Total War: Shogun 2

Shogun 2: Total War

The sequel to the original Total War has so far shown off its detailed, in-depth battle engine, but what of the RTS title's campaign map? Well, it's absolutely riddled with ninjas...

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There's so much misinformation floating around about feudal Japan that it's hard to know what's real and what's not anymore. We know that ninjas probably never cleared buildings in a single bound, but did they even have swords? Did they dress all in black? Could they do that thing where they vanish in a puff of smoke, leaving behind a slice of tree trunk? Where does the fiction end and the fact begin?

Shogun 2: Total War, and the tireless research of Creative Assembly, aims to set things straight. The authenticity-loving RTS developer are showing off their previously unseen campaign map, a beautiful union of 2D cartography and 3D handcrafted realism. The territory you occupy is rendered crisply, from coastlines to mountain ranges and forests, while beyond your land the fog of war appears as an authentic looking, ancient Japanese map, gently revealing itself as your push farther inland. The campaign map is now rendered in the same engine as the battle maps themselves, with the ultimate goal in future games, according to the series producer Kieran Brigden, being a seamless transition between the campaign and battles.

The situation being demonstrated is happening early in the game. An enemy army lead by an experienced general approaches from the west, and Brigden's well-positioned ninja unit is dispatched to deal with the problem. Ninjas, then, are spies and assassins, and this particular unit is tasked with murdering the enemy general and severely weakening the incoming force. A short cutscene, a returning feature from the original Shogun, displays a successful outcome. These segmented cutscenes can swap and change in unexpected ways, meaning you'll never be able to guess from the first few frames whether or not your agent has stabbed a general through his face. They're also contextual, taking place in the appropriate location - in a camp in the countryside, or inside cities.

Characters like the ninja progress along an RPG style skill tree, specialising in either spying or assassination. Individual abilities such as infiltration and exfiltration can be upgraded individually and have a huge effect on the outcome of a given encounter. You can, for example, lose a ninja during an otherwise successful assassination, due to a weak exfiltration skill. As characters rank up they'll also change appearance - taking the ninja as an example again, he'll start to don increasingly fearful and decorative masks as he gains experience.

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Total War: Shogun 2

Having carried out the assassination, the ninja unit is ordered to move north into an allied province. Here, hopefully, the enemy won't be able to send his Metsuke - a sort of Japanese ninja-police - after the unit, for fear of sparking a war with our northern friends.

Brigden explains the basis of the alliance with the northern clan by way of introducing the family tree - an important aspect of real warfare of the time, as well as that of Shogun 2. In this instance, the daughter of the opposing clan leader has married into our own, and in turn we've sent one of our sons to live in the northern province as collateral. Our other son is next in line for the throne. All of these decisions affect loyalty, family members will be aware of preferential treatment and mismanaged generals will grow to resent you.

Total War: Shogun 2
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Piss off your own generals enough and they'll form their own rogue army, or worse, join another clan. Typically this'll happen by keeping a warrior general (that is, a general whose skill tree you've taken along the warrior route) off the front line, or by throwing a governor general into battles he can't win. Overall loyalty is closely tied to Honour too, and an honourable leader can rightly command a disloyal general to commit seppuku. Seppuku is a double edged sword however (wahey!), with some generals having the wherewithal to respond to a request to slit their own stomachs with a two finger salute and a hasty escape. Better ways to keep generals sweet include marrying them into your family, or if you find yourself without any eligible daughters, giving them a decent job.

Total War: Shogun 2

The family tree opens up a huge degree of potential politicking for those who want to explore the machinations of feudal Japan, cementing further the idea that the Total War series is two games in one - one part intricate, tactical and detailed turn-based strategy, one part intricate, tactical and detailed... well, real-time strategy. The latter looks prettier in screenshots, but to downplay the importance of the former - to see it as anything less than a fully formed strategy game in itself - would be doing Shogun 2: Total War a huge disservice.

In returning to its roots it seems to simplify many of the more baffling elements of the series - you'll start, typically, with just one territory, and work your way up from that, you'll also command far fewer types of units than in previous games - but simultaneously Shogun 2 is introducing some deeply effective RPG-style fundamentals. We're excited. And besides, so few games allow you to arrange your daughter's marriage to a man who you'll eventually order to gut himself. It's a winner in our books.

Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2

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REVIEW. Written by Adrian Raines

"In that sense, Shogun 2's not innovated really. It's what any player of a previous Total War game would expect, but the devil's in the detail."

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