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Shogun 2 Fall of the Samurai Preview

If you recall, I sort of liked Total War: Shogun 2.

It was one of my favorite games of 2011 and when the expansion was announced I was anxiously awaiting to get back to Honshu. The campaign takes place roughly 300 years after the events of the base game (1864 to be exact) and with that comes all sorts of game changing features and unit types. This is no longer a game of swords and arrows with primitive firearm tech. These guys have cannons.

This is also no longer the battle to become Shogun but rather the Boshin War era. This war was a battle between the Shogunate (Tokugawa) and the Imperial forces. Many clans of the time were none too pleased with the way Japan had basically opened its gates to Western influences (the United States, Great Britain, France) in an attempt to modernize. Those loyal to the Emperor (while not only wanting power) also wanted Japan to kick the westerners out and get back to being somewhat isolationist. So they fought over it and thousands died. There’s a great irony in how that war turned out but that’s a story for another time.

Before I continue let’s get this straight: the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai jumbled a lot of different time periods of western resistance into one two hour movie. Entertaining? Yeah, it was. But it was Hollywood History. One thing though – you will see Gatling guns and other American Civil War technology throughout the game.

I’ve been playing pre-release code for Fall of the Samurai and I’m going to offer up a full review soon but even though some reviews are popping up online I wanted to give a quick rundown of what the expansion is all about before it drops on Friday.

You start out loyal to either the Shogunate or the Emperor and once your clan reaches a certain levels of prestige, a choice must be made: do you stick with your loyalties? Do you switch sides? Or do you say ‘screw the lot of you’ and declare yourself ruler of Japan?

The basic mechanics are typical to a Total War game and you’ll feel right at home with how everything works. The big hook here is that it’s 300 years later and wooden cannons, rifles, huge warships and ironclads are blended in with spearmen and men on horseback with swords. This is the most fascinating part of the expansion — this bizarre melding of ancient and “modern” technology.

Nothing drives this home more than coastal bombardment — artillery in every form in Fall of the Samurai is brutally efficient. You can call in “strikes from the sea” during a land engagement, which is just ridiculously effective even though you are limited in the number of strikes you can call. It’s like calling in the artillery in a World War II game – it’s that deadly. There’s a delay before the death reigns down on the beach but if it hits….it’s game over. In fact the navy is now an absolutely critical part of the campaign – ignore it at your own peril.

One key change from the base game is the flow of time. Each turn is no longer a season – the real Boshin War lasted roughly a year and half so when designing the expansion it’s terribly unrealistic to keep the time zip along as in the base game; this means longer springs and summers to launch campaigns and longer winters to recover from the blood of the campaign months. You’d think this would slow down the pace of the game but in fact the opposite is true. You can get a lot done in the campaign months and it’s a constant stream of attacks and counter attacks.

The other game changer is the railroad. I’m still tinkering with this but once you get your railways rolling (they are crazy expensive to both build – and repair) moving units about the map is a quick, efficient, and deadly.

Even the AI appears improved although I need to spend more time with the game before putting a stamp on it. I was worried about adding to many modern advances because the last time we saw that (Empire) the AI couldn’t handle it too well. So far this is providing a good challenge.

So far my time with the game has been a hell of a lot of fun and has rekindled my love for Shogun 2. We often plow through games at breakneck speed and it’s rewarding to get back to games that we know we enjoy – it’s like gaming comfort food and so far Fall of the Samurai is like eating a bowl of peach cobbler with cannons and Gatling gun alamode.

(And yes, I plan on doing a game diary for this one too.)