Shogun 2: Total War Review «

REVIEW
Shogun 2: Total War Review
(PC)
Total War developer Creative Assembly honors Japan, strategy gaming, and their own reputation.
By Tom Chick 03/21/2011
Share it:Tweet There must be some mistake. Whatever game I’ve been playing lately — the splash screen says it’s called Shogun 2 and was created by Creative Assembly — can’t be from the same folks who made a spectacular mess of Empire: Total War. It’s certainly not from the folks who flirted briefly with a God of War clone called Total Warrior (get it?). And it can’t be the same people who callously orphaned that poor Stormrise sci-fi RTS. Because Shogun 2 is polished, smart, generous, elegant, and bold. It is utterly sublime.
Imagine you woke up one morning and the village idiot had built a cathedral. At which point someone vaguely recalls the village idiot was once a famous architect and it all kind of makes sense.

Click the image above to check out all Shogun 2: Total War screens.
When Creative Assembly arrived on the scene with the original Shogun, it was one of those rare moments when someone showed up with something completely new. A serious and seriously gorgeous battle simulation nestled in a stately turn-based game, all lovingly set in feudal Japan. The marriage of Myth, Civilization, and Koei! It’s been a long bumpy ride since then, and most recently a nose dive.

But playing Shogun 2 gives the sense of someone storming the cockpit and wrestling the controls back. Here is a game that shows every sign of focus, clarity, and experience. Welcome back, Creative Assembly. I remember you guys now. In 1999, you knocked my socks off with an E3 demo of Shogun, and then you rocked my world with the actual game. So come to think of it, Shogun 2 should be this awesome. In fact, it’s so awesome there are actually three best things about it.

The first best thing about Shogun 2 is the presentation, but that’s never been an issue with the Total War games. However, by focusing on this relatively tiny island during this relatively brief period in history, Creative Assembly steers clear of the sprawl that swallowed Empire. Here, everything feels like a heartfelt paean to Japan: from the interface to the splash screens. The cherry blossoms during the spring turn and the lowering clouds in winter. The way the gameplay neatly divides bonuses among the different clans. The balance among armies and agents and buildings. The slightly ridiculous spectacle of fluttering sashimonos and bow cavalry in a swooping crane formation. The progression of the campaign through the crucial decisions about gunpowder and Christianity. The inevitable Gotterdammerung as the Shogunate collapses and the clans erupt in the feudal equivalent of a world war. Creative Assembly’s love letter is particularly poignant now, when Japan is suffering so terribly; what a fortuitous way to honor a people’s history.

The next best thing about Shogun 2 won’t be obvious at first. Too many strategy games eventually fall apart because of a lack of engaging A.I., or egregious bugs, or incomplete features, or just bad design decisions. Creative Assembly has been one of the worst offenders in this regard, creating games that make a wonderful first impression on the way to falling apart. But I couldn’t be more pleased with how Shogun 2 turns out over the long run. It’s got enough minor issues to merit a couple patches, but it feels complete, competent, and carefully built. The A.I. acquits itself admirably, using the same bits of the game as a human player. I’ve been besieged, invaded, converted, shot at with burning arrows, and outmaneuvered. I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart to see the A.I. park on a hill, or hold back its cavalry, or creep into a forest, or honor a treaty, or loiter in a castle.

 

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