Apr 12, 2011Shogun Total War is one of those games that allows you dream of how to gloriously command thousands (or, at least, dozens) of screaming samurai. By allowing devious flanking tactics, or encouraging heroic frontal assaults, STW was the first game to depict the frantic action of real time strategy with mainstream success.
Which, when you consider that the game was originally intended as a 2D strategy game, makes this game a definitive milestone of the RTS genre. The strength of game is its simplified unit interaction: like paper (spears), scissors (cavalry) and stone (archers) ever unit beats and counters an other unit. Unlike the expansive RTS units of SupComm or SCII, mastery of unit types should be expected in hours rather than weeks. There's no seeking for the 'overbalanced' unit combination or the perfect build-order in this game; only blood and thunder battlefield fighting.
Ten years after first release, the gameplay still holds up surprisingly well. The kill rate of units is low (perhaps too low!) but this places a greater emphasis on the paper-scissor-stone principles by which the game runs. Add into this the significant effect of hills (archers will beat infantry with a height advantage in melee) and flanking (even now tying an enemy head-on with infantry and flanking with cavalry is the RTS staple tactic) and you have warfare that is satisfyingly expansive. By expansive I mean there is a real feeling that a smaller army can defeat much larger numbers with superior tactics. Such victories exploit the game's excellent morale model. You don't need to kill every soldier to win a battle. Even now I can remember battles a decade imprinted on my memory - the enemy ushered through a valley to attack my weakened archers; the hidden charge from woods; and the routing of one flank that rolls down the rest of the enemy until a fresh force flees from my emergent (and no doubt grinning) general. The campaign mode itself was pleasingly simplified. I always played as Shimazu (the green ones) not least because they were tucked away in the corner. As always in such strategy games, no-one has yet devised a way to counteract strategic AI. In the end game, I always faced off the Hojo clan who had horded dozens of armies into a few spaces. While something that I accepted at the time, these days such a gameplay facet would (rightly) demand a patch, or simply recognise that the campaign is won when 50% of map is yours.
The expansion pack (part of this game) goes some way to addressing these problems but it still lets slip with the overpowered brutality of the mongol heavy cavalry. Having spent 100s of battles watching body counters drop a man at a time, the shock at seeing multiple people die at once is enough to make the mongol expansion feel like the challenge of countering a truly warmonging race with what are essentially a civilised people. So should you own and play this game because it defined a genre? The graphics are, admittedly, pixilated with a 680 resolution. The campaign can drag on. Heavy cavalry aren't my first choice when I have infinite money. And the bridge battles are immensely arduous tests of attrition.
But the immersion is still there. The sound is evocative of the Sengoku period and the battlefield principles are still refreshingly straightforward and effective. If you win a battlefield, you really feel a sense of control. Even more so than a ctrl + A then right click on their general. I've owned three copies of this game - you should grace your collection with one.… Expand