Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai review
The constantly shifting allegiances provide an absorbing backdrop, but the most fascinating part of Fall of the Samurai is the slow evolution of clan warfare, from the mass melee encounters and arrow volleys of Shogun to the thundering gun lines of Empire and Napoleon. This all takes place across a much more concentrated time period than previous Total War games: each turn represents just a few weeks. This means you have to contend with more protracted winters; armies camping outdoors in the frozen months lose men to the cold, so it’s smarter to plan sorties for the milder climes of spring. Happily, the condensed timespan means your generals aren’t likely to die of old age before the campaign is done. They level up with each victory, earning experience points to spend on a skill tree that can improve their effectiveness as raiders or defenders.
Time moves slower in Fall of the Samurai, but the pace of change feels faster than ever.
For a time the deadly arcs of welltrained samurai bowmen have the range to outmatch the inaccurate early firearms of the first line infantry. That all changes when you’re rich enough to set up international trade ports.
In Shogun 2, establishing merchant ties with foreign powers meant sending a trade skiff to a trading icon at an irrelevant, watery corner of the map. In Fall of the Samurai, you build a port big enough to cater to the demands of international trade and the route establishes itself. Much more sensible.
These mega ports are very expensive, but provide enormous income boosts once they’re up and running, and can be used to recruit well-drilled troops from abroad. In the endgame, battles consist almost entirely of gun-wielding variants on these foreign regiments, but Fall is at its best just before this, when these modern troops and Japan’s most iconic warriors fight side by side.
As the campaign progresses, pop-up boxes will notify you of the odd dilemma that needs resolving. You can either pay to solve the problem, or ignore it and go back to shuffling your armies around the campaign map. A request for a trade meeting from foreign businessmen might have upset your population, for example, or foreign nationals might have been kidnapped by disgruntled traditionalist peasants. Deciding one way or the other can appease or annoy your populace and occasionally earn useful rewards. In my campaign, I chose to pay to help rescue those hostages. A few turns later, I received a present from a grateful US government: a unit of a hundred or so US Marines sporting magnificent moustaches and state-of-the-art firearms.
They instantly became my most powerful unit. I used them to crush samurai uprisings and smash incoming enemy armies. As in previous Total Wars, units gain experience for killing men and surviving battles. Before long my Marines had become master marksmen, deadly at medium range and unshakeable in combat, but they were only one unit, and they needed protection. The solution was an honour guard of my finest Samurai warriors. Any foe that made it through my Marines’ hail of shot would have to face the blades of history’s finest swordsmen. It was the perfect balance of old warfare and new technology and served as an elegant payoff for Fall of the Samurai’s vision of Japan caught between the old world and the new.
As history demonstrated, bigger guns win out in the end. Eventually, well trained Imperial Guard units overwhelm the spears and swords of the old guard.
By the time you’re fielding gun lines four units wide you’ll probably be ready to embrace Fall of the Samurai’s final, game-changing technological advance: railways. Stations are extremely expensive, and building a line takes forward planning: you have to seize a series of adjacent territories first. But if you do manage to get a route up and running, you can move troops and agents along it instantaneously – the Japanese rail system put the British to shame even 150 years ago. In this way you can completely outmanoeuvre the enemy.
Like the international trade ports, a railway is a pricey piece of infrastructure. They’re costly to repair if damaged, too, making them perfect targets for agents skilled in sabotage. In practice, train lines only start to appear towards the end of a campaign. They’re a great reward for building a successful empire, and limited enough to stop factions from being able to constantly teleport units to your doorstep.