• A Shogun 2 10th Anniversary Review



    Shogun 2
    A 10th Anniversary Review
    by Alwyn

    Welcome to the Age of the Country at War


    The era of the Ashikaga Shogunate is over.

    The authority of the Shogun is failing and the power of the daimyos, the leaders of Japan's clans, grows ever stronger. Shogun 2's main campaign setting takes us to the Sengoku Jidai,
    the period when Japan's lords fought to become the next Shogun or simply to survive the chaos of the war. This is a time when warfare is dominated by the sword, the spear and the bow; there are fearsome polearms such as the naginata and this is also an era of technological change, as matchlock muskets appear.

    This game offers enjoyable challenge on the campaign map and battlefields. Shogun 2 took us far from the traditional European setting of most previous Total War games. Differences between clans tend to be subtle, but subtle differences can lead to interesting challenges. Like other Total War games, Shogun 2 offers a historical sandbox. We have the opportunity to see how another clan might have done what Oda Nobunaga almost achieved historically (before he was assassinated by one of his generals) and unite Japan - and to make this happen in our campaigns.

    Land Warfare

    Two regiments of bow samurai approached the castle's northern gate. There was a cold wind from the west, but woodland on a gentle hill to their right shielded them from the breeze. They felt confident, as they were only one of three columns attacking the castle. Even if the castle's defenders could spare cavalry to attack them, a regiment of yari samurai marched alongside the bowmen and their spears should prevent even the bravest cavalry from charging into melee. Instead of the horsemen which the bow samurai feared, a regiment of swordsmen marched from the castle's gate. This would be easy! The bows would take a brutal toll of the swordsmen as they approached and the survivors would be cut down by the yari samurai. But then the bow samurai heard the drumming of horses' hooves, and the cries of the enemy daimyo and his bodyguard, as they broke from their woodland cover and charged the bowmen from the rear. The archers were armoured and trained, but the daimyo's riders had swift steeds and swords.

    It's easy to criticise the combat in Shogun 2 as a simple 'rock-paper-scissors' exercise. Bowmen beat infantry, infantry beat cavalry, cavalry beat bowmen. But such a simple summary would miss out on the enjoyment of challenging, visceral and sometimes desperate battles. It would also miss out on Shogun 2's success in delivering exciting castle battles.


    Katana Samurai under arrow fire

    At the start of the campaign, you are likely to rely on ashigaru (militia-quality units). As your clans expands, your armies will include samurai with better training and armour, but ashigaru are still cost-effective. There are opportunities to recruit high-tier units such as warrior monks, and to enhance your units further by recruiting them in regions with master craftsmen to improve the quality of their amour or weapons.


    Bow Warrior Monks attack a castle

    There are small anomalies, such as the fact that yari ashigaru (spear militia) can adopt a spear-wall formation, while yari samurai can't, but these are minor issues (and the difference between yari ashigaru and yari samurai may reflect historical differences between the tactics of these units). It's true that there aren't a lot of differences between the rosters of factions on Shogun 2, but this isn't a major issue.
    Subtle differences between faction rosters are enough to provide enjoyable variety in battles. Each faction has its speciality - such as archery for the Chosokabe or gunpowder units for the Otomo. I particularly like the way that some regions offer resource buildings which enable the player to recruit better versions of units, giving you the choice of waiting until better-quality units can reach the front line, or training ordinary units which can reach the front more quickly.

    Sea Warfare


    A heavy bune and two bow kobayas approach the enemy

    Shogun 2's campaign map is dominated by Japan's largest island, Honshu, and the smaller islands of Shikoko and Kyushu. Many of your battles are likely to be on land; despite this, sea warfare matters. As in Napoleon Total War, there are trade areas on the edge of the map and placing your trade ships there produces income. Just as the AI factions who join your enemies will try to take over the land you hold, they will send ships to attack your trade.

    Sea warfare in Shogun 2 is quite different from its predecessors, Empire and Napoleon. In Shogun 2, sea battle maps include islands and coastal land, which provide additional tactical opportunities compared to the open waters of sea battle maps in Empire and Napoleon. Most ships in Shogun 2 carry melee troops and archers, not cannon. The game offers different ship designs with distinct roles, including the bow kobaya which relies on speed and arrow fire to harass your enemies, the medium bune which offers a balance of ranged firepower and melee troops, and the heavy bune which is slow and packed with soldiers for boarding.


    A heavy bune attacks a medium bune

    There are Nanban trade ships which provide devastating cannon fire, which can be recruited from a Nanban trade port if your faction is Christian. The player can capture enemy ships and add them to your fleet, as in Empire and Napoleon. However, unlike Empire and Napoleon, the player can't sell captured ships if you don't want to use them. Repairing ships costs money, so sea warfare can be an expensive drain on your resources. Even so, if the player doesn't engage in competition for the trade areas, the AI factions will - and AI factions holding trade areas will earn a lot of money from them.

    Shogun 2 offers an event on the campaign map which involves the appearance of a unique European vessel, the Black Ship. This ship can only be captured by the player, it can't be built, and capturing it is a real challenge. The Black Ship's cannon can quickly break the morale of even fairly large warships. If captured, this vessel offers the player a decisive advantage, but at considerable cost, as its upkeep is expensive.

    Agents


    Monks (or priests) spread your clan religion, ninjas assassinate enemies and sabotage buildings, while metsuke watch out for enemy agents. There's a rock-paper-scissors dynamic: metsuke defeat ninjas, monks counter metsuke, ninjas beat monks. This suggests that a player who has each type of agent should have the right tools to handle enemy agents - or so I thought, in an Otomo campaign. Then Realm Divide happened and every AI faction sent their agents in a swarm. My agents handled the first wave, but they were slaughtered by the next wave and the enemy agents kept coming. My generals were easy prey. Enemy agents sabotaged three or four buildings a turn, every turn. Soon my income was dropping and the repair cost each turn exceeded my income (especially when you add the cost of repairing the warships defending my trade fleets). An income of 6,000 a turn dropped to -1,000. As you can see, I'm not a very skilled Shogun 2 player!

    These challenges encourage players to try different strategies - which is exactly what a good strategy game should do. For example, to deal with the swarm of enemy agents when Realm Divide happens, you could use agents repeatedly throughout the early campaign, so you have high level agents ready for Realm Divide. You can also construct more buildings to allow you to recruit an agent swarm of your own. Alternatively, you could delay Realm Divide until you have saved a lot of money, so that if your income falls to -1,000, you can still recruit agents and units.

    Religion

    Religion plays a similar role to cultures in some other Total War games. A high level of non-clan religion will reduce your public order. You can spread your clan religion with agents (monks or priests) and religious buildings. Most factions adhere to Shinto Buddhism, which makes initial expansion easier as the regions you capture won't usually have a penalty for non-clan religion. However, the Otomo are Christian and the Ikko Ikki follow Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Religious differences make early expansion more challenging for the Otomo and Ikko Ikki, but their religious differences offer opportunities too.

    For the Otomo, the fact that they are Christian at the start of the campaign gives them early access to gunpowder troops and enables them to recruit powerful Nanban trade ships. The Ikko Ikki's unique religion comes with the ability to recruit better warrior monk units. The monks of other factions can cause rebellions in enemy regions which cause them to become rebel-owned regions. When Ikko Ikki monks cause rebellions, this leads to the region joining the Ikko Ikki faction.

    The religion which your faction has at the start of the campaign isn't fixed, it's possible to change your clan religion. When a Shinto Buddhist faction builds or captures a Nanban trade port, this gives you access to matchlock militia units, but also spreads Christianity which reduces public order. You can counter this by constructing Buddhist religious buildings or by converting your faction to Christianity.

    The campaign map

    Shogun 2's campaign map has several strengths. It's an attractive map, particularly with the spring blossom or the colours of autumn. It's a different map, providing an alternative to the familiar European setting of most previous Total War games. Features of regions such as mines and craft workshops appear on the map (and can be raided) which seems realistic, while the upgrading is handled on a single panel for each region, which allows for smooth game-play. For me, the greatest strength of this map is the way that AI factions expand.

    Playing Shogun 2, I feel more as if I'm playing against human opponents than in other Total War games which were released at around the same time (such as Empire and Napoleon). Of course, the AI makes mistakes. At times, the AI not only makes poor decisions on the campaign map, it repeats them. For example, in an Otomo campaign, AI factions repeatedly sent small fleets to attack my main trade port, even though each previous fleet was destroyed. However, AI factions expand as if they were trying to compete with the player to win the game. In fact, it's possible for an AI faction to achieve one of the campaign goals and become Shogun before the player can manage this.



    During an Otomo campaign, the Takeda capture Kyoto and seize the Shogunate for themselves.

    The fact that AI factions can take over significant parts of the campaign map by conquest, not only by confederation (as in Total War: Warhammer games) is a fantastic feature of this game. In Empire Total War, the expansion of factions tended to be fairly predictable, for example AI Spain would routinely defeat Portugal and Morocco in my campaigns, and (unless the player invaded India) the Maratha Confederacy would almost always take control of India and march to attack the Ottoman Empire. In Shogun II, different AI factions achieve ascendancy in different campaigns, increasing the game's challenge and replayabilty.

    Experienced players sometimes say that Total War campaigns are fun initially when you're fighting to survive, but beyond a certain point the player becomes so powerful that the campaign isn't challenging. There are some players who are so skilled that the AI won't be challenging enough, even in this game. Even so, there are several ways in which this campaign offers more of a continuing challenge.


    Early castles, with a single wall and small garrison, can often be captured easily.

    One way in which the Shogun 2 campaign challenges the player more in the later campaign has already been introduced: the ability of rival factions to expand aggressively. In my campaigns, there are consistently factions which expand more quickly than I do. Other Total War games can be hard early on and easier later. Shogun 2 achieves the opposite, as some early enemy castles can be easily defeated, while the player will face powerful rivals later on.

    A second way that the campaign maintains its challenge is through the food mechanic. Castle upgrades as well as upgrades to markets (beyond the first tier) consume food. Farms can only be upgraded when the required technology has been researched. In Empire Total War, players could race through the tech tree by constructing many educational buildings. Each educational building could independently research a new technology at the same time as others, so the player could research several techs at once. In Shogun II, the player can only research one tech at a time. While this can be accelerated slightly by certain buildings, the player needs to balance the research of civil and military improvements.


    An upgraded castle

    A third way in which the campaign difficulty increases is that castles are upgraded. Tier 1 castles have a single line of walls and gates. Upgraded castles add arrow towers and additional layers of walls, which are more challenging to take. Since upgraded castles consume more food, the player needs to choose which castles to upgrade and to what level.


    Realm Divide begins.

    A fourth way in which the campaign difficulty increases is the one that you may have been expecting: Realm Divide. For anyone unfamiliar with this mechanic: the Shogun keeps an eye on the conduct of the daimyos who are fighting for power. Your clan's fame increases as you capture regions and win heroic victories. When the player's fame grows beyond a certain point, Realm Divide begins. When this happens, the Shogun forms a coalition against the player. This seems realistic - it makes sense that a Shogun, feeling threatened by the rising power of a rival, would do this. Just as the food mechanic encourages the player to think strategically about upgrading castles, the Realm Divide mechanic encourages the player to balance expansion with consolidation.

    Realm Divide

    Realm Divide demonstrates the late-game challenge and the unforgiving nature of Shogun 2. This mechanic requires the player to think ahead and try different strategies. Initially, I made the mistake of being over-confident when reaching Realm Divide and this encouraged me to remove weaknesses in my game-play. When I didn't provide enough warships to defend my trading vessels, the AI factions attacked. When I reached Realm Divide without saving up a war-chest, the combined effect of the loss of trading partners, the cost of repairing ships and the need to repair sabotaged buildings ruined my economy. My agents were overwhelmed by a swarm of enemy agents and my generals were assassinated. My front-line armies did well initially, but after being depleted by the first battles of the Realm Divide period and losing their generals to assassins, they were defeated by overwhelming numbers of enemy armies.

    After this initial disaster, I learned from my experience and started a new campaign. My trade ships were guarded with fleets. I stopped expanding as my clan approached Realm Divide, so that I could build up a large reserve of money before Realm Divide removed my income. I recruited as many agents as possible and sent them to the front line to attack enemy agents and protect my generals. I used 'encampment' buildings to improve the quality of my units and recruited units mainly in regions with 'resource' buildings which improved their quality further (such as better armour or more accurate bows). With these better-quality units, I hoped to take fewer losses in the first Realm Divide battles and to be able to defeat the waves of enemies which would follow.

    When I reached Realm Divide, I was in a much stronger position than before. Even so, effect of Realm Divide was like a scene from Aliens or Starship Troopers, when the squad of well-armed soldiers goes in confidently and gets massacred. After a few turns, most of my agents were dead, my front-line armies (which had veteran units with improved armour and weapons) were severely depleted or destroyed, my income was reduced to minus several thousand per turn (and enemy agents sabotaged several buildings every turn, costing thousands more) and my daimyo and other front-line generals had been assassinated! My main mistake, it seems, was in making insufficient use of agents during the campaign before Realm Divide, so my agents were insufficiently high level to defeat the swarm of agents which AI factions send against the player after Realm Divide.

    Realm Divide is both wonderfully challenging and utterly unforgiving. It requires you to think seriously about how to maximise the effectiveness of every aspect of your clan's military and economy. It can be frustrating if you spend hours trying to maximise the potential of your faction, only to see your carefully laid plans fall apart in a few turns. Realm Divide strikes when the player controls a minority of the total map and when the surviving AI factions have grown considerably. It requires you to defeat a coalition of powerful clans who are likely to have more armies, fleets and agents than you can muster, at a time when your allies will desert you and the recruitment of new allies is extremely difficult (except for any factions which you liberate after Realm Divide occurs).

    It's understandable that some players use mods which alter Realm Divide. An alternative to removing the event is to use a mod such as the Realm Divide Mod by Yarkis de Bodemloze, which keeps Realm Divide but makes it more possible for the player to keep allies and make new ones after the event occurs, or the Diplomacy Mod by Yukinari, which has a similar effect and make more changes to diplomacy.

    My view is that Realm Divide is a bold experiment to provide players with what many experienced players wanted - a serious, exciting challenge in the late game. If I have a problem with Realm Divide, it's not the event itself, it's the combination of Realm Divide with three things.

    The first thing is the campaign time limit. You can stop expanding beyond a certain point and build up a war-chest to survive Realm Divide, but you have to time this right. If you don't wait long enough before reaching Realm Divide, it's likely that you'll run out of money while the enemy sabotages expensive buildings every turn, until you can't afford to repair them anymore. If you wait too long, you won't be able to satisfy the campaign objectives before the deadline.

    The second thing is that when an army is destroyed, everything is lost - there are no army traditions (as in Rome II) or general skills (as in Warhammer) which survive. When you reach Realm Divide, you're likely to need the experience of your veterans, but you're also likely to lose them. It seems unrealistic to play a campaign in which the player needs to win every (or almost every) battle.

    The third thing is the difficulty which the swarm of AI agents presents after Realm Divide. This is a game which rewards players who plan ahead and who are willing to go back to an earlier stage and try a different strategy. It's a game for players who like using agents in active missions (such as assassination and sabotage). While it can be satisfying to carry out these missions against enemies and to try different ways to defeat enemy agents, it can be frustrating in Realm Divide when the player is trying to handle the agents of several enemy factions all at once. Unlike battles (where a skilled player can achieve victory against the odds), engagements between agents are always autoresolved - which can add to a feeling of frustration for some players. I have some sympathy for the criticisms of agents in Shogun 2 by Wes Fenlon in PC Gamer:

    This isnít the first time agents have soured a Total War campaign for me. In fact, itís happened in every campaign Iíve played since picking up the series with Shogun 2 in 2011. On a Total War campaign map, your units are either leaders (Lords in Warhammer, generals in most previous games) who shepherd armies, or agents, who offer more specialized functions. They can spread religion or influence in a region, increase the populaceís happiness or production or technology research rate. They can also, more critically, assassinate other agents and leaders, sabotage cities, and inflict casualties on armies. Playing against a campaign map covered with AI enemies all but guarantees that eventually youíll spend a chunk of every turn dealing with a neverending stream of agents. Which is done by countering them with your own agents. And so on ad infinitum. Itís an ouroboros of strategic mundanity. - Wes Fenlon, PC Gamer
    You can counter the swarm of enemy agents by using agents frequently, so that you'll have high level agents when Realm Divide occurs. However, when using agents there's a chance that they'll be killed and their experience lost. As with armies, this suggests that the player needs to succeed repeatedly. As Wes Fenlon said, relentless actions by enemy agents can be frustrating. It's understandable that the agent actions in Rome II (such as mass poisoning, which could inflict heavy casualties across many units in an army) were nerfed in a patch, and even experimenting with removing agents in Thrones of Britannia. My view is that agents work best when they provide passive benefits - such as being able to see what's beyond a line of hills by sending a spy, or gradually training an army by attaching a veteran to it for several turns, or slowly adjusting the culture of a region with a monk or similar agent. However, in Shogun 2, a game where agents include ninjas, it would be a shame if assassination was impossible. Perhaps it would be better if there were more ways to counter agents, such as a buiding chain and additional agent skills which offered this?

    Conclusion

    If I needed to sum up Shogun 2 in three words, they would be 'exciting', 'immersive' and 'challenging'. This is an exciting game because you start as one of many daimyos, each controlling a small territory. The other clans will try hard to expand - and some of them will succeed. It's immersive because of the engaging historical setting, the attractive design of the campaign map and the game's excellent artwork and music. It's challenging not only because of the fast expansion of your more successful rivals, because as your fame grows, the Shogun is watching. Sooner or later, Realm Divide will occur. The AI factions form a coalition against you, while your allies abandon you. Experienced players tend to say that Total War games become too easy when the player grows beyond a certain point; Realm Divide is a bold, effective experiment in providing a serious late-game challenge. This review has covered only some aspects of this excellent game and there is much more to discover, including the free additional campaign Rise of the Samurai, which is set 400 years earlier, and the DLC campaign Fall of the Samurai offering a 19th century setting. I highly recommend playing this game and seeing for yourself what it has to offer.

    If you found this article interesting, you might like to read some of the Eagle Standard's previous articles. A full list of these can be found here.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. makanyane's Avatar
      makanyane -
      That's a great review, and some very good illustrations, thanks Alwyn!

      Interesting that you picked up on the Agents issue. I know this is discussing playing the original game, but I think in all the Total War games we've played, including Shogun II, we've ended up using a mod that removes agents! They just get too annoying otherwise...
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Thanks Mak and you're welcome!

      Good idea about using a mod to remove agents, I might try that in my next campaign. Is there one that you recommend?

      Meanwhile, people who are interested in this review may also want to look at our Shogun 2 art competition, a Japan-themed picture competition and our 10th anniversary poll.
    1. Lord Hirluin the Fair's Avatar
      Lord Hirluin the Fair -
      I have to say that's a great review, despite the fact that I'm not interested in Shogun 2 that much. Who knows maybe i will give it a try in the near future!
    1. Stath's's Avatar
      Stath's -
      That is a really interesting review, especially regarding the Realm Divide aspect and the agents. Will read it again before starting a new campaign in near future.
    1. Forward Observer's Avatar
      Forward Observer -
      I think you made a minor typo when describing the rock, paper, scissors comparison. You wrote:

      It's easy to criticise the combat in Shogun 2 as a simple 'rock-paper-scissors' exercise. Bowmen beat infantry, infantry beat cavalry, cavalry beat infantry.
      I think the bolded part should be instead: cavalry beat bowmen. It's not a big deal but I thought you might want to edit it. Otherwise, a nice review.

      Cheers
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Thanks for your kind comments!

      Lord Hirluin, yes I recommend giving it a try.

      Stath's, good luck with your new campaign.

      Forward Observer, well spotted, thank you - I have corrected the typo.
    1. argenti's Avatar
      argenti -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord Hirluin the Fair View Post
      I have to say that's a great review, despite the fact that I'm not interested in Shogun 2 that much. Who knows maybe i will give it a try in the near future!
      Remains the best total war
      Especially with the Exp
    1. Septentrionalis's Avatar
      Septentrionalis -
      Thank you so much, Alwyn! I have just started the game and this answered so many questions that I have asked myself just today. And thanks Mak about the idea of using a mod to remove agent play; I may have to use one because I doubt I would enjoy the constant agent warfare.
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      You're welcome! Yes, Mak's idea is a good one; there are some 'no agents' mods on the Steam Workshop such as Erik's improved no agents mod and Zagre's No Agents.