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Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai opens an easy door to RTS

Thursday, 2 February 2012 09:04 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Don’t be left scrabbling to get on board the strategy bandwagon; jump on this “niche” genre now. Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai may be your best entry point.

Fall of the Samurai

A stand-alone expansion, fully playable with or without Total War: Shogun 2.

The most modern setting of any Total War game to date, set in the Meiji era, as Japan opened borders to the west.

Due March 23, exclusively for PC.

I’m hopeless at strategy games of all kinds – absolutely appalling. Start talking about build orders and opening spreadsheets and I just lose it. I have no idea how to even approach either a grand strategy or a real-time battle – how do you begin to choose between all the available options? How do you know how to counter the enemy’s plans? What does this number mean? Is an extra 5% meaningful? What’s that enormous army doing there? Is that mine? Why does it say “game over”? Oh.

“We’ve done a whole new set of video tutorials this time, so new players to the series will have an idea of how the different units interact,” The Creative Assembly’s community manager Craig Laycock told me during a two-hour crash course on Fall of the Samurai, a stand-alone release serving as the latest expansion to Total War: Shogun 2.

“The learning curve is like that,” he added, speaking of strategy in general and making an almost vertical gesture.

“That’s actually one of the toughest things about making these strategy-like games; you want to make sure the barriers are as low as they can be, but then you don’t want to annoy the hardcore players who actually quite like the fact that there’s high [entry] barriers.”

Like many strategy games, Fall of the Samurai employs an encyclopaedia which can be brought up with a simple right click, but while the masses of in-depth information so presented is great for the hardcore, it’s a little overwhelming for beginners.

“We find brand new players don’t like going into the encyclopaedia, which is why we did the video tutorials,” Laycock agreed.

“We’re trying to hold the player’s hand a little bit, in terms of the rock, paper, scissors mechanic we had in Shogun 2, because it wasn’t always clear what kinds of unit beat other kinds of unit.”

If your experience of strategy sounds anything like mine, then you’re probably likewise locked out of one of the most important and rapidly growing genres in the business. Shooters may be the mainstream multiplayer choice but in serious competition strategy is an established star – and increasingly spilling over to general gaming consciousness, thanks to MOBA and the StarCraft-driven resurgence of interest in RTS.

Total War is in one of the genre’s most respected series. Despite being a PC exclusive in a hardcore genre, Total War: Empire debuted at the top of the US charts, and Total War: Shogun 2, sequel to the legendary title which started it all, popped up in fourth place in the UK in the same week as heavy-hitters Dragon Age 2 and Pokémon Black & White.

Not bad for a “niche” interest, right?

“That’s where people like Blizzard are also helping us out. There’s kind of a camaraderie there. They’re going to be pushing to expand that market. We like to think we help them out there. There’s a nice symbiosis on the PC side of things because there’s so few strategy-only studios nowadays, it’s kind of our responsibility to push it as much as possible,” Laycock commented.

“The [Total War] series has continued to do well. There’s more and more people buying it than ever before.”

Today, we’re expanding the market to me. For the uninitiated, Total War’s signature formula combines grand strategy, in which you recruit and move units, improve towns, and manage diplomacy on a turn-based world map – alá Civilization – but hit the battlefield in real time, shifting units in a rapid dance of rock-paper-scissors dominance complicated by three dimensional terrain.

That means players have two different genres to learn; so Shogun 2 is a daunting package for the strategy newb. Fall of the Samurai, on the other hand, is a perfect starting point, with a lower price tag and the possibility of jumping into the broader community once you’ve got your feet wet.

“We’ve balanced it so with Fall of the Samurai, you can play against Shogun 2 players – so the community hasn’t been divided up,” Laycock explained.

“We didn’t want to divide the multiplayer community. That doesn’t make sense. However, if people who do own Fall of the Samurai do just want to play against other Fall of the Samurai units, then they can just tick a check box in the matchmaking section and do that.”

That’s an option you might want to take at first because the Total War community is as hardcore as they come – Fall of the Samurai’s beta was opened to forum members and community websites, and drew 2,500 participants. The player base is almost a necessary aspect of development, helping to unravel the complexities of the game – complexities which are totally beyond me, it must be said. Although I’m baffled and confused, I desperately want to know more. It’s like standing on the other side of the lolly shop window, staring wistfully at the wonders within. Fall of the Samurai is full of eye-candy, in fact, improving on the already notable graphical achievements of Shogun 2.

“Shogun 2 is the most scalable Total War game we’ve done, and I’m pretty sure the specs haven’t increased for Fall of the Samurai,”

“We’ve changed some things around but it’s mostly optimisations. We’re constantly working on the graphics engine, making little tweaks, so any increased graphics don’t come out in performance.

It doesn’t blink an eye when we enter a battle and watch hundreds of little men scamper about. Well, I say “little”, but this is Total War – you can zoom in close enough to see up their nostrils if you like, and the frame rate doesn’t even seem to twitch despite the overwhelming numbers.

“We’ve improved the trees. We’ve redone the map. I was playing the other day and my foreign agent grew a beard. I think the artists just snuck that in – so your characters will get older as their abilities increase.”

I have no idea what sort of über rig is humming away under the table, although I cajole Laycock into showing me the perfectly serviceable and indeed quite attractive minimum settings as well as ultra, but it doesn’t blink an eye when we enter a battle and watch hundreds of little men scamper about. Well, I say “little”, but this is Total War – you can zoom in close enough to see up their nostrils if you like, and the frame rate doesn’t even seem to twitch despite the overwhelming numbers.

“Previously you could only handle 20 vs 20 unit battles; the reason we didn’t do more than that in the past is that it actually gets very tricky for a user to control more than that. But because the community has been asking for it for so long and we didn’t want to patronise them and restrict them, now we’ve got it so if you’ve got 20 units in a stack, and you have another stack reinforcing, you can control the reinforcing army as well,” Laycock advised me.

40 units, each composed of dozens of individual soldiers, on screen at once; this visual deliciousness is strongly appealing, but Fall of the Samurai’s rapid pace – enemy turns have been so optimised that dozens of AI opponents flash by in mere seconds – is another feather in its cap. Laycock shows me a tricky naval battle in which the deceptively ponderous ships whizz about the place, firing torpedoes and cannons. It’s quite easy to simply steer your ships into each other if you let your mind wander for even a second, as in a third-person firing mode – not exactly the dry-dust, text-heavy experience that comes to many minds when the word “strategy” pops up.

Laycock is very patient with me, even when I won’t stop gleefully exclaiming over non-essential aesthetics (“Oh look, he’s put down a little chair to show he’s moved this turn!”) and I feel a nagging guilt that it’s me here quizzing him, and not someone so well-versed in this genre that their incisive questions uncover deep truths of vital import to the established fanbase, like whether this or that has been nerfed. On the other hand, the established fanbase is waiting in the wings, credit cards at the ready or not – nothing I could report will change their minds.

My mind, on the other hand, is starting to tick over madly. “Shouldn’t you have used your agent that turn,” I suggest, and later, when Laycock’s jetlagged speed playthrough produces slightly less stellar results, I scold him for sending his units into a bottleneck, trapping his commander.

The elegant user interface is starting to resolve from a hot mess into something I comprehend without panicking; my extremely vague knowledge of tactics – hold the high ground! – is prodding me; my secret megalomania is insisting that I should be the one at the keyboard, with an eye for the conquest of Japan.

Sign me up, Sega. I’m sold.

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2 Comments

  1. GrimRita

    One of THE worst ‘RTS’ games ever made Shogun 2. Utter shit. No where near on the same level or scope as Empire was.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. grenadeh

    Spoken by two people who have never played a total war game. A) This game is infinitely better than napoleon or empire ever were. B) This is the hardest fucking TW game yet and its NOT an easy door for RTS gamers. Every veteran of the past 7 TW games I know can barely win the fucking campaign and I have literally given up on it three times in a row because it’s that retarded.

    #2 3 years ago

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    A limited edition Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain PlayStation 4 system will be released in Asia. The system and its DualShock controller were designed in collaboration with Konami Digital Entertainment and targeted for the Asia region, per Gematsu. It will be released as part of PS4 Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain […]

  • This video shows Sid Meier’s Starships being played on iPad

    Sid Meier’s Starships will be released on iPad alongside Mac and PC, and to give you an idea on how it plays on the tablet, a new video has been released. Watch below as Pete Murray and lead producer Stuart Zissu show off the iPad version. The 4X space-strategy releases on March 12.

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood announced as standalone prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a standalone prequel to The New Order, will release May 5 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game takes pace in 1946, and and players take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz as he embarks on a two-part mission in Bavaria. Part one, Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, […]

  • Observer Mode coming soon to Evolve as a free update

    Observer Mode will be released for Evolve as a free update for all platforms, 2K and Turtle Rock have announced. The community feature was designed to give Evolve players the ability to observe and add commentary as well as livestream, allowing a sixth user to “passively enter a custom game” with the ability to switch […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes and PS4 top Media Create charts in Japan

    The PlayStation 3 and PS4 skus for Dragon Quest Heroes were the top sellers on the Media Create charts in Japan, moving a combined 594,749 units. Elsewhere on the chart, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was in third place with 39,751 units moved, and last week’s top seller, God Eater 2: Rage Burst, […]

  • Watch Hideo Kojima answer lots of your burning Phantom Pain questions

    What’s better than learning the official release date of MGS5: The Phantom pain? Hideo Kojima talking more about it, of course! Hideo Kojima has decided to answer a few fan questions about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, to help boost everyone’s hype to insane levels. He talks about the game’s story, his relief […]

  • MGS5: The Phantom Pain Day 1 and Collector’s Edition revealed

    Konami has officially revealed the release date of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain alongside the game’s Day 1 and Collector’s Edition. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will release September 1, worldwide, as previously leaked. It will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The PC Steam […]

  • EU Club Nintendo: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack back in stock

    Club Nintendo members in Europe can once again pick up The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack. For 3000 Stars, members of the program will receive the double-CD soundtrack which features 89 tracks with liner notes from Ryo Nagamatsu and 12 sheet music excerpts. It also comes with 16 Milk Bar Musician pieces. […]

  • HTC apologises over “confusing” Half-Life VR comments

    HTC has misspoke when it talked about Half-Life coming to VR headset Vive. HTC chairwoman Cher Wang has apologised over the comments she made yesterday about the possibility of Half-Life coming to Vive, the VR headset it’s manufacturing with the help of Valve. Sources close to Valve, have indicated to the BBC that the developer […]

  • What do Heists and Daily Objectives tell us about the future of GTA Online?

    Daily Objectives could be more important to GTA Online than Heists. These theories and more, from a giddy Matt Martin. Yesterday Rockstar dropped a bombshell. Not only is it releasing Heists next week – the mythical 4-player missions for GTA Online – but it’s also going to be introducing daily challenges and more modes to […]

  • Breaking down Hardline Premium, is it worth it?

    Having been announced just a few days ago, the Premium service for Battlefield Hardline has been a topic of constant debate among the Battlefield community. Many look at Hardline as a Battlefield off-shoot that will just tide everyone over until Battlefront comes out in the fall. EA has other plans however, announcing a $50 Premium […]

  • Watch Dogs sold more than GTA 5 and FIFA 15 in Australia in 2014

    Watch Dogs outsold GTA 5, and FIFA 15, at retail in Australia last year. According to data obtained by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) from the NPD Group Australia, last year’s year retail sales charts look a bit different in Australia. The top-selling game was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, followed by Watch […]

  • Watch PC footage of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from GDC 2015

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new gameplay video available that shows a bit of action from the PC version. The video below was captured from Nvidia’s GDC conference live-stream. Developer CD Projekt RED was on hand to show off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s graphical prowess running on a PC. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • Dying Light: Hard Mode and Ultimate Survivor Bundle out March 10

    Dying Light’s second DLC drop, the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, and the free Hard Mode, have been given a solid release date alongside a new trailer. Dying Light developer Techland has confirmed that the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, the game’s second DLC drop, will release March 10. The DLC is part of the season pass, but will […]

  • Exploration puzzler Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4

    Ether One, the first-person exploration game that puts you in the minds of other people to help change events of their past is coming to PlayStation 4 this year. Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4 this year, developer White Paper Games announced at GDC 2015. A retail version will also be available alongside the […]

  • Larian “murdered” Divinity: Dragon Commander to focus on Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian talked very candidly about the business side of development and the many unfortunate events that took place for the game to come out as it did. Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke gave a post-mortem on the troubled development of Divinity: Original Sin, and how it managed to overcome all of […]

  • Firewatch probably has the most natural dialogue of any game to date

    Firewatch developer Campo Santo has revealed the first ever gameplay footage of the upcoming exploration game. Firewatch is the first game from super indie studio Campo Santo. The game is set in the Wyoming forests where the player will be exploring the environment and act as a fire lookout. The game features extensive voice-acting as […]

  • White Night launch trailer is a noir thriller trip

    White Night is here, not long after it was revealed and with a mysterious launch trailer. White Night, the black-and-white survival horror set in 1930s Boston, has revealed its launch trailer. White Night is mix of old-school horror, exploration and puzzling solving in an eerie, noir setting. The game’s main mechanic is light. any object […]

  • Free-to-play is “a significant part” of PlayStation’s digital future

    Free-to-play games on PlayStation 4 have seen enough growth that Sony is now considering the model a major part of its future digital business. Sarah Thompson, senior account executive for PlayStation’s free-to-play business said at a GDC panel that Sony has witnessed impressive growth in the free-to-play sector. “We’re really looking at this as a […]

  • Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter documentary releasing free on YouTube

    Broken Age making of documentary Double Fine Adventure will be made available to all. When Double Fine turned to crowdfunding, changing the industry forever, it promised to give an unprecedented look behind the scenes with a professional documentary of the whole development process of Broken Age. That documentary was initially restricted to Kickstarter backers, but […]

  • Gone Home console ports cancelled following Midnight City difficulties

    Gone Home won’t be made available to the console masses after all. Indie hit Gone Home was announced for console release almost exactly one year ago, and we’ve heard absolutely nothing since then. Turns out, that’s because it’s not happening: developer the Fullbright Company confirmed to Eurogamer that the ports have been cancelled. “Our publishing […]

  • Microsoft rang Mojang the day Notch joked about selling

    Minecraft developer Mojang was sold because founder Markus “Notch” Persson made a joke on Twitter. Ever wondered how Minecraft came to be a Microsoft property? It’s actually a pretty great story. Remember when Notch tweeted this? Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for […]

  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection matchmaking update rolling out

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection has been updated to help fix its tragic matchmaking. Again. Now almost four months old, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was still pretty broken as of this morning, with rubbish matchmaking and plenty of other issues to go around. 343 Industries is still trying to fix it, and has today […]

  • Nvidia unveils Shield, an Android 4K Smart TV set top box

    Nvidia has named yet another product “Shield” in an attempt to render us all hopelessly confused. The heart of Nvidia’s GDC 2015 press conference was the Shield, a $200 Android set top box launching in May. Apparently the “world’s first 4K Android TV”, the Shield supports 4K content encoded with h.265. The box runs on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront footage shown behind closed doors

    Star Wars Battlefront is being shown to retailers. Now we want EA to show it to us. Star Wars Battlefront is expected sometime this year, so it’s about time EA gave us a look at DICE’s latest. It turns out that while press and gamers have had to twiddle their thumbs, EA is showing it […]

  • Dragon Age lead creative moves onto mysterious new BioWare project

    Dragon Age creator David Gaider is leaving his baby behind. Dragon Age is a team effort, but Gaider was one of the key creatives behind the franchise, creating the setting of Thedas (which, I was recently amused to learn, is an acronym: “THE Dragon Age Setting”). He was lead writer on all three games and […]

  • Unity 5 available for free with “no fucking around”

    Unity 5 looks amazing, and you can download and faff about with it for free right now. “We’re not nickel-and-diming people. When we say it’s free, it’s free. We’re not charging a royalty, which I think is akin to looking for whales.” Unity Technologies announced the release of the fifth version of its popular, simple, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 may be the end of the series

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 released yesterday, and many fans theorise that it marks the end of the series. Five Nights at Freddy’s developer Scott Cawthon has released a new teaser image on his website, but rather than pointing to a new game, many fans believe the teaser signals the end of the series. The […]

  • Source 2 announced, will also be free

    Valve has formally unveiled Source Engine 2, the third major engine to go free to developers at GDC 2015. Source 2 is the successor to the engine Valve has been using since Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2. Valve didn’t have much to say about the technicalities of this long-awaited release. It is apparently focused on […]