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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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    PC gamers can grab a sweet saving or two in Uplay’s Spring Sale. Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alien: Isolation are all on sale as part of Uplay’s Spring Sale, among many other titles. The sale offers discounts of up to 85% off digital […]

  • Fix for GTA 5 PC Windows install bug releasing today

    Rockstar is set to release a patch today that will fix a bug preventing players from installing the game. The bug is tied to Windows usernames that use certain characters not supported by Rockstar. There’s already a workaround available on the Rockstar Support site, but those waiting for an official update will be able to […]

  • Prey 2 dev’s new mobile horror Lost Within out now on iOS and Fire

    Remember Lost Within, that mobile survival horror erstwhile Prey 2 developer Human Head Studios was making with Amazon Game Studios? It’s now available on iOS and for Amazon’s Fire devices, through the appropriate App Stores. There’s a little bit of extra info on it on the AGS blog, if you’re keen; unfortunately the blog doesn’t […]

  • Let’s take a look at Blood Bowl 2′s Chaos faction

    Blood Bowl 2: The Chaos Theory is only the latest in a much loved series of games based on a game based on two other games. Blood Bowl is a popular Games Workshop tabletop game which blends the fantasy universe of Warhammer with a fantasy sport drawing inspiration from American football and related games. It’s […]

  • “Second-person” shooter Screencheat coming to PS4 and Xbox One

    Goldeneye players should be familiar with the concept of screencheating, which is what this new indie is all about. Screencheat has been on our radars for a while but has now been confirmed for PS4, sparking a new wave of interest with a trailer and PS Blog post. However, it was one of a number […]

  • World of Warcraft Timewalking will make old dungeons fun again

    World of Warcraft will soon introduce a feature called Timewalking, designed to make you feel young again. When WoW players participate in a Timewalking event, they’ll be transported to a randomly selected classic dungeon. Upon entering, their level and gear will be scaled way, way down to the Dungeon’s Heroic level – so they won’t […]

  • Bloodborne and Dark Souls messaging – in real life

    Soapstone is a cool little app that mimics the messaging system found in Bloodborne, Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. Bloodborne and Dark Souls fans will surely agree that the asynchronous multiplayer side of things, with players leaving anonymous tips, encouragement and jokes for each other, is one of the cooler aspects of the From Software […]

  • Mass Effect fans, get a load of this My Talking Elcor plushie

    I have been waiting to write about this all day because oh my god. Mass Effect attracted a devoted fanbase and Bioware has found tons of clever ways to satisfy that fanbase’s desire for clothes, collectibles, books, comics and toys related to the future world of Commander Shepard and company. The company has been so […]

  • Homeworld Remastered Collection headed to retail

    Homeworld fans can purchase a neat little package of gloriously remastered nostalgia soon. The Homeworld Remastered Collection has been available online since the end of February, but is now on its way to retail thanks to a deal between new rights holder Gearbox and Ubisoft. The PC exclusive will launch in physical form from May […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt download size lower than predicted

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a hefty install footprint, but it’s not as bad as we expected. The Witcher 3 was expected to be a 50GB download after a note to this effect was added to the PlayStation Store. It looks like that might have been a placeholder figure, as DualShockers noted today that […]

  • Bloodborne, beaten with a Guitar Hero controller

    Come on now, you didn’t expect anything less from the Souls community, did you? Bloodborne has been vanquished with a Guitar Hero controller, just a few weeks after its release. Kotaku reports Bearzly took nine hours to finish the game, which is probably less than many players using a Dual Shock. You can watch a […]

  • Vendors? New social space? Your House of Wolves questions will be answered

    Destiny players learned more about House of Wolves in this week’s Bungie update than you might realise at first glance. Resident Destiny expert Arekkz cast his eagle eye over this week’s Bungie Weekly Update, which announced next week’s Reef tour livestream. I personally am most excited to learn about gear upgrade paths, but Arekkz points […]

  • GTA 5 playable with Virtuix Omni VR treadmill

    You’ve seen GTA 5 with Oculus Rift, Now see GTA 5 with the Virtuix Omni. GTA 5 PC has unlocked a number of exciting possibilities. Modders and hackers are still working on making the game’s files accessible to third-party creation tools, but several cool things have been produced even with this barrier still in place. […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: play as Rain and other locked characters on PC

    Mortal Kombat X players comfortable with tinkering with the game’s files can unlock unplayable characters. Mortal Kombat X includes a number of familiar fighters available only as opponents, not playable characters. if you’re super keen to try out Rain, Baraka and co, you can – with a bit of fiddling. Redditor XVermillion figured out that […]

  • Madden 16 release date set for August, of course

    Madden NFL 16 has a deeply unsurprising release date. Madden’s release date always falls at the end of US summer, and Madden 16 is no exception. EA Sports has announced that the NFL sim will release on PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on August 26. We have absolutely no further information at […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront won’t have Battlelog support

    Star Wars Battlefront is not just Battlefield in a Hallowe’en costume, so don’t expect the same suite of features. Star Wars Battlefront is the subject of intense anticipation and curiosity, so it’s not surprising a bunch of rumours have turned up. One of these rumours suggests that Battlefront will have its own version of Battlelog, […]

  • Battlefield Hardline beats Bloodborne to top March NPD chart

    PS4 had a good month but it was EA’s multi-platform Battlefield Hardline that was the best-selling game. March 2015 NPD at a glance Total spend down 6% YoY. Hardware and software both down. Console hardware blamed for significant hardware dip. Accessories up. Battlefield Hardline tops software chart. PS4 outsells other consoles. Wii U, 3DS and […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves gear upgrade paths will be revealed next week

    Destiny developer Bungie will reveal new equipment upgrade paths during a livestream next week. Destiny: House of Wolves will release on May 19, the developer announced last week, promising a full schedule of reveals over the next few weeks. It also gave a broad outline of some of the things it will be discussing in […]

  • Don’t forget: the Elder Scrolls Online Welcome Back Weekend kicks off tomorrow

    Just a quick heads up to remind you that The Elder Scrolls Online Welcome Back Weekend kicks off tomorrow, April 17 at 10am EDT. The free weekend is an incentive to bring back beta players which tried the game, but decided not to pursue a purchase. You can play the MMO until 10am EDT on […]

  • Tale of Tales announces May release for Kickstarter success Sunset

    Those attending Kill Screen’s Two5six Festival next month will be able to play Tale of Tales upcoming title Sunset before it’s released. Along with the news provided to us by BeefJack, Tale of Tales have also released new set of lovely screenshots which we have posted below. Sunset will be released on Linux, Mac and […]

  • Take 50% off select racing titles through the Codemasters online store

    Codemasters has launched an online store and is celebrating by giving you 50% off the titles listed. Here’s what’s on sale: F1 2013 Classic Edition F1 2014 – F1 RACE STARS BUNDLE F1 2013 GRID 2 GRID 2 Reloaded GRID Autosport DIRT 3 Complete Edition DIRT Showdown Toybox Turbos F1 RACE STARS Hit up the […]

  • Spy_Watch coming to Apple Watch from Surgeon Simulator devs

    Surgeon Simulator developers Bossa Studios have announced its working on an Apple Watch game called Spy_Watch. Spy_Watch, according to the developer, has players heading up a spy agency which isn’t faring too well. Players will need to train a spy and then send him out on various missions to “reclaim the agency’s former glory.” Real-time […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power hits Steam Early Access next week

    Frozenbyte has announced Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power will launch on Steam Early Access next week. The early access title will run you $19.99/€19.99/£14.99 and you can purchase it come April 21. If the short video above isn’t enough to tempt you, a video showing nine minutes of gameplay was released last week.

  • Journey, Flower, flOw trilogy to be released this summer on PS4 in 1080p at 60fps

    A remastered version of the Journey Collector’s Edition is coming to PlayStation 4 from ThatGameCompany. According to Gamespot, the trilogy will contain PS3 titles flOw, Flower and Journey on one disc, and it will run in 1080p at 60fps. A standalone version of Journey will arrive close to the trilogy’s release on PS4 through the […]

  • Here’s a few screenshots of PS4-exclusive Alienation from Housemarque

    Screenshots for Alienation, Housemarque’s four-player co-op PlayStation 4 exclusive, have been released and you can have a look at them in the gallery we’ve posted. Announced at gamescom 2014, the game features three main character classes, weapon customization, and various team set-ups. The game has players shooting at things with twin-stick gameplay with a top […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront website notes November 17 release, teaser video and first image hit

    The first Star Wars: Battlefront image has been posted, and apparently it appeared on the official website at some point this morning. The game will also be released on November 17, according to the official website’s source code. The release date is noted in the code located in the image below. Props to Gematsu for […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is the fastest selling entry in the series to date

    Mortal Kombat X has sold faster than any other game in the series to date, making it the “biggest launch” in Mortal Kombat history, according to creator Ed Boon. Speaking in a series of tweets, Boon said both the mobile and console versions have “literally millions of players getting online” resulting in the servers being […]

  • Shadow of the Beast reboot resurfaces with some new screenshots

    The Shadow of the Beast reboot, which was announced in 2013, has show its face once more with early screenshots. Screenshots of the Amiga classic remake show off the Karamoon’s desert and the main character, Aarbron. According Matt Birch, CEO and founder of Heavy Spectrum, the team is currently hard at work on the “core […]

  • Halo: Spartan Strike arrives on Windows 8, iOS and Steam today

    Halo: Spartan Strike is now available on Windows 8, Steam, iOS devices and Windows 8 phones. The mobile top-down shooter will run you $5.99. Halo: Spartan Strike tells a new story in the Halo universe set during the events of Halo 2 on New Mombasa in 2552. Those playing on Windows 8 devices can compete […]