Set 300 years after the events of Shogun 2, Fall of the Samurai lets you shape Japan's fate during the Boshin War, a civil war that changed the face of the island nation forever. It takes place at a time when the ruling Shogunate opened Japan's borders to traders from the West. With firearms, railways, and industrialisation pitted against the old-fashioned ways, Fall of the Samurai is the most modern Total War game yet.
Now that the borders are open, American, British, and French forces are willing to trade with you. Building your relations with a nation grants you access to units such as the Royal Marines or the US Marine Corps to add more firepower to your army. Countries will have an initial predisposition to either the Shogunate or the Imperials and will be more likely to trade and negotiate with you if you belong to that faction.
Trading exclusively with the foreign powers will grant you big bonuses in the long run. Befriend the British, and later in the game you can "borrow" the powerful HMS Warrior, a huge ship capable of blowing others out of the water with its cannons--a useful addition to any naval force.
Naval warfare has had a complete overhaul in the game. While you can still blockade enemy ports, you can now choose to lay siege to them as well. Ships that are within cannon range of land can be called in to fire on enemy towns and cities and reduce their production of units, which can be a great benefit on the battlefield. You won't be defenseless in the face of a naval onslaught, though; those who wish to defend their coastline can upgrade their coastal defences to deter enemy naval forces.
Historical battles are back and let you re-create some of the better-known fights from the Boshin War, such as the naval battle of Miyako. The real-time battles are bigger than ever, with the roster doubled to accommodate up to 40 units. With enough research points, you can unlock some powerful weaponry, such as the Gatling and Armstrong guns.
Selecting a weapon and tapping the H key lets you go into the optional new third-person mode, where you can take control of the weapons and mow down enemy units yourself. While the Gatling and Armstrong guns hold some substantial firepower, they can be overwhelmed and destroyed by enemy forces if you're not careful.
The map has been expanded since Shogun 2 and reflects the changes in Japan at the time of industrialisation. Small settlements become towns and then expand further to become cities with huge factories that release pollution. As the map evolves, you'll notice the music changing from traditional Japanese to more Western-style orchestral music.
For the first time in a Total War game, railways make an appearance. Researching them lets you connect your provinces and enables you to move troops and resupply faster, increasing the pace of the game. You can also sabotage enemy railways or claim them for your own.
The realm divide feature makes a return in this expansion, but it has been tweaked somewhat. In previous games, if you got too big for your boots, other clans would turn on you. In Fall of the Samurai, though, it's less black and white. Become powerful enough, and you can choose to become the Imperial or Shogunate Vanguard, or choose to form your own republic. Becoming a Vanguard means that any clan who supports that faction will come flocking to your side. But beware, clans are always trading and making deals with others, and if you're not careful, your allies may defect to the opposing side.
As a stand-alone expansion, Fall of the Samurai does not require Shogun 2 to play, but if you have the game you can carry your multiplayer avatar over. Multiplayer has been balanced, so if you do bring your avatar from Shogun 2, you will not be at a disadvantage to those who are using the more modern units from this new expansion.
Fall of the Samurai is set to be released on March 23 for the PC. Are you looking forward to getting your hands on the most modern Total War to date? Let us know in the comments.