Total War: Shogun 2
The Best Thing that's come out about Sliogun 2: Total War hasn't got anything to do with ninja, koku, daimyo or those sorts of things. It's the boats and the fact they'll be like floating sheds. That might sound like a stupid thing to be excited about, but just think of the possibilities. Two big canoes crash into each other, dozens of samurai spilling onto each deck, hacking each other to bits with their razor-sharp swords. And those are just the smaller ones - there are also castles-on-water, which sound too awesome to be true. There's more to this sequel to the beloved and now-ancient Shogun than floating boxes. The essentials will be pretty much the same - take control of one of eight factions vying for control of the Land of the Rising Sun, build up your armies and economy until none can stand in your way.
In Japan the Emperor holds ultimate power, except he can be easily manipulated by his nominated warlord, the titular Shogun. It's your job to be deemed worthy of that role and to control the Emperor like a puppet, much like the medieval Papacy was the lapdog of any number of medieval European kings.
"It's basically the game we wanted to make right at the beginning," says Shogun 2's lead game designer Kamie Russell. "I think we're just pushing as hard as we possibly can to capture the entire feel and look of feudal Japan, while creating something that's vivid and beautiful. That's reflected all the way through the game, in terms of wood blocks and prints that appear on various screens how the actual way the battlefields themselves work and look, and the campaign map."
Far Eastern art is very different to what we're used to in the West and Shogun 2 is going to really go to town on representing this exotic feel throughout the game.
"One example would be the passing of the seasons," Russell says, "because we have four seasons in a campaign year. So you actually get the changing environments and the way those environments work.
"We're going very much for the archetype of what people would see if they were in Japan. So, for example, in spring you have the cherry blossoms, and you can see petals blowing away from the trees. In the winter, you obviously have the snow-covered buildings and the entire battlefield is white."
Japan is also different in a more obvious way to what's come before. Since the original Total War maps have been getting bigger, culminating in Empire's globe-spanning effort. Japan's geographically small, but that doesn't mean Creative Assembly are thinking that way. "It's still going to be a game of epic scale," says Kieran Brigden, the company's communications manager. "The campaign map will still have that epic feel, but what we want to do is try to immerse the player in the mind of a 16th century Japanese feudal lord, who saw Japan as the universe.
"Empire obviously had a huge geographic scope that reflected the colonial outreaching of Europe across the globe at the time. That was appropriate for the period. For medieval Japan, we'll portray that as an epic environment. We are going to make sure that the player feels that the far reaches of the country are a long way away, they're unknown, and they aren't necessarily familiar with all the kingdoms and fiefs that are out there."
There'll be eight different factions in the main game including the Date, Hojo, Takeda and Uesugi, with a ninth playable in the tutorial. In the original Shogun, the factions were all pretty much the same, give or take starting positions and colours. This isn't going to be the case in the new game.
"We have approximately 30 units of different types on the battlefield," Russell declares. "There's a wide variety there. If you think about Empire, an average faction only had between 12 and 15 units specific to it. What we've tried to do is make each faction different in terms of how they play, and what their strengths and weaknesses are with different units."
"I think what we do want to do is make sure that each faction plays differently, and that's true both on the campaign map and on the battlefield," says Brigden. "We're also wanting to make sure that those factions play differently on the campaign map. You might find that your position gives you specific advantages, specific resources that you hold that others don't. We want to make sure that each faction has a specific trait that makes it play differently. Not just on the campaign map, but also on the battlefield."
One thing that might differentiate each faction even more is the controversial addition of hero characters. Already the forums are questioning this, with conspiracy theories flying saying it means the Total War series is heading into the realms of fantasy RTS. Not so, says Russell.
''We're looking at something that's historical," he says. "What we're actually creating is the feeling of the battlefields at the time, where you'd have men who were famous for a particular style of fighting or just for their bravery, and the effect that has on the troops around them, and the people who were confronting them. They would basically go around with a group of followers and form part of a larger unit. They wouldn't go into battle by themselves, it'd be suicide."
Hero characters in most RTS games tend to be comically oversized one-man armies, which goes against the ethos of the Total War series (unless you count Medieval's Berserkers who could defeat entire peasant armies on their own).
"We're going for a Total War version of what a hero is," reiterates Russell. "Somebody who's excellent at what they do, often a very formidable fighter, but not superhumans. You can find ways to defeat them. They can't just walk onto the battlefield alone and hold off 2,000 men by themselves. They actually do have to have some backup and support."
The second prong of Total War's battle fork are the aforementioned floating sheds - naval combat. Even though Japan was an island nation and was thus heavily reliant on the sea to keep its population alive, ship-to-ship combat was never as important as it was in the West.
While galleons were sailing across the oceans to the New World, the Japanese were floating about in oared vessels, conducting pseudo-land battles in their coastal waters. Because they use of oars, it'll be easier to get a grip on how ships move. They aren't in constant motion, so your ships can be told to go to a position, and they'll row off and sit in one place.
"We want to make naval combat an important part of this project," says Russell. "Japan's an island nation, so the sea is never far away. Naval combat is different in this period. We think we can make the naval battles a lot of fun.
"I think one of the key differences is the European naval battles we did in Empire were very much about who has got the biggest ship with the most guns. Whereas we're able to bring it much more into play between different types of ships with different advantages against different kinds of enemies.
"The biggest new addition is that we're putting land into the naval battles, which adds a huge amount of tactical variety, improves the battlefield's look, helps orient the player and makes battles a completely new experience."
"We're looking into mechanics whereby you can launch assaults from the sea, but those really will be a campaign feature," says Brigden. "In battles you're really fighting on the land, even though the sea may be there in the battlefield. We're going to have land battles and we're going to have naval battles, but they're going to be separate. There may be sea in the land battles and there may be land in the naval battles, but we are strictly separating the concepts."
All these things are well and good, but if the troops don't have the backbone of solid artificial intelligence behind them, everything's going to fall apart quicker than England during an Ashes test match. AI has been a thorny issue throughout Total War's existence, continually rearing its head every time a new iteration has come out. Now Creative Assembly have had enough of the complaining.
"We're putting as much effort as possible into making sure that AI will never be a subject that has to be discussed again," bellows Russell. It's a bold claim, one that, if honesty is the policy to be stuck to, has been uttered before and hasn't always tallied with what's happened in the games. It will definitely, positively, completely be different this time around.
"To give you an idea of what focus that gets on development," Brigden continues, in a less bellowing fashion, "We have what we call a number of hygiene factors, which are the absolute critical must-get-rights for this game to go out the door, and the AI has been added to that list with an extremely high precedent. So exactly as Jamie said, we won't get to a situation where we are having AI criticised in any capacity, and it is our intention to prove that before release."
If the AI is solid - or solid enough to prevent all but the most obsessive getting irate - Creative Assembly can concentrate on pushing the atmosphere of the game, the feel of being in a distant, foreign land, a place that's so different to what we're used to, it's like a new world.
The graphics engine won't be a vast leap forward from Empire's, like the move from Medieval to Rome was, but the battlefields will feel and look far more detailed than in previous games, and because of the lack of familiarity the vast majority will have with medieval Japan, the developers are eager to really go to town on a more vivid, colourful world and are also trying to bring a true feel of what it means to be a daimyo in Sengoku-period Japan.
"One of the things that's very important to this project is that we really want to delve deeply into the feeling of the time," Brigden concurs. "What that means is a real importance for your daimyo, for your family members, and we really want to make character and story a much more significant part of the feel of the game than it has been in the past, and we're doing a number of different things to achieve that.
"On the campaign map we're adding some features that help the player get to grips with understanding the stories that they're creating as they're playing the game, because each Total War campaign is really a player writing their own history. "In terms of the characters, we're wanting to make sure that the players have some real choices in how they develop their abilities. For example the generals, the new agents that we've got, all of those types of characters, we're making sure we're going to give the player the choice to develop them in the way they want to develop them.
"Where in the past it was purely about the trait system which gave these characters their particular skills as a result of certain actions, we are now wanting to make those choices much more explicit. Basically, get the player much more invested in all the characters that they are playing with."
There's one more question that needs asking - why go for Shogun 2 rather than Rome 2, the latter being by far the more obvious choice? It's basically because, as was said earlier, this is the game Creative Assembly have been itching to make for years, to put right what they thought went wrong with the first game, either due to errors, misjudgments or just a plain lack of resources to achieve what they wanted first time out.
"It's something we've always wanted to do. There were loads of things we weren't able to do the first time arowid and we wanted to bring it to a who new audience. There are loads of people who never played the original game and we wanted to give them something special and spectacular," Russell states. "I think the period is so evocative, there is so much that just makes it absolutely perfect for a Total War game," Brigden concludes. "It's been so long since the original Shogun was released, we haven't portrayed the huge battles between samurai armies ever before in a full 3D engine."
This is also a game which promises i a mixture of visceral hand-to-hand combat played out in a unique, colourful and exotic world that has never been seen before in this light.
Shogun: Total War was an extremely ambitious project way back in 2000, when Creative Assembly were known for producing poor cricket games. Now they're a big fish and they can choose to do what they want, they have done so. Shogun 2 is an unexpected choice, but if everything goes to plan, it's going to be an excellent one.
Download Total War: Shogun 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP