Total War: Shogun 2 hands-on preview

After spending way too much time playing a pre-beta build of Total War: Shogun 2, it seems that Creative Assembly’s latest entry in the Total War series is shaping up to be the best one yet. Part real-time, part turn-based, Shogun 2 continues to carry the torch of the series’ hybrid gameplay, walking the line between both genres with gorgeous visuals and epic battles.

Set during the Sengoku (or Warring States) period in Japan, Shogun 2’s singleplayer campaign will put you in the role of a clan leader. It’ll be up to you to use a combination of brute force, political maneuvering, and devious stratagems to expand your area of control, uniting the fractured country.

As an RTS, Shogun 2’s battles feel much more methodical and realistic than your average RTS in terms of pacing. Although you can adjust the game’s speed to your liking, it’s less about actions-per-minute and build orders – and more about the positioning your troops properly, using the terrain to your advantage, flanking, and making good use of each unit’s special abilities.

Above: Drink in the details. Surveying the battlefield while hundred of units lay siege to a castle is quite a sight to see

When attempting to siege an enemy castle, for example, charging head first towards the castle gate with all your forces is sure to result in a loss. Rows of archers can easily burn down your army from behind the castle walls while your forces bottleneck at the gate. And troops are expensive to train!

Better to spread your forces out when positioning them before the battle begins. That way, you can lure enemy squads to the castle’s main gate while clearing the walls at the opposite end of the fortress. With your troops inside the walls of the castle, the defender’s forces will be forced to spread out even further, allowing to tip the scales of war in your favor. It’s the kind of tactic that Shogun 2’s AI would use on you, which speaks to the level of complexity behind every click.

We never tried to break the AI during our time with the early build. But from what we’ve seen, Shogun 2’s computer controlled armies won’t be easily fooled by cheap tricks. It consistently made for challenging battles that never felt impossibly difficult or unfair.

Above: For fans of the series, Shogun 2’s multi-tiered castles mark a significant improvement over the flat and boxy fortresses featured in previous ones, like Rome: Total War

Although Shogun 2’s battles can be brutally difficult at times, the game is liberal when it comes to saving your progress. So sometimes just mindlessly sending all your units charging towards the enemy is worthwhile just for the spectacle of seeing hundreds of individually animated troops crash against each other. After all, you can always call a mulligan and load up an old save for an earnest attempt at winning.

But even though Shogun 2’s battles are about as epic as can be, it’s just a small part of what the title is bringing to the table. Much of the game will be spent making choices from the game’s war map. This is where Shogun 2’s Civilization-style turn-based strategy comes into play.