Friday, 1 February 2013

Now Playing: Fall of the Samurai

FotS is a standalone expansion to Shogun 2 set during the period of the Meiji Restoration, as pro-Shogunate and pro-Emperor forces clash for control of Japan. It’s set across a much smaller time frame than both the base game and the Rise of the Samurai DLC campaign, with up to 24 turns per year.

The expansion brings with it a selection of new features and improvements both to the campaign and battle modes. The game, even on medium settings (I really need a new PC for Rome 2) still looks rather fantastic, particularly the combat animations, and the new 40v40 unit battles create some extremely intense, epic and bloody engagements.

The campaign map has been overhauled and expanded, and includes new features such as railways and naval bombardments (which can also be called down on the battle map to devastating effect). There are also the most modern unit types yet seen in a TW title such as Gatling guns and torpedo boats. Some units even allow for a degree of first person aiming and firing – rarely useful in large scale engagements, but a fun little bonus nonetheless.

Like in Shogun 2, the campaign and UI art is wonderful, and the soundtrack is nice too. There are new technology trees, agent types and a new, improved form of the Realm Divide mechanic that sees you either choose to stand alone, or become a part of a coalition of clans.

Unit variety, one of the major criticisms of Shogun 2 is improved here, with a selection of traditional and modern units. Playing as a pro-Emperor clan, I initially attempted to remain as traditional as possible, but as the campaign progressed and the modern weapons became increasingly powerful and deadly on the field of the battle, my full traditional armies slowly included more and more of the modern units.

That’s not to say it becomes entirely impossible to complete a campaign utilising only the traditional spear, bow and sword units - especially with carefully selected terrain and ambush tactics - but taking castles becomes increasingly difficult and results in heavy losses.

In this respect, FotS perfectly captures the essence of its title - modernization is inevitable and ultimately necessary, and the campaign side is a constant balancing act between introducing these modern innovations both on and off the field of battle and keeping your population (who are naturally resistant to such change and foreign influence) happy. Battle AI is improved as are campaign AI and diplomacy.

Criticisms? The agent and general skill trees feel a little less fleshed out than in Shogun 2. I miss the agent and unit recruitment videos and also the pre-battle speeches (although I must admit I often skipped these once I’d seen them a few times). It seemed the Battle AI was often psychically aware of where I’d targeted my offshore bombardment and quickly scooted out of the way which is irritating to say the least.

Faction variety, as in Shogun 2, is rather limited due to the setting, and of course, given the short time frame and the focus on a single country, the setting itself may be a negative for those seeking more variety in terms of terrain and combat styles.

In addition to the single player campaign, FotS also has a new multiplayer mode which I’ve not tried out yet and a series of historical battles from the period. Overall, Fall of the Samurai is an incredibly slick, polished and technically impressive title. I’m not overly enamoured with the gun-line style warfare which is probably why I didn’t enjoy Empire or Napoleon as much as the other TW titles, but FotS won me over in this regard. In fact, I’d probably rate it as the best overall Total War title yet on release. For an expansion, FotS offers potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay alone and is well worth the investment.


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