Review

Total War: Shogun 2 - Fall of the Samurai Review (PC)

To say that Fall of the Samurai, (the latest content expansion for Creative Assembly's highly successful Total War instalment Shogun 2), didn't meet expectations would be wrong. Play it, and you'll find a well-crafted experience, that's challenging, interesting and above all unique. That being said, we can't help but feel a twinge of disappointment as we write this review, but this is purely down to the fact that the final product didn't match the image we had in our head. Simply put, we feel that the 'Tom Cruise' expansion, could have potentially been so much more than it turned out to be, but that hasn't stopped it being a fine product in its own right.
 

We didn't see anything like this in the game during our playhrough, which is a shame
Everyone's experience with this title is going to be different, but we feel there are certain design choices that limits what this game could have potentially been. For example, the tech tree is in complete favour of modernisation, so those wanting to try and keep to the more traditional route are extremely limited in what they can do. Granted, the actual history of the Boshin war was more about lessening Western Influence as opposed to fighting Westernisation itself, but given that history is often 'gameified' (apologise for using the word) for the sake of entertainment, we would have liked to have seen a bit more balance between the two ideologies. A game literally about the gun, vs. the sword (and as we'll later, there is an entire style of play at the tactical level that basically revolves around that, should you balance your armies that way).

That's not to say that the only drawbacks we've found are ones to do with what the game might have been – there are still notes in terms of what the game actually is too. As we picked up in the preview, we often found clans of the same faction declaring war on us, or other factions who were also on our side, which means that the game quickly degenerates into the classic 'all vs. all' style of gameplay. Not out of place in a Total War game, but slightly at odds with the context of this particular DLC where co-operation would be smarter than furthering the needs of your own clan. Still, we did find that once our clan reached a certain critical mass (i.e., after we'd dicked on anyone who tried to oppose us and became one of the biggest clan within our faction), we found that the other faction-clans left us alone and started picking on each other instead.

On a positive note, Fall of the Samurai had a surprising impact on Agents – something we've never personally been that bothered with in Total War games since Diplomats were done away with. Again, this is not to say that agents have been pointless in Total War games (some people use them, some people don't), but in this particular DLC the incentives to use them are that much higher, and present some intriguing scenarios for you to fiddle with. Foreign Veterans can train your army and net them experience chevrons outside of battle, Ishin Ishi (and the Shogun-equivalent unit) are good for keeping up the happiness rating (very useful for newly conquered lands) or inciting revolts (great way to take friendly territory without declaring war), and Geisha’s we like to use to either boost local economies or inspire our troops. There are also Shinobi ninjas too, which come from traditionalist buildings and still fit into the picture.
 
As good as firearms are, you need to be careful of things like cav charges and meeles. No forming square here...
This new campaign also comes with a revamped strategic map that extends northwards, as well as coming with several other improvements: Ports can now be upgraded with coastal defences, which will attack enemy fleets automatically on the strategic map (similar to the attrition effect), and provide a physical coastline with cannons units in tactical battles take place within range. Castles can now have gun and cannon towers, and as you've probably already seen you can now take direct control of ship cannons, land cannons and Gatling guns – a small and fairly insignificant feature, but one that is way way more fun than it should be. Railways, which we given emphasis during the promotional phase, are alright but take a while to actually come into the game. They are only available in pre-determined provinces on mainland Japan as well, so even though they help with movement, and can be raided etc... Again, they are one of those things that could have been done better.

You can read our preview for some initial impressions of combat based on a preview build we played, and in all honesty they haven't changed much. You have the fields of fire and line battles of the Napoleonic era, mixed in with the up-close and personal mêlée warfare of the Sengoku Jidai. Modern-era rifles mix-up even that as well, especially with the higher-tech units, as they started to use breech-loading guns over muskets, which increases the rate of fire and thus changes everything. The 'Pro-modern' player probably won't have to adapt their thinking too much, only to make sure they things covered should they face cavalry or mêlée units. The 'Pro-tradition' player though will seriously have to think about how they approach the tactical battles – it's going to be more about ambushes, movement, and using the terrain to hide from fields of fire. Siege battles have also changed: defending is easier with gun units, but cannons also help with attacking as well... again, much like the land battles, it's about out-thinking your opponents and using a mixed of modern and traditional units to win the day.

Multiplayer has also been given a bit of an update too – not only do you get a handy tutorial that can net you a few levels if you see it through to the end, but there's an entire other conquest map for you to sink your teeth into, with different unlocks, retainers and armour sets, skill trees (your FOTS avatar has three different trees to develop, so you can't say CA haven't put the effort in). Further to this, even if you don't own Fall of the Samurai, you can still play against people who do – first person to recreate the final battle from The Last Samurai wins the internet. They've also expanded the amount of Avatar slots you're able to field, allowing for up to four separate avatar generals – two for Shogun 2/Rise of the Samurai, and two for Fall of the Samurai. Aside from these changes however, it's pretty much the same experience as before.
 
The trainlines are ulimately not that interesting, and occur very late game

So, a decent addition to Shogun 2's content library, although we still think a slightly missed opportunity to do something truly special. Still, those of you who purchase this expansion are unlikely to be disappointed, as there's still a lot of fun to be had here. With an RRP of £29.99 you might want to try and pick it up in a sale, as that's basically the price of a full game and stuff still is missing: Family relationships, for example, are non-existent because the new time-frame means you're unlikely to see children grow up, which means secession isn't really an issue either. In fact a lot of the RPG elements outside of specialising character skill trees are gone now. But expansions like this are all about give and take, what you lose there you gain elsewhere, and there's a lot to gain from delving into this particular page in Japanese history.

Top Game Moment: Inciting a revolt in a friendly neighbour, watching their faction crumble, and then sweeping in to pick up the pieces is rather satisfying.

Videos

Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 20, 2012
herodotus
Thanks for the review, Joe and I honestly was not expecting much more after the Preview. I was, though expecting a similar experience to "NTW" after "ETW" yet it also was loaded with either missed opportunities or problems left unfixed (baby out with the bathwater). I have pre-ordered this for $23 and would have felt ripped off if I'd paid the asking price of $50. I like the sound of fortified ports, and this will no doubt be expanded upon in the next full game. I won't be manning the turrets aside from "having a go" and it is strange they would implement such a gimmick unless they are using EP's as ways of experimenting with gimmicks and gadgets. It's a RTS, a grand one at that. Direct fire control was shot down in flames in "CoH: Tales of Valor" - did CA not get the memo.
The Japanese Tech Tree does not reflect the strong opposition to modernisation that historically occurred, as inferred earlier in your article. There really should be an even balance, however with the rapid 'Westernisation' of Feudal Japan there came an equally fast rise in the Western Tech tree, leaving the Eastern side of things virtually unchanged. The Samurai opposing the changes really had nothing new to work with, yet incorporating modern weaponry in their arsenals obviously altered and refined their tactics on the field as you've mentioned we should too.
As far as exploring the different weaponry now available, I would have preferred to do that with the American Civil War as the theatre of combat. here we saw much more of technical rise from the North, and the importation of new European weaponry in the South. One day CA might actually do this, and I look forward to that day.
So, onward and upward. Rome is no doubt CA's next stop, again and I really wish it was not. With "TWS2" CA have shown us they can take a brilliant period/s in history and come up with something remarkable for both the gaming and history enthusiast.
I'd like China to be finally realised in the TW environment, particularly the time of The Three Kingdoms (so I can fight Red Cliff myself:d) as well as the Africa (a land rich with monarchies, kingdoms and massive wars). The American Civil War would also be very popular, unfortunately perhaps not much outside of the USA and history nut circles though.
I'll await the release, with a little less optimism and once more immerse myself in the Eastern mythos....no wait, I meant the Old West under Fujiyama.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
nocutius
I'm probably gonna skip this one untill I can get it for super cheap.

I got bored of Shogun after completing the campaign with all the main factions. I really wish we could play with ALL the factions on the map like in the good old day, the curent setup really hurts the replayability value of the game, and all that just to make a few extra bucks off of us. This series really got hurt by DLC which means it lost a lot of it's value which in turn means I have no intention of paying full price for Total War games.

I hope Rome will be different (no way EA will let it happen though).
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 21, 2012
herodotus
It's Sega, not EA nocutius but that's no biggie. I know it will be "Rome" again, but really it's time to stretch the the attention span across the vast map of world history and stop simply rehashing done-to-death civilisations. It will look smarter, have better gameplay no doubt....but it is still Rome. Unless the Campaign is vastly enhanced from "RTW" I'll be disappointed as it will simply be a cosmetic upgrade. Even then the Mod "Rome Total Realism 6.0" made "RTW" the game it always should have been, IMO and that one will be hard to match.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
SirRoderick
Rome II with mod support would be absolutely epic. Without mod support, I don't know.

As for the civil war, I've never been interested in that period at all. Actually, I really dislike the whole thing for some reason.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
nocutius
Ups, I blamed the wrong a**holes :)
EA are leading the pack when it comes to DLC so I subconsciously made the connection.

Mods are a must for this kind of games, and I really dislike how they intentionally make it difficult just so they can sell us DLC.

About the US civil war, it's just two factions how can you make a Total War game out of that? It could work as an expansion but I dont see it as a standalone game. I like the series for the strategic part more than for the tactical battles so a two faction game would be super boring to me.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
Kres
I hope you guys didn't played Vanilla versions of TWs much. Darth mod makes it the game the devs should've been skilled enough to do, but didn't. Talking about general TW series.

I also had this preordered. But I didn't knew at the time it was a preorder... So I'll give it a go soon.

Yeah and since I bought 7970 GFX card, Shogun 2 lasts for about 5-10 minutes before a full ugly system crash. It's so freking sensitive. I had more play time with Shogun 2 with the crashes, then while it worked smoothly.

And I just started using a new tactic where I would dismount my generals and use them in front charges on foot. They're so much more useful like that! But can't play due to crashes. *curse words*

Also, sorry Herod but I'm gonna put a big vote in for going back to Rome. I'd love to see the latest engine (+Darthmod) on that theme.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 21, 2012
herodotus
Epic released a game "The Civil War" back in the '90's by the Development team behind "Fields of Glory" that was released by Microprose and it was, well EPIC. The only thing that let it down was the graphics engine that was inferior to "FoG". this conflict embodies the very essence that makes up the meaning of the words 'Total War' as the entire Nation was involved at every level. Unfortunately as it was confined to the one continent, with little external involvement beyond the financial and advisory levels it is not "International" enough for the series. Then again, including "The Mexican War" would expand it somewhat.
Fantastic period in History for anyone who is a military history buff like me. Certainly read and written enough on the subject myself:)

I liked Darthmod for "ETW", Kres with the larger armies etc, however the Mods chosen for "TWS2" I did not roundly enjoy. I actually prefer the hodgepodge of smaller Mods I assembled. The downside of course is that you cannot participate in MP, something I'd like to see addressed by CA. The simple solution of course is to use JSGME (JaneSoft Generic Mod Enabler) and turn them off but to go back to vanilla even for MP - meh.

So it's donning the sword and sandals - again. It will be good, I have no doubt yet also a road well travelled so nothing will be "new" in terms of the period. Still, it sells and that's the bottom line. My issue is that the creativity will be gone from Creative Assembly and the next installment after "Rome II" will be "Medieval III", then possibly "ETW II", and on and on.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
Kres
Mods usage VS the game vanilla version itself is of course subjective. Those were just my 2 cents. And I didn't liked x2 unit size in Darth because sieges would end up with most of my troops being outside the fort. But they changed to x1.5 and it is just right now. Other stuff it brought in _I_ always loved. I played 3.3 the last. 3.4 was out a week ago or so.

After Rome 2, yeah Medieval 2 would rock! :p They will surely go with where the majority of the players brings them. Lets hope we will be in the majority part. Well, I hope it will be my majority anyways :p I doubt we will see China theme because it is so close to what Shogun already did. At least not any time soon.

But who knows what they'll decide. We'll see eventually heh...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 21, 2012
herodotus
Yes, well tried and true works best and appealing to the great unwashed has always earned Sega a bob or three.

BTW guys, you can pre-order this EP ("Fall of the Samuari") on GreenManGaming.com for USD $19 at the moment.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
nocutius
That really is an inviting price but I need a longer break from Shogun, maybe on the next steam sale.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
SirRoderick
To be fair Hero, they already did medieval Europe, ancient Rome, Feudal Japan, and the 18th century up to and including Napoleon.

You can't really blame them for not having some decent originality and drive there. The reason people are wining about a Rome II is because it's both a very interesting period and a rarely covered one. I'd love a Rome II, if they could manage to keep realism a little closer to heart this time around.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Mar 21, 2012
Kres
I'm sure vanilla will suck as always. In Rome 2. It seems plenty of people around are sporadically mentioning Rome 2 as the next one. Hence why I'd bet they are doing that next. Hoping they are in any case.

If they killed mods for TW... hmmm I'm not sure I'd buy it. They should really just make the engine and let people balance the engine with mods. Their gameplay choices are noob material.

I have 277 play hours of just Shogun 2. So it is really my fav game! Yet they suck with the vanilla flavor.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 22, 2012
SirRoderick
Vanilla TW games...yeah, not that great are they? Rome was the worst I think, it had the nonsensical three families of Rome, together with massive amounts of pure fantasy units. Just silly wrong, all of it.

Medieval II was the best I think, as a vanilla game. But it still benefited massively from the modability of that engine. Stainless Steel is just awesome.

So yeah, if they could get it through that thick skull of theirs that ACTUALLY releasing those mod tools would absolutely explode their game's popularity now, we'd be in for a treat.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 22, 2012
herodotus
I concur with "M2TW" being the best of the bunch by far (lost days on that blighter). I do not play the game itself anymore, but often have a abble with "The Third Age" to get my Tolkien/Jackson fix.

Everyone who fully enjoys the TW series simply cannot play it un-modded, and I think Sega and CA have tweaked to this. This is evidenced for me by the release of that "Blood Pack" and additional units.
They would dearly love to make these Mods as purchasable DLC only I am sure, but the community backlash would be too great. It is the modding community, after all that has kept the series going this long.