RTS simply because of the lack of diversity within the factions. However, CA has neutralized that problem with the addition of bonus clans, and making each clan have its own unique gameplay, and creating a great role-playing setting for any fans of Japanese history. Take the Takeda, for example, one of my favorite clans. The Takeda cavalry was famous throughout Japan for its reputation of being as swift as the wind. So when you play as the Takeda, its army units will lean more toward cavalry-based skills, allowing your tactics to adapt respectively.

Shogun II units

Image credit: Creative Assembly

The game also does a good job bringing in the early modern era, as Portuguese Jesuits arrive to trade muskets and impart the Europeans’ Christian faith. Agents in the game are welcome old favorites, with the ninja and geisha assassins coming back in a nostalgic throwback.

The gameplay in Shogun 2 has probably been the best out of all the Total War games, trumping even Rome II. The game challenges each player to think outside conventional boundaries with all armies being the same and with little variation. In total the game has 39 units, a shockingly small number for Total War standards. This doesn’t hamper gameplay, however. Instead it offers a welcome challenge to Total War veterans. A cool new feature in the game is the skill point system. Built like an RPG game, the skill point system is a branching tree of skills and traits generals and agents can get to improve themselves. For example, in campaign, when I have my ninja successfully assassinate an enemy, he gains a skill point that can be used to gain a trait and advance further on the tree.

shogun II avatar

Image credit: Creative Assembly

Diplomacy has also been revamped with a new honor system affecting how much enemy clans are willing to accept terms proposed by the player. After all, this is Japan where bushido is valued above all else. Also a nice touch is how CA incorporates religion into gameplay, with Buddhist clans gaining access to awesome kung fu fighting monks (if you’ve ever seen Shaolin, you know how great they are). Christian clans gain access to the muskets of the Portuguese. But don’t worry, you don’t need to convert your clan to Christianity to gain guns. If you want some firepower it will involve a public order penalty (which I find is inflated and unrealistic of the times). The addition of guns aren’t SOP either. With slow reloading times and no bayonets, they’d be steamrolled by the Takeda cavalry within one round, so players have to use them carefully. Topping this all off is a hilariously-authentic Japanese narrator whose accent adds much-needed comic relief to the game. For example he says, “Our men are running from the battlefield, a shameful dispray.” What an iconic quote on Total War forums.

The game graphics are the best I have ever seen, with not only a beautiful campaign map, but also with battle moves done in beautiful fluid motions. CA even hired real martial artists to capture the motions in the game. When you zoom into combat, it looks exactly like a Jet Li movie with genuine kung fu moves. And for those of you who demand extra value, there’s even a blood and gore DLC for greater realism. The game has an entirely new feel to it, too. Agents are now personalized with much more attachment to them. For example, when one gamer lost a ninja due to a failed assassination, he diverted an entire army just to avenge that one ninja. Contrary to the faceless diplomacy of previous Total War games, diplomacy in Shogun 2 has been upgraded to real-time, face-to-face negotiations with your dynamo counterpart sitting in a chair in front of you. The hilarious expressions on their faces when you make ridiculous offers is nice little bonus.

Finally, the best upgrade to the game has to be the multiplayer option. Multiplayer has been entirely upgraded in Shogun 2 with the addition of the Avatar Conquest mode. Basically, you create your own clan and dynamo and customize them with their own unique colors and features. Then you conquer Japan on a grand multiplayer map by “attacking” regions and “conquering” them by winning various multiplayer battles. Each region has a special bonus to give each player the ability to unlock a new unit. Yes, finally the ability to fight under one’s own banner. The Fegelnese clan shall carry the day for me!

Also, Avatar Conquest gives players the ability to join into clans, League of Legions style, and rack up points for their clan by winning multiplayer battles. Every clan is organized into leagues, which puts clans together based on their ability, just like LoL, lol. Avatar Conquest is a revolutionary addition to the series overall, and the greatest multiplayer concept ever conceived for an RTS game.

This game deserves a 10/10, because it is the greatest RTS game ever. It takes a lot of skill to take a samurai milieu, a classic RPG theme, and convert it into an awesome RTS. The graphics and mechanics are just flawless. For me, this is better than Enter the Dragon. The multiplayer feature is both unique and fun. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, Shogun 2 follows all principles of the art of gaming. The graphics are beautiful as cherry blossoms, the mechanics smooth like the sword, AI smart like great Confucius and multiplayer addicting like the World of Warcraft.

For aNewDomain.net, this is Fegelein Puching Zhang wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. May the kamis of gaming bless you with the awesomeness of Shogun 2. Until then, I’m signing off.

Based in Chicago, Fegelein Puching Zhang is our gaming scribe at aNewDomain.net.  Read more of his work here or contact Fegelein at puching@anewdomain.net.

About the author

Puching Zhang

Puching Zhang

Based in Chicago, Puching is gaming editor at aNewDomain and our sister pub, BreakingModern.com