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Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai First Impressions

Lloyd Sabin – March 27, 2012

If you are interested in Guilded Age technology and Japanese history, this is a perfect game. And if you have even a passing interest in these things, FOTS will probably stoke your curiosity even more. It is impossible not to have your mind wander too and wonder where the Total War series will go next…is Victoria: Total War very far off?


Upfront, I must fully disclose that I remain very impressed with the Shogun 2 base game. After almost 60 hours of play it is, to me, the most polished Total War game to date and washes away the bad taste left by the ambitious mistakes of Empire: Total War. I also have not won a campaign yet, having played two. Fingers crossed, though.

As for the Fall of the Samurai (FOTS) standalone expansion, I have played a few hours so far. I am confident in saying this, however: if players did not like the base game they will not be converted by FOTS. If players do love Japanese history, military technology or are even just curious about these subjects, they will find a lot to like about FOTS. For a military history and tech lover like me, FOTS is literal manna from the gaming gods.

Shiny New Veneer

I loaded FOTS off of my physical copy and had it verified by Steam without any problems. The whole process took under a half an hour in which the new game content was installed as well as the bonus clan content I received along with the Limited Edition…the Saga clan pack.

According to the updated in-game encyclopedia, the Saga clan was based around the city of Nagasaki at the far southeast tip of Japan, possessed intricate, well-developed trade and industrial links with Western powers and sided with the Emperor in the Boshin War, the Japanese civil war that divided the island nation in the late 1860s. This conflict, and the period of Japanese modernization of the entire Meiji Restoration that saw Japan transformed into a modern world empire, make up the campaigns of FOTS. Salivating yet?

Players choose between a short campaign, a long campaign and a domination campaign. The short campaign requires the player to control 14 provinces by 1870 and assure that their chosen side, either Imperial or Shogunate, controls at least 35 total provinces by the time the campaign ends. The long campaign requires the player to control a larger amount of provinces by 1876 and again assure that their chosen side controls at least 35 provinces at campaign’s end. The domination campaign is exactly what it sounds like, and requires the player to steamroll all the other factions out of Japan completely, thus dominating the islands altogether.

For my first campaign I chose the Tosa clan, an imperial-linked clan with strong naval tradition and some commercial ties. They are not as modernized as the Saga (I am saving them for when I build up some actual skill) and the game rates their initial difficulty as ‘normal.’ Shogun 2 also rated the Ikko Ikki campaign of the original game as ‘normal’ and it soundly kicked my butt (twice!), so this should be interesting, to say the least.

The first nuance the player will notice is that the campaign map has been extended to the north to include the island of Ezo. Villages, towns and cities have a more sprawling, slightly grimy look to them. There is no question that this is not the 16th century anymore.

Unit artwork is also excellent and different than the original game. The paintings of individual units have almost a steampunk quality to them and look decidedly more modern than the traditional art style of the original game, and I absolutely love it. It matches the era perfectly, is functional by giving a great visual description of the unit and creates an appropriate mood.

On the campaign map geisha, daimyo, generals, armies and navies are all portrayed in great detail, with officers taking a seat when at rest as they did in the original game, geisha fanning themselves demurely, and tiny puffs of steam emanating from the smokestacks of warships…which leads me to one of the best aspects of FOTS I have encountered so far.

New Technological Forces

The easiest new technology to notice by far is naval. Steam powered gunboats, corvettes, and cruisers are all included in FOTS and I had early access to some of them with the Tosa clan because of their naval tradition. In the early part of my new campaign I had one cruiser and two gunboats, and I built two additional gunboats at my harbor. With these I was able to scout out my immediate surroundings on the campaign map as well as support the army carrying out my first mission, to eliminate the Oza clan to my north.

With my tiny navy, I was able to harass the enemy army, shelling them at will and laying siege to their infrastructure at a whim. They had no navy at all and were easy pickings. On land however, the Oza had a robust mix of traditional samurai and spear units as well as some strong, well trained firearm units and two skilled generals. It took six different battles and some replenishment of my ranks to eliminate them and the Oza would absolutely not surrender…I was forced to shell their capital and kill all of them down to the man. I initially felt a little guilty but then recovered when I looted their capital for over 16,000 koku.

Throughout this initial conflict, it was clear that naval support, a new feature in the tactical land battles, is dangerous for everyone in the field. I called in my first naval bombardment and although it took out dozens if not hundreds of enemy troops, it also cost me hundreds of casualties to friendly fire and I wound up losing the battle anyway. So beware: naval gun support is indiscriminate and can be nasty to both friendlies and enemies. Use it with caution and respect! Additionally, when shelling enemy holdings on the campaign map I noticed that my gunboats tended to have more accuracy than my larger capital ship, which added some realistic-feeling uncertainty.

My infantry and cavalry units gave me mixed results, mainly because they were green and inexperienced. My gunpowder units seemed very accurate at first (maybe too accurate) and my cold steel units, like saber-wielding cavalry and traditional spearmen, were initially effective, but neither unit types had enough experience and confidence to stand up to the opposing Oza forces for long. Without naval support I doubt that I could have beaten the Oza at all without producing a high number of high quality units, which would lead me closer to bankruptcy. I was also mesmerized by just watching my ships shell their targets. There is something very period appropriate about it.

Fascinating, Deep Campaign

My land forces were noticeably inferior to my naval forces, and it took a few technological and philosophical upgrades and a combined arms assault from both land and sea for me to defeat the Oza, which I did ultimately. The tech tree has also been updated with new 19th century techs and streamlined, and the game’s timeline has been adjusted to reflect the more modern age. There are multiple turns per season now and bonuses of different kinds benefit the player as the seasons change, which makes FOTS feel more modern with the game progressing at a more modern pace.

So, finishing up my first few turns of the game I am left wanting more. FOTS is definitely one of those games that players think about when not playing…it gets under your skin. The clash of the traditional with the modern has always made for the best kind of Total War dynamic in previous games in the series, and it is great to see it as the centerpiece of FOTS.

I can already predict with confidence that I will play another 60 hours at least, and probably a lot more than that. With so many new features left to explore like modern foreign infantry units, different classes of steamships, and railroads, FOTS is the game I have been waiting years for.

If you are interested in Guilded Age technology and Japanese history, this is a perfect game. And if you have even a passing interest in these things, FOTS will probably stoke your curiosity even more. It is impossible not to have your mind wander too and wonder where the Total War series will go next…is Victoria: Total War very far off?

Look for a full FOTS review soon!


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