Total War: Shogun 2 Review

Steve Butts | 22 Mar 2011 22:30
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Details extend to every aspect of the battles, from the animations to the weapons. Putting your spearmen into a wall formation will fend off cavalry charges and you'll actually see each and every unit engage in realistic combat with another. The horses will crash into the wall of spears, falling as they're pierced and crushing the ranks of spearmen with their momentum. With fewer overall types of units than previous Total War games, Shogun 2 gives players a chance to focus on tactics rather than worrying about the slight variations in units. The AI also seems to be a bit better this time around and knows how to use every asset on the battlefield to its best advantage.

There are, sadly, some serious problems, which should surprise no fan of the series. First, the game's management tasks soon become a huge burden, forcing the player to spend too much time with busy work and inconvenient searching. Yes, the series has included some small conveniences, like allowing generals to recruit units from nearby towns, or having a single tax slider for the whole empire, but even as you ease into the mid-game, the game begins to throw numerous distractions your way.

The pathfinding and formation controls are also still unreliable. Issuing movement orders to individual units is okay, but it's nearly impossible to give a single order to an entire army without the individual units rearranging themselves for no clear purpose. This isn't as big a problem in single player where you can pause the game, but woe betide the multiplayer general who must wheel his entire force around to face a threat from an unexpected direction. Things are even worse at sea where fleets interpret your orders in ways that make absolutely no sense. Sending an order to a friendly ship and then watching as it goes in the opposite direction? That's not fun ever. It's particularly annoying since the rest of the battlefield controls are so convenient.

Some fans feel that these faults can be forgiven for the sake of everything the game does right, while other fans feel that we've been too forgiving of the series' persistent problems. Personally, I'm in the first group and, while this game is less problematic than Empire, it will still frustrate gamers who are expecting a flawless experience.

Finally, Total War usually takes a lot of knocks for overall performance and stability. Without bragging too much, I've been largely immune to the crashes that plagued previous versions, and that holds true for Shogun 2. Even after several hours, I've yet to have a single crash and, apart from the pathfinding problems, I've yet to encounter any game-killing bugs. Performance is still a bit of a problem, but I was happy to see that I could get the game running at a pretty good framerate on a high-end laptop.

Bottom Line: The series has scaled down from Empire but lost none of the drama or excitement. The smaller scale makes it easier to appreciate all the things the game does right.

Recommendation: If you like strategy games (and have a PC that can run it), you need this game.

This review is based on the PC version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Total War: Shogun 2
Genre: Grand Strategy
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: March 15th, 2011
Platform: PC
Available from: Amazon, Gamestop

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