Before Shogun 2 my rapport with the Total War series was tenuous at best. My first fling with the popular strategy series was more than a decade ago when I sat down to watch an episode of Time Commanders on BBC. For those unfamiliar it was basically a game show/documentary hybrid in which contestants led their Roman legion through a variety of scenarios and re-enactments. In a nutshell, it was a televised Total War livestream albeit with commentary from vetted historians.
At the time my PC wasn’t exactly what you’d call “high-spec”, barely managing to run a decent game of LEGO Chess, let alone simulating full-on battles. Or so I though. When Rome Total War launched a year later I managed to grab a copy, install it, and jump straight in. However, as I soon found out, there’s a lot more to Total War than straight up pitched battles.
There’s a heavy emphasis on strategy, diplomacy, and managing your finances, all of which are introduced before a single sword is drawn. Being eleven at the time I simply couldn’t get my head around it all and, rather disappointedly, returned Rome to the shelf and never touch it again.
A recent streak of curiosity brought me back to the series, however. With a far more mature head on my shoulders and little to play on my desktop since packing in DotA 2, I gave Shogun 2 a spin.
Having watched the Total War series develop from afar, there was nothing about Shogun 2 that particularly surprised me. Still, when finally immersing myself into the game, I was impressed by just how cohesive everything is. After a few something vague tutorials I bit the bullet and launched myself into the campaign.
From there I was free to feel my way around and orchestrate my own story upon the game’s existing Sengoku backdrop. It somewhat reminded me of my recent experience with XCOM: Enemy Unknown though, in Shogun 2, this personal narrative wasn’t just forged through war stories and heroic feats on the battlefield.
Instead, it would manifest itself in every action you sanctioned, whether that be a naval blockade, increasing taxes, or assassinating a Daimyo with one of your ninjas. Everything comes together nicely, Shogun 2 presenting a multitude of ways in which you can achieve your goal.
Once you’re up and running, only then can you appreciate the game for what it is. Getting to that stage can be quite exhausting, however. If, like me, you had yet to properly play Total War, you’ll need to go through a handful of tutorials.
With so many systems and mechanics at play, it can be daunting at first, especially as you start making your first baby steps across the campaign map. It doesn’t help then that the aforementioned tutorials aren’t always clear, nor are they structured in a way that gently eases you into the game.
Even when you start to learn the ropes, Shogun 2 throws up yet another barrier which, from what I gather, is isolated to just this instalment. Upon reaching a certain level of acclaim, the Shogunate (read: main antagonist) will declare war on your faction, rallying every other surviving clan to their cause. Unless you have somehow mastered the art of diplomacy, you will suddenly go from having one or maybe two enemies to around a dozen. Sure, it’s a great change of pace but isn’t executed in the most flawless fashion.
With Rome 2 having launched last year, inevitably, a shadow has been cast on its predecessors. Still, if you prefer a more modern timeline and enjoy the setting, Shogun 2 should not be overlooked, especially with two substantive expansions having been added.