Shogun 2: Total War preview - The master returns

Graham Smith at

Sticking to a single location and culture provides the opportunity for the designers to focus on detail.

“The differences between the regions and the importance of the regions to your strategy should be a lot stronger [than previous games]” says Mike. “So it’s not just ‘Oh, conquer another region, conquer another region’, and you don’t care much about what they are. You’ll think more carefully about where you go and how you do it.”

Will Napoleon’s supply lines make a return? “Not by default,” says James. “We don’t necessarily keep every feature, because we’ll just end up with a bloated experience.”

“It’s a kind of Zen garden principle,” adds Jamie. “The more you refine it, the better it gets. It’s making sure that every piece is perfectly crafted and feels like it should be there, and the more you use it, the more you realise what you can do with that particular lever.”

James puts it like this: “It really is trying to make something that’s much easier to play, and much harder to master.”

[MPU]At this point, Simpson leans in. I haven’t asked a question, but he has something to say. “There’s one other area we haven’t talked about which is a focus in a way we’ve never done before. That’s art. In a way, this is the first time we’ve had a Total War game that’s an art-led game.” He pauses. “What do I actually mean by that?” Mike pauses again and James and Jamie laugh.

Jamie continues. “In Japanese environments, you get the weirdest kinds of terrain make-ups that you don’t get in Europe. You’ll get a massive hill right in the middle of a plain, with no build up to that. Literally just flat terrain, then bang, a big volcanic rock sticking up out of it, covered in trees.”

Imagine your troops standing in a paddyfield, a group of blossoming cherry trees to their right, and a Lord of the Rings style mountain thrusting from the ground in front of them, its top severed and replaced by an enormous castle. Imagine it at night. Imagine it during a storm, the shuffling of your troops highlighted by lightning. Imagine it in winter, the ground thick with snow, then imagine it different again in spring, summer and autumn.

The designers hope that Shogun 2 will look more alien than any other in the series. “There’s nothing the same about it at all,” says Jamie. “Even a samurai doesn’t just look like a guy in armour. He looks like a work of art.”

Simpson told PC Gamer last year that each Total War would re-write a single area of the game from scratch. What will be re-written for Shogun 2?

“It’s multiplayer, is where we’re taking the game and doing something very different,” says Mike. “Multiplayer has always been a bit lower down the priority list for Total War. We did the multiplayer campaign, but there’s a lot more scope for doing interesting things.”

“I guess our aim is to get to a point where the majority of people who buy the game routinely play multiplayer.” Laughing, he adds, “I really, really want to talk about this a lot but I’m not being allowed to.”

“To try covering the point that Mike desperately wants to cover,” laughs Kieran, “it’s safe to say that there is a major multiplayer innovation in the works, which we haven’t nailed down yet.”

“It’s not unambitious,” ends Mike.

With that, our conversation begins to wind down. The three designers filter out. Jamie returns a few seconds later to take some biscuits with him. The Shogun 1 menu music continues looping, two more posters flop from the walls, and I dash for my train.

It’s still early days for Shogun 2, but not too early to be excited about it. I leave with the urge to play the original, and on the train, I look over the aisle at a businessman who, with Blackberry in one hand, is controlling a laptop with the other. He’s playing Rome: Total War.

Close enough.