Total War: Shogun 2 Review
Most of the strategic side of Shogun 2 is supremely polished, but we're not sold on the way generals can request new troops while in the field. You're told how long the unit will take to train, but not how long it'll take to get to the general. We didn't encounter any sea-borne armies either, which meant that island territories were never attacked.
We're also concerned that the need to trade with other factions (to accumulate enough money to raise large armies) means that you become best friends with these clans a little too quickly and easily. This often forces you either to ally with weak clans or declare war for no reason - a clunky method of war-mongering that's at odds with the subtly of the rest of the game.
Our biggest gripe, however, is with the land battles. As in the first Shogun, the game suggests some army formations at the start of a battle - from Flying Geese to Bark of the Pine Tree. The descriptions are obtuse at best - the latter is described as 'cavalry heavy attack formation', for example, whereas it actually places your units in lines based on attack type, with your archers in front of your spearmen, swordsmen and cavalry.
If you couldn't figure it out, this is a game over screen
This is the formation we used the most, as we could either whittle down an army with our archers while marching our spear onto the enemy position, or else tempt the AI into making a foolhardy charge at our missile troops (who were set to run away when charged), and onto the long pointy sticks behind. This tactic won us every battle we fought, which became repetitive. The only failing with the Bark of the Pine Tree formation is that our archers sometimes had a tendency to retreat toward the enemy rather than away from it.
If you don't like the standard army formations, you can position troops as you see fit by right-clicking and dragging. However, you'll need to remember to group these units (by pressing G) or they won't march in formation, which is a serious pain if you've spent five minutes arranging your armies just so. However, as Bark of the Pine Tree is so effective, we didn't bother spending ages drawing lines of men on the map.
As with town building, you'll need to assemble your armies with balance in mind, and there are plenty of troops from which to choose. Standard Yari and Bow Ashigaru feature strongly, and various types of samurai give you stronger basic options. There are some exotic options too, such as warrior monks, rocket troops and even units of ninja. No unit is invulnerable, either - even the hero units have huge weaknesses - so you'll need to select and deploy your army wisely.
And this is a preface to a game over screen
The sea battles in Shogun 2 are also much simpler than in Empire, mainly because most of the ships don't use sails. Instead, the various ships are rowed into battle, making them much easier to control. As much of the naval fighting takes place near the rocky shores of Japan and its surrounding islands, there's also terrain to deal with. This makes things easier too, as you can get your bearings quickly and use the terrain to gain an advantage.
We still found naval battles extremely confusing and chaotic, even though you can only field eight boats per fleet. Trying to keep our boats in a manageable formation usually lasted until the first shots were fired, and then we tended to find ourselves frantically skipping from one small fight to the next, making the experience unpleasantly fragmented.
Shogun 2 is wonderfully subtle and intricate but also fairly dumb in places. On the one hand you need to consider your choices carefully, such as to how to develop your castles and construct your armies. On the other it's quite
difficult to raise those armies without becoming firm friends with the clans you've traded with in order to obtain the funds in the first place - and once you're friends, why do you need an army?
If you actually manage to have a battle, you'll find the Bark of the Pine Tree army formation unbeatable - we managed heroic victory after heroic victory all too easily, even with the difficulty set to Hard. While on paper these two issues should culminate to ruin the game, they don't. Shogun 2 is presented with such style and grace that it's still engaging and fun. For hardcore strategy players, the need to balance units will lead to more taxing encounters online, even if the singleplayer game doesn't scratch your armchair-general itch unless you crank the difficulty all the way up.