Shogun 2: Total War Impressions - First Look

The game that launched a thousand little samurai warriors returns with a very impressive-looking sequel.


E3 2010 is underway, as are rolling hands-off demonstrations of Shogun 2: Total War, a very, very impressive-looking sequel and the next Total War game from Creative Assembly. Shogun 2 takes place in the year 1545 during Japan's tumultuous "Sengoku jidai," just before the rise of the legendary warlord Oda Nobunaga, who set in motion the events that unified Japan. However, you'll have the option to rewrite history by playing as the daimyo (clan leader) of one of nine ambitious noble clans, all vying for control of enough Japanese territory to claim the hallowed title of shogun from the emperor in Kyoto.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Creative Assembly describes Shogun 2 as an "art-led project," though it might be fairer to say that the studio has been showing more attention to detail with Shogun 2 than in any other Total War game to date. Apparently, the game's art team spent an entire year studying traditional Japanese block print and brush-painting techniques to create tons of authentic-looking art to use as victory screens, defeat screens, unit icons, and general interface elements. In addition, the technology in Shogun 2 has been beefed up to create far more detailed environments that differ in appearance depending on the season of the year (springtime battles take place on lush, green fields with cherry trees shedding blossoms on all sides, for instance). Enhanced weather and particles have also been included to more realistically model effects like burning houses, along with normal-mapped terrain to allow for effects like rain-slicked ground. Shogun 2 will have more detailed real-time battle units than ever; some troops will have as many as 1,000 polygons (the highest polycount in the entire series). The game itself will be able to render some 56,000 units onscreen at once (compared to Napoleon's 10,000 or so). The game will support DirectX 9, 10, and 11--DirectX 11 rigs will benefit from the game's use of tessellation, which makes more polygons visible on each individual model without a severe performance hit. The game will also have a new dynamic lighting system that will let it display up to 300 distinct light sources onscreen at once, which makes a night battle not only possible, but also suitably dramatic looking between its torch-bearing units and its burning buildings.

The larger armies apparently come at a price. Shogun 2 will only have about 30 different types of military units, which is a far cry from games like Empire: Total War (which had considerably more). The idea was to focus on a much more tactical experience to create a game in which each unit's strengths and weaknesses are more clearly defined in a rock-paper-scissors scheme (rather than having dozens of units with different names but comparable abilities). However, Shogun 2 will carry over the naval battles of Napoleon to the Far East and will also incorporate terrain as a consideration. Coral reefs, rocky cliffs, and shoals may act as bottlenecks at which landed enemies can station shock troopers to board your ships as they pass through. It's not clear whether the developer will be able to implement hybrid land-and-sea battles that let you command both infantry and navy in the same battle (the studio is working on this feature feverishly and it may not make it into the game). In addition, siege battles are being revamped to be in line with more common tactics in feudal Japan. Rather than taking place in and around stony castles that must be breached, Shogun 2's sieges will take place at one of three different types of fortress (coastal, flatland, or mountain) upgraded to up to five different fortification levels. Rather than hide behind their walls, Japanese warlords often opened the gates to their attackers and established choke points and ambushes for the invaders--as a castle owner, you'll be able to do all these things in Shogun 2.

No Caption Provided

We watched an early, pre-alpha gameplay demonstration of a real-time infantry battle that showed a smaller force of samurai warriors take on an entrenched army that outnumbered us greatly and even had several companies of archers equipped with the dreaded fire arrows (a researchable military upgrade that severely decreases the morale of enemy soldiers and is more effective at killing them too). Before the battle began, the game played a cinematic cutscene of the general giving an inspiring speech. That's right, generals' speeches return to Shogun 2 and are dynamically generated depending on which faction you're playing, which faction you're fighting, and under what conditions (totaling some 200,000 in all).

The battle broke out first between two companies of samurai infantry, who charged at each other and engaged by pairing off in one-on-one combat. The game will have hundreds of motion-captured animations for these battles captured with the help of the British Kendo Association. Because our troops were outnumbered, our first company's morale flagged and eventually broke, and our soldiers ran for the hills, while the enemy withdrew back to its own front line. We then decided to kick our attack into second gear by mobilizing our cavalry (and fortunately for us, even though we were outnumbered on foot, our foes had no horses of their own). On the right flank, we sent in a sizeable brigade of mounted samurai to rush the enemy front line--only to have nearly half of our forces killed by volleys of fire arrows from across the battlefield. Though our first cavalry company was decimated, its survivors still managed to break through the front, and we followed up our attack by sneaking another company of cavalry along the enemy's hilly left flank (where the fire arrow archers were hidden). Then, we dramatically rushed the archers from behind, crushing them and allowing our remaining forces to mop up.

No Caption Provided

We ended our session with a brief look at naval gameplay, which included a close-up look at a few of Shogun 2's warships. In feudal Japan, most ships were oar powered (which means poor acceleration, but ships will be able to cease forward movement quickly); very few of the game's ships will be wind powered. Again, while we were shown a battle that had both ships and infantry on the playfield, it's still not clear whether the game will support mixed forces in a single battle. However, it is clear that Creative Assembly is committed to improving the artificial intelligence of the game's computer-controlled opponents--a sore spot for the series for some time. The studio is well aware that feel previous Total War games had computer-controlled allies that were simply too passive and didn't put up enough of a fight. In an exhaustive series of tests, the developer determined in some cases that some opponents favored construction too heavily in the early turns. In other cases, it found that some opponents would decide that economic expansion was cheaper and more cost effective than raising and supporting a standing army. Again, this led to scenarios where computer factions would quietly sit there and wait for you to take them over. Creative Assembly is actively seeking to eliminate these scenarios while also working on the real-time battle AI to encourage different companies to more readily recognize ideal tactics to use in clear-cut situations and to figure out better alternatives on their own when the answers aren't as clear. Shogun 2 looks absolutely remarkable. Its smaller unit mix and increased emphasis on tactical battles, as well as smarter AI, will hopefully make the game much more attractive both for beginners and veterans. The game will launch next year.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 94 comments about this story