PAX 2010: Shogun 2: Total War Preview

It’s been 10 years years Creative Assembly released Shogun: Total War, a super deep strategy game that put you in control of a Japanese clan in the Sengoku period (15th – 17th century). Your quest: become “shogun,” the most powerful military force in all of Japan.

Shogun 2: Total War is the proper sequel to the 2000 original game, taking 10 years of experience and technology, and folding it back into the original setting. Creative Assembly is setting out to combine all of the best elements from their “holy trinity”: Shogun: Total War, Medieval: Total War, and Rome: Total War.

Are they succeeding? Judging from the pre-alpha demo we saw at PAX, the answer is a resounding “hell yes.”

Campaign Map

This looked gorgeous, and I was shocked it was a pre-alpha build. The vast, detailed campaign map in Shogun 2: Total war is a fusion of 2D and 3D.

You have full 3D control over your view, and the terrain features realistic curvature and textures, but it’s a top-down map reminiscent of Risk. It’s the kind of the thing that just looked fun to navigate and play with.

Our demonstrator was playing the Hojo clan, and had control over the Izu and Sagami provinces. To the north, we could see the Takeda clan, our allies. To the west, the Imagawa clan, our mortal enemies.

Geisha and Ninjas

Like the original, in Shogun 2: Total War you can deploy geisha and ninjas, who can sneak into enemy camps and assassinate generals. Doing so will trigger a cinematic cut-scene, showing your agent attempt the assassination. Success or failure is determined by your agent’s skills, as well as the enemy general’s own defensive skills.

Each of these “agents” have a full RPG skill tree in Shogun 2: Total War. It looked pretty serious, very robust. I wanted to take over and geek out with it, to be honest.

So, as your agent’s level up, you manually select their abilities (also different in S2: TW). However, when you choose a path up the tree, it locks you out of other skill sets. For instance, our ninja had advanced “assassination” skills. Because of this, he was blocked off from the spy branch. He could no longer ever become an expert spy.

After our ninja successfully killed the general, he reached level 5. We gave him an “escape” specialization, which will allow him to abort a mission and stay alive if it starts to go sour.

This system will require players to build up a few of each type of agent, in order to canvas the full range of abilities. Each agent is kind of precious, too. If one of your agents dies, he’s permanently gone and you lose all of the abilities he possessed.

Generals

The General is the most common unit type in the game.You’ll probably have 2-4 generals at any point, leading your armies all over the map. Because of this, they have the broadest skill tree of any unit in the game. It looked kind of massive. You can turn them into warriors, admirals, pirates, governors, etc.

About to head into a big battle? Probably a good idea to buff up your General with some infantry command skills. More focused on diplomacy and being a fair ruler? Send your General down the “government” path. There’s a wide range of possibilities for these forces.

Family Tree

This is where the game gets insanely, wonderfully deep. There’s more than one way to win a battle in Shogun 2: Total War, and you may choose some familial espionage.

This menu in the game tracks family trees in your clan, as well as the “approval rating” of all of the characters. Your approval rating is determined by your actions. Appoint one of your three sons as your heir, and you can expect your other two sons to be less inclined to obey your orders. There are so many possibilities here, but here are a couple of examples.

Awesome thing you can do:
Turn one of your ninjas into a spy, send him to an enemy’s camp, wait for that enemy to appoint an heir, and then bribe one of the unchosen sons into joining your clan. Sweet.

Another awesome thing you can do:
Marry into an enemy’s family, very quietly assassinate all of their heirs, until you’re the only guy left and become the heir.

Tech Tree

As you progress in the game, you’ll select new clan abilities from two broad paths in your tech tree: the way of Chi (balance and society), and Bushido, the way of the warrior. The Bushido path, for instance, will give you access to new sword schools, dojos for training Hero Units, etc.

Another thing to note about the Bushido path: if you progress all the way up the Bushido tree, you can eventually unlock gun powder, and use firearms in battle, which will give you a pretty big advantage.

However, if you don’t want to wait that long, you can always side with the Dutch or Europeans, and they will give you this technology much earlier in the game.

This comes with a pretty hefty penalty, though: Christianity. You’ll need to adopt their religion, which will make you pretty much hated by your clan, and every other clan in Japan.

But then again, siding with those filthy Christians is the only way to unlock heavy artillery, such as canons. It’s a tough choice.

Next up, battle!

Battles

Finally, we got a look at a legitimate off-map battle in Shogun 2: Total War. We were fighting against the Takeda clan, at night, in the rain.

The unit detail has been massively enhanced. Creative Assembly have doubled the number of body parts on each unit, with visible body armor, helmets, weapons, and so on.

In Napoleon: Total War, you could have 10,000 units on the screen at once. In Shogun 2: Total War, you can have a whopping 56,000 units on screen at any given time. Really?

Also, a random factoid: there are 80 different types of tree in the game, all modeled by the artists. Seriously?

The rain weather effects here looked particularly awesome. The roofs of the enemy stronghold had rain pouring off of them, and each of the units had wet, shiny armor.

Geographically, the map featured very realistic Japanese topography–rolling hills, misty fog, valleys and so forth.

The game features a much smaller unit roster than previous Creative Assembly Games. Instead of 300 units, there are now only about 30. It’s a streamlined system that also features a rock-paper-scissor mechanic, making it very clear which units can compete with each other.

The strategy comes in with the type of unit combinations you use, what units you put with what general, what abilities, etc., to form the perfect army.

The Takeda general sent his samurai units. We sent ours out to check them. To deploy units, you simple click a group, and click a location. You can also hold the space bar to see each group’s in-progress path.

The hand-to-hand samurai combat animations were done by actual martial artists, we were told. Some of the animations look a bit clunky and need some work, though.

We sent in a general with some cavalry units. A note about Generals in battle: anything in their blue aura sphere receives a combat bonus, as a result of their combat prowess and abilities.

Final World

Shogun 2: Total War looks well on the way to success. It’s a visually stunning, deep strategy game that takes core elements from the original, but upgrades the experience with a deeper feature set in certain areas, and a more streamlined approach in others.

Creative Assembly are shooting to release Shogun 2: Total War in the first half of 2011.

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