Ten times I fell in love with Shogun 2

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I haven’t been terribly fond of Creative Assembly’s recent games, such as Empire: Total War or Napoleon: Total War. All that is changing with Shogun 2 (read my 1up review here).

And technically, this is just the first ten times, but I figured listing 15 would seem borderline creepy and going all the way up to, say, 20 or more would just get tedious. So here are ten times I fell in love with Shogun 2.

After the jump, is historotaku a word?

10) When I realized the AI understood the concept of “hill”
I was so over Creative Assembly’s games after Empire, mainly because of the horrible AI. So in one of the first battles I fought in Shogun 2, my heart swelled as the AI skedaddled up a hill and parked there. Well played, sir.

9) When the AI loosed a volley of flaming arrows at me

Ah, so nice! The AI is using the same special abilities I’m using! While I don’t necessarily need an AI to play by the same rules as me, I do need it to use the same tools I’m using. What a joy to see that’s the case in Shogun 2.

8) When I saw the Black Ship
I didn’t catch it, but not for lack of trying. I will definitely track that thing down next time. Black Ship, you will be mine.

7) When Mori swiped two provinces out from under me
In the late-game stages of one campaign, I was closely allied with the Hattori and the Mori. Those guys stuck with me through thick and thin. So when I declared war on the Shimazu, intending to eat up their five provinces in the pursuit of my victory goal of controlling a certain number of provinces, I was asked if I wanted to invite my allies into the war. Well, sure, of course I did. We’re all buddies here! No reason to exclude these guys if they want to beat up on some Shimazu armies. The problem was that Mori immediately swept into Shimazu territory and grabbed two of the provinces I was heading towards. At which point I realized, well, duh, of course he’d do that. When you go to war, you fight. And when you fight, you actually conquer territory. This isn’t Civilization V.

6) When I finally found a loyal wife
Most women in Shogun 2 seem to reduce your movement on the campaign map. Not this one!

5) When I won my first multiplayer match

I’d lost five matches, but each time I felt like I learned something. Although I was a bit worried that what I was learning was that everyone had better units than me. Not that veteran units should be too much of a concern, since they cost more. And I’d lost a couple of games to overwhelming numbers of cheap units. Underestimate ashigaru at your own peril.

But this match seemed pretty simple. He had a balanced force, with two squadrons of light cavalry that immediately started creeping up either side of the map. One thing I’d definitely learned was to keep an eye on those triangles in the minimap. Otherwise, you’ve suddenly got cavalry slamming into your bow samurai. Did I mention that I’m big on bow samurai, having chosen the Chosokabe clan? Bow samurai are more expenisve than ashigaru, of course. But at the level I’m playing, a commonly slotted enemy retainer is “bad omen”. This knocks a point of morale off every ashigaru unit. So I’ve been showing up to fights without any ashigaru. Now I love seeing that bad omen indicator before a battle. Because, ha ha, that dude just wasted a trait slot! My bow samurai project offensive power and my yari samurai cover them. My two retainers — these are like perks in Call of Duty — are a target range and a blind bow sensei, which give my bows extra accuracy. I’ve earned these by occupying specific provinces on the conquest map, which is a bit like a skill tree.

The map had a single shrine, located in the center. It gives a morale bonus to whichever player captures it. Since his main force was sitting still while his two light cavalry squadrons crept around either edge of the map, I moved forward. I set my line of yari samurai with the left flank on a patch of forest and the right flank jutting just far enough into the shrine’s area to start capturing it. My archers spread out behind them.

As the light cavalry positioned themselves to attack both my flanks, his main force advanced. He had plenty of sword troops to counter my yari troops (the basic rock/paper/scissors is yari beat cavalry, cavalry beat swords, and swords beat yari). This meant my archers would have to thin the enemy ranks before they reached me.

As he advanced, we did a little dance where my archers would feint towards his cavalry and they would pull back. Micro, baby. All those Starcraft II matches came in handy, after all. But one of the cavalry units slipped around behind the forest covering my left flank and I lost sight of it. Not a good sign. So I pulled a unit of yari samurai off the front line, positioned them inside the forest, and gave then a guard order in case he tried to come riding through.

Meanwhile, his archers arrived just in range to fire at my main line. I advanced my bow samurai, who returned fire with all the increased accuracy of my targeting range and blind bow sensei. At which point his entire force surged forward. My bow samurai lit their arrows and let loose with flaming volleys into the advancing line. As it drew closer, my archers — set to skirmish — fell back automatically, while the yari — set to guard — held their position. And sure enough, his light cavalry charged in from the right flank, tangling up a mess of archers and yari from the side. My general used his inspire ability to help the right flank hold.

But what about those cavalry that had crept around behind the forest on my left flank? Where were they? Ah, how satisfying! They were tangled up with the yari I’d set to cover the forest. We were both fully committed at that point, although he seemed to be trying to extract his cavalry so they could hit again. But this is mostly the stage where we both watched the fight play out, anxiously eying the morale bars at the top of our units’ flags. I was green all the way — remember that I was holding the shrine and I didn’t have any ashigaru — as his morale bars drained and turned red. His flag tattered and flashed as his morale broke. His soldiers melted away like dew in the morning sun. I should probably work that into a Haiku, but I was a bit too high on victory to mess with form.

The final casualty tally was actually pretty even, what with his swords countering my yari and his cavalry managing to decimate a unit of bow samurai. I won not by killing more of his guys but by my morale holding out longer, which is part of what makes Shogun a unique RTS. But my favorite thing, and when I think I really fell for Shogun 2, was when he typed the following into the chat as his men ran away:

jesus

Yeah, I know how you feel, brother. But thanks for my first multiplayer win. I feel like I earned it.

4) When I found out what a horro was

The troops in your general’s unit aren’t wearing backpacks. Those are horros. They’re partly decorative, of course. But they also might have been countermeasures against arrows. Someone from the official forum linked to this awesome recreation that supposes horros were actually effective at intercepting roughly 70% of arrows fired at them.

3) The three times I got my butt kicked in legendary mode

I love legendary mode. You cannot save the game to reload it at will. It autosaves at the beginning of every turn and immediately after any battle, overwriting your previous save. You cannot see all the stats on enemy armies. You can’t see the entire map. It’s an iron man mode in which decisions matter because you can’t just save the game and try again if you don’t like the outcome. I have tried three campaigns and given up on all three after doing painfully foolish things. Right now, I’m busy enjoying Shogun 2. But when I’m ready to get serious — really serious! — I love knowing that legendary mode is there for me.

2) When I gave my samurai a funny hat

The unlockable armor isn’t just cosmetic. It’s a system of collectibles, but it has gameplay effects when you complete suits of armor. You can also stick goofy fronds on your hat. As I have gleefully done.

1) When I discovered the swooping crane formation

You might think that’s some sort of half-assed half-time promotion for the Olympics up there. Instead, it’s the swooping crane formation, where bow cavalry ride in a circle to keep up a constant barrage of arrows firing from the point of the circle closest to the target. It drains stamina quickly, but it makes the bow cavalry harder to hit. Plus, it looks pretty darn cool. Or silly. I can’t quite decide. But I love it.

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