Shogun 2 Demo Impressions

Upon firing up the Total War: Shogun 2 demo, I beelined immediately for the Historical Battle it included. My Shogun 2 Preview focused entirely on the singleplayer tutorial, which takes place largely on the campaign map, so I wanted to test out the game‘s ability to convincingly render an epic historical throwdown. The available battle is called “Sekigahara,” and it recreates a key turning point in Japanese history. Even the most academically-disinclined strategy gamer has heard of Tokugawa Ieyasu; Sekigahara was the battle that enabled him to consolidate his power over the land of the Rising Sun and usher in a long period of peace, beginning in 1600 C.E. The game casts you on the wrong side of history as Ishida Mitsunari, Tokugawa’s main adversary on the day. According the brief introduction provided, both armies were maneuvering under cover of a deep fog; when that fog burned away, they suddenly and unexpectedly clashed.

Almost immediately, this circumstance puts you at a disadvantage. It is unclear whether Creative Assembly’s intended this to be the case, but the fact remains: the battle of Sekigahara is extremely difficult to win, even for an experienced Total War player like myself. Its function seems analogous in some ways to the abominable snowman in Ski Free — even if you do a particularly good job avoiding him for a while, eventually you get run down and eaten. Though its not uncommon for a game demo to have a sort of inviolable cap on the amount of content you can experience, Shogun 2′s historical battle has a unique approach. “Want to play some battles in which you don’t get thoroughgoingly routed?” it seems to say. “Buy the full version on March 15th.”

The initial difficulty is all about initiative. When the battle begins, Tokugawa has already ordered a cavalry charge, and your immediate priority is to fend off the screaming, katana-wielding adversaries bearing down on your forces. This problem is compounded by the fact that the Mitsunari line of battle is a mess — caught unprepared for the assault, your various units are scattered and vulnerable, without an effective wall of infantry to give shape to your army and protect your archers. Though you are in control of a pair of good defensive positions — a large, forested hill and a smaller promontory, each with water anchoring both flanks — abandoning one for the other in order to consolidate usually results in Tokugawa tightening his stranglehold while you engage in a lot of torturous maneuver.

Even if you do manage to fend of assault by the main body of the future Shogun’s army, you’re quickly enmeshed in further difficulty. One ally, Shimizu Toyohisa, refuses to fight, claiming that his honor was insulted. This difficulty can be circumvented by training enemy units into his forces, but by the time you’ve managed to goad the coward into a charge, its usually too late. In any event, you have a much bigger problem: your other ally, Kobayakawa Hideaki, wastes little time in stabbing you in the back, wheeling his sizable army into your southern flank at a particularly inconvenient moment. Presented with these two treacheries, finding a way to change the course of history is an extremely tall order — too tall for me, at least.

My cause wasn’t helped by the fact that, in my hubris, I began by playing on “Very Hard” difficulty, which presents some additional challenges in this installment of the series. For one thing, you can’t pause the action, an ability which is particularly useful when you’re dropped into a historically losing battle and expected to organize a disjointed and scattered army that is unhelpfully under immediate attack. Moreover, even if you manage to contain Tokugawa’s initial assault, you’ll quickly notice that on this setting, the enemy units have no morale meters — keys to determining the success of your tactics. You’ll have to rely on close inspection to see which units are being successfully fended off and which are likely to put your flagging troops to the sword. Even having made the shameful step down to “Hard,” I was unable to eke out anything that even resembled a victory.

Despite my many defeats, however, there was plenty of fun to be had, and no culture does epic defeat quite like the Japanese. Though the ascetic, uncompromising discipline of Bushido has been done to death in a hundred thousand cultural iterations, it discovers a renewed heft when returned reverently to its original context. Thanks to haunting traditional music, immaculate art, and Total War’s renowned loading screen tips (this time around, a collection of succint, martial death poems and cynical, ultra-pragmatic advice from Feudal military handbooks), the atmosphere is well-established by the time the battle begins. When it ends, in inevitable defeat, you can order your general to “Stand and Fight,” zooming in to watch him as his bodyguards form a square around him, ready to die like heroes. Eventually, Mitsunari dies like a samurai, cut down by some honorless, pike-wielding peasant in Hideaki’s turncoat horde. The player, however, lives on, ready to cue up the battle just…one…more…time.

Shogun 2 System Requirements

Minimum Specs:

  • 2 GHz Intel Dual Core processor / 2.6 GHz Intel Single Core processor, or AMD equivalent (with SSE2)
  • 1GB RAM (XP), 2GB RAM (Vista / Windows7)
  • 256 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible graphics card (shader model 3)
  • 1024×768 minimum screen resolution
  • 20GB free hard disk space

Recommended Specs

  • 2nd Generation Intel® Core™i5 processor (or greater), or AMD equivalent
  • 2GB RAM (XP), 4GB RAM (Vista / Windows7)
  • AMD Radeon HD 5000 and 6000 series graphics cards or equivalent DirectX 11 compatible graphics card
  • 1280×1024 minimum screen resolution
  • 20GB free hard disk space

Need a leg up in the game’s historical battles? Check out our Shogun 2 Walkthrough!

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1 Comment on Shogun 2 Demo Impressions

Zoltán Gáspár

On February 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I have done it on hard difficoulty.