Shogun: Total War
Civilization meets Age of Empires!
Released late 1999/early 2000, Shogun: Total War was developed by Creative Assembly and distributed by EA. This was a revolutionary game in that it brought large scale empire building and mashed it into some Real Time Strategy (RTS). While not as an extensive world as Civilization, and while battle is not as ongoing as Age of Empires, it creates a rather satisfying hybrid.
Being a few years old now, the graphics are starting to look tired and old, but you can only make a static map with playing pieces look so good. The battle scenes, however, are, and were always, not so great. The surroundings weren't bad, but pop up was a let down, especially in rain or fog. What really let down the graphics in this section was that despite the fact the battles were in 3D (stiff camera restrictions, but still 3D), the units themselves were 2D. They looked like cardboard cutouts running across a 3D landscape, which wasn't too crash hot to begin with. Although, the game mechanics are somewhat more complex than Age of Empires and others. For example, archers run out of ammo, and formations are a huge consideration - a carefully formed army, with careful unit placements can defeat even the largest army. The soundtrack, however, makes up for this somewhat. The powerful feudal Japan music underscores the heavy feudal Japannese theme, and in battle changes to a frantic score when battle erupts.
Which brings me to another point - Generals and the Daimyo (ruler). When a General wins a battle, assuming he has won more battles than he has lost, he will gain a rank of honour. As explained later on, a general with high honour helps you win battles, primarly by inspiring morale amongst his troops. Your Daimyo acts as a general too, however is much better than normal generals as he inspires far more morale. There is a trade off for this extra morale, however, in that your Daimyo can be killed, and if he has no heirs, your empire will degenerate into rebels and you will lose. There is a low percentage each season that one of your many wives shall give birth to an heir, and once one is born it matures in time. Heirs, and your Daimyo, do not age, simply await for the current Daimyo to die so they may take over the empire.
Although the battles are in real time, the rest of the game is not. It switches to a system highly remiscent of Civilization. Just like in Civilization, you press enter or hit the button to end the current season (obviously there are four seasons). There is a harvest once a year, in which you receive your kokiri (money). There are varying degrees of harvest, ranging from very poor to bumper. This is purely up to chance, you cannot influence whether you will get a good or bad harvest; even farm upgrades only increase the amount you harvest on average, this will still be reduced or increased with a good or bad harvest. This is rather irritating, because for the four seasons you have to manage your spending carefully, and during a war, if you suddenly encounter a bad harvest, you will find yourself incapable of producing reenforcements.
Another let down to the game is the Clans. There are six Clans, and the computer only Rebels. Choosing a Clan gives you a different starting position and slightly varying advantages and disadvantages. All the Clans are balanced, such as if a Clan starts off with only two provences that are seperated, they will have many advantages, such as many starting units or massive bonuses on certain units or game aspects. Other than this, however, there is really no variation between the Clans. They don't have any unique units or special abilities, other than bonuses (i.e. +30% attack with archers). Later, the Portugese and Dutch come bearing gunpowder and, in the Portugese case, Christianity. These races cannot be played, and bear little significance in the game. If a leader builds a Church, he becomes Christian, and may cause his provinces to revolt. He may also use priests as a weapon in order to cause enemies' provinces to revolt. Other than this, the only change the Portugese and Dutch bring is the ability to produce Arquebusiers and Musketeers (gunpowder units).
However, there is still hope for this game. Firstly, its non-linear, so no missions! Although there is no storyline as such, you still have a goal to unite Japan under your rule, after the death of the Shogunate, forging a spot in history for your Clan by conquering every province in Japan. You can play it how you want, and this gives it alot of potential. If you're more of a overall strategy person, you can concern yourself with your empire and choose to have the petty squables over provinces automatically resolved. If you choose so, the honour of your general shall be compared to the honour of the enemy general, then the unit types shall be compared (ex. spearmen do well against cavalry), and finally the size of the armies shall be compared, and casualties calculated. This does not leave it up to blind luck, and a smart ruler will use spies to find out what is in the enemy armies and deploy appropriate counter-troops. It is, however, a more costly procedure than resolving it personally. For those who wish to mix the two genres together, that can also be done. Shogun also caters to anyone simply wishing to get in there and fight a battle, with its Quick Battle option that takes you straight into a battle with random troops. However, such battles aren't nearly as fun as a game of Age of Empires.
There's more to cater to others, such as espionage and covert operations. Ninja and Legendary Geisha can be sent out to assasinate targets. Like generals, they gain honour whenever they succesfully assassinate a target. Once they are at a high level, they can even be ordered to end the life of an enemy Daimyo, and not just a lowly emissary or general. This is another way to win the game, other than crushing all opposition with force and conquering Japan. One can, instead, continue to assassinate a Clan's Daimyo until he has no heirs and his Clan degenerates into rebels. They are then easy pickings, and although one must still conquer all provinces to win, rebels are far less of a challenge than an active Clan. Such assassinations are also accompanied by a rather cool cinematic. Despite all this variation, the game can only be replayed so many times in a row before it becomes tiresome. Best to variate with other games.
Overall, Shogun: Total War is an enjoyable and refreshingly original game. Anyone who is into history, particularly feudal Japan, will be elated by its historical accuracy and heavy theme settings. Fans of empire building, turn based games will find this game homely, while RTS fans will get a kick out of the battle complexities - but then again, some may be turned off by this. For any who are not fans of any of the above, this is still a fun game and is original enough to not be considered either a turn-based strategy nor an RTS. I reccommend this game to anyone, however if I were to buy this now, I would opt for the more modern Medieval: Total War.