McMillan’s Codex 19 By C.T. McMillan
Shogun 2: Total War
My fascination with samurai culture is not often documented on here or my other blog. As someone who grew up in a military environment and learned a great deal in the latter years of my education, the appeal of bushido and the samurai way of life was nonetheless strong. They are warriors utterly focused and disciplined when it comes to loyalty. Their dedication goes both ways, willing to kill for their lord, and always ready to commit suicide if they dishonor themselves or those they serve. In comparison to other martial cultures, samurai are the most aesthetically pleasing. Their complex and detailed armor trumps anything the finest European artisans could ever accomplish and the katana is arguably a superior blade to conventional swords in both creation and method of use. And so, Shogun 2 caught my eye when it was first announced, and the possibility of commanding giant armies of samurai made the anticipation all the more great.
The Total War series is derived from the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, which is exactly as it sounds. The player is dropped into a large map, pitted against an enemy or enemies, where he or she must exploit resources, build production structures, and make soldiers to fight back until only one is left standing. The player has complete control over their units, directing when and where they move and attack. That is the basic idea behind the RTS that many have followed throughout the years. Total War takes the traditional formula and applies it in a way that complements its own unique trappings.
What sets the series apart is the use of history and culture for its building and battle mechanics. Every current Total War game is based in reality with accurate events, people, and places that once existed. All of the games take place in ancient and medieval times with the exception of two that base themselves in pre-Napoleon Europe and 19th Century Japan.
Shogun 2 takes place during the Sengoku Period, a time of countrywide civil strife where clans fought each other for supremacy. In reality, the Tokugawa Shogunate would take over, but the game uses this period to set-up its gameplay. Players have the option of choosing a number of real life clans with a select range of territory they must defend from rivals. The end goal is to conquer Japan by taking other provinces and securing Kyoto, the Japanese seat of power.
The building and battle mechanics are not only separate in terms of gameplay, but also segregated entirely.
One half of the game is managing your territories on a world-map. With your view situated high above, the islands are rendered with realistic topography of mountains and forests. Provinces are color-coded according clan, each with a single city. At these cities you must form an army, manage the morale and economy of your clan, and defend it from attacks. The structures you choose to build in each city determine what units are available. Archery ranges yield better marksmen, while stables allow more adept cavalry. There are also special buildings that open up the ability to develop agents like ninja, priests, and secret police that can influence and help you take rival provinces. The building mechanics are so complex and fully developed, that you can play and complete the entire game without entering a real battle.
Another side of the world-map gameplay is managing the politics of your clan. Whether it is the religion you impose upon your people or your actions after attacking a city, the decisions you make affect how other clans see you and the probability of successful actions in diplomacy. It is all based on honor, the founding principle of bushido, and your actions determine how much you have. This could mean accepting volunteer leaders that ask to serve or using ninja to further your ambitions. There is also the option to engage with other clans in negotiations. You can organize trade routes, ask for payments, or make weaker clans vassals to get ahead. Like everything else, it affects your standing in the world, but the most efficient way to get exactly what you want is the other half of Total War games: the battle mechanics.
The typical RTS set-up for battles is a bird’s-eye view of the map. Total War is a series that not only puts you in the middle of the battle, but also gives you a full view from an asymmetrical perspective that you can change between high above to an up close and personal. From there you can command your units in the same way you do in all RTSs, organizing them into elaborate formations that play a very big part in the strategy of gameplay.
Like the building mechanics, detail is essential to what makes the battles standout. Imagine a scene from a movie, with an army of hundreds of actors in costume, and you can command them like a real general. The units in Shogun 2 consist of 80 to 100 individual soldiers, each with culture specific attire and weapons. The game’s scale is massive, but when you look closer, every piece of armor is rife with detail in the placement of the pieces and the stitching between the plates. There are many different variations of soldiers with distinct looks dependent on both clan and type of unit. They even have special animations where when two armies fight each other, the soldiers will have separate battles within the larger battle. These animations are modeled after real-life kendo techniques thanks to motion capture.
While historically inaccurate, Shogun 2: Total War is a great experience for any fan of Japan and samurai culture. It gives you the ability to influence how you take control of the country and how you fight the many battles that lie ahead. Its wealth of detail and unique battle mechanics set it apart from many RTSs. If you are a fan, look no further than the natural evolution of what has become the future of the genre.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.