. That’s the only way to describe The Creative Assembly’s next Total War installment, Shogun 2: Total War. Bloody epic
AusGamers was shown the game in preview form out at SEGA Australia’s Sydney HQ with Craig Laycock, community manager for The Creative Assembly and the series, who ran us through the game’s myriad features and depth; kicking things off with a demo that truly demonstrates the full epicness
of what the Total War team have created here.
Night-time fills the massive TV we’re looking at. Rain washes in from every angle in dramatic form while we float high above a massive field. Lightning illuminates the skyline in the distance while trees sway to and fro in stormy high-winds. On either side of the immediate landscape stands massive collections of hardened soldiers; peasants, archers and samurai. From the virtual perch we’re invisibly resting on, these armies look like perfectly placed toys; standing in perfect unity, but then Craig sweeps the camera down and zooms in as close the game will permit. Grass blades react according to the violent weather setting the scene and each and every troop, who from up on high looked almost to be clones, now moves individually and with dynamic realism.
“With the new engine we can have 56,000 guys on the battlefield,” he tells us. And apparently all of their movements are mo-capped, so there’s nothing canned in the way of animation here, and during an epic battle, their reactions are all dynamic and permanent. Death also sees their bodies litter the skirmish area, creating an intense sense of realism, as well as a brutal and deathly way upon which to review your handiwork.
Like most Total War games, the way in which you engage the enemy on the battlefield and command your troops is entirely up to you. Craig sent a load of Cavalry behind a row of archers who hadn’t seen them because he utilised the landscape to his advantage. There are clear lines of sight based on what’s around you, so using things like hills, structures, tree-lines and the like all go a long way to helping you formulate the most tactical approach to battle.
There’s a basic rock, paper, scissors battle system to, along with ranged units. So lancers would beat cavalry, cavalry beat swordsmen and swordsmen beat lancers. This isn’t overtly simplified though, as you can combine unit strengths in various formations, and each of the game’s nine factions comes with their own strengths and weaknesses in the form of unique abilities or perks, as well as more unlocked throughout the single-player campaign. There are variables for each unit type too, so there’re archers and rifleman, and while rifleman have deadlier weapons, because gun-powder was still relatively new to the era, they’re not as accurate as archers. “Every unit has a counter unit,” Craig says.
It’s been 10 years since the first Shogun: Total War, and it’s easy to see why the guys revisited their roots with feudal era Japan. Technology is at a point now where they can utterly do the setting justice, and their strengths as a developer, specifically in a genre they essentially created and still dominate, mean this is the ultimate iteration of the series. The scale of battles is just huge, and while the campaign may seem dwarfed by the likes of Napoleon, it’s in the game’s depth The Creative Assembly have refocused their efforts doing “more with less”.
Your basic goal is to become the supreme emperor of Japan, and the game essentially positions you behind two parts: full-scale battlefield encounters, and an over-world meta-game where you move your army across a 3D map of Japan; revealing more of the island nation as you progress, while encountering other warlords, factions or units as you go. You build money in a treasury which you can then use to strengthen your army or buy specific units (such as the Ninja or Geisha units), which are then used to undermine your enemies in the meta-game. In fact, you can essentially only the play the meta-game, sending your armies off to do battle based on a percentage system that calculates the battle for you, but really, after seeing the scale and depth of conflict here as our entry point for a game that’s only pre-alpha, why would you skip this part.
You can move whole armies at once, or single units if you so choose. There are hero units this time around also, and these guys are either based on actual historical figures, or semi-mythical ones (as at the time, such grand stories of heroic, legendary, near God-like generals were rampant). These guys are only given to you after you build the highest building in the game on the Campaign Map (called a “Legendary Building”), and they’re essentially “the ultimate unit”, so you get the “ultimate spearman” or the like, but Craig is quick to assert that they won’t turn the tide of battle, but will definitely help.
AI has also been ramped up, and it’s the studio’s biggest focus. We’re told the game won’t go out the door unless creative director, Mike Simpson, is happy with the game’s AI, which is great to hear, because it’s one of the elements that has been pointed out as an issue in previous Total War titles by fans and critics alike.
I mentioned the Geisha and Ninja units before, and while it would be cool to have a ninja on the map in a land battle, using the shadows and silently taking out high-profile enemies, these units are actually agents used on the Campaign map. So Craig demonstrates their roles as he decides to take out a general and his army who’re “perilously close to our borders”. You could take on the general in a Land Battle, but sending in your Geisha agent, whose role it is to undermine men in the game, offers up a video of her infiltrating the army’s campsite and entering the General’s tent to kill him. However, in this demonstration, the general is aware he’s about to be attacked, and is ready, dispatching our agent before she can dispatch him.
We’re told the agents themselves will level up, and have their own skill-trees and that in this instance, while the agent was a decent level, she wasn’t skilled enough to kill the general. Thankfully our clumsy Ninja was sent in next expressed in a similar (hilarious) video; though his clumsiness wasn’t enough to hinder his job, and thus the general was killed which completely undermined his army, scattering them and making more room for us.
What’s cool is the agents aren’t just assassins, you can use them for subterfuge, sabotage or any manner of enemy disruption, and how you rank up their skills will determine what area they specialise in.
Craig also revealed that the game will come with a complete “Dilemma System”, which not only means you could be facing cyclones, volcano eruptions or earthquakes (of which you must then decide how you'll help in terms of relief efforts, or use them to your advantage, provided you haven't been directly affected yourself), but you might destroy an army which can then create Ronin - masterless samurai who terrorise the countryside, setting fire farms, pillaging villages and just generally causing havoc. You can potentially hire these guys, take care of them (ie wipe them out), or just leave them to dynamically affect the game-world; disrupting not only you, but your opponents as well.
On the Campaign map, the game takes place in a turn-based way, and each turn is represented by a season. Within your turn though, not only can you move or attack, but send out your agents, hire new soldiers, mercenaries or the like, build structures, engage in diplomacy and so much more. It’s a fully fleshed out part of the game, with a great deal of micro-management that will keep it from being anything but an exploratory affair; offering players a simple and easy-to-navigate mode, with a great deal of depth.
We weren’t shown a lot running, but Craig did also reveal that it wouldn’t just be battles in the Land Battle map on huge, open fields. You’ll also have castle sieges and the game supports full building destruction. Land Battle maps generate based on where you on the over-world map, so there are going to be skirmishes in and around villages or cities, as well as the countryside, while the seasons also offer another factor to the presentation and battle gameplay, with weather dynamically affecting things like morale, nutrition and more. There will also be “epic naval battles” and the game’s water effects, or what little we saw, are stunning, so we have high hopes for this element.
Speaking of presentation, the team have done an incredible job of not only recreating a visual representation of the era, but have embraced all facets of it. From an aural level, the music in the game has been written by Jeff van Dyck who also supplied the score and sounds for Rome: Total War, and in the demo we saw, has done an unbelievable job. While all the artwork has been hand-crafted specifically for the game, in-house, and Craig tells us the team’s artist essentially went off, surrounded himself in the artwork and style from the era and just came back entirely capable of producing it himself.
Other things like contextual HUDs and menus make for a much more engaging experience, while the over-world and its representation of Japanese seasons and indeed, the Japanese landscape, is spot-on. At this stage in development, you would think the game was in alpha, so with more than a while to go in development, there’s no reason the final product shouldn’t be the team’s benchmark title.
“Yeah, basically we’re aiming to have it so if you could play Napoleon, you can play this,” Craig tells us in regards to running the game on PC. What also works is they’re using the same engine they’ve been working on for a while, so optimisation is now their strength, as well as getting the most out of it. But it really looks incredible, even in this early state.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see much more, despite wanting to see more, but at this stage, Shogun 2: Total War is definitely a product reflective of some 10 years creating these games, along with a clear passion for history, but more specifically, the history that made the series so popular in the first place.