Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai review
All of this makes for a great campaign. The AI felt competent throughout: allied clans in particular seemed unusually helpful, sending fleets to help me bombard enemies and sending sizeable armies to my aid. But there are occasional niggles.
The enemy AI had a tendency to build slightly bizarre forces. A major host belonging to the prosperous Matsuyama clan rolled up to my base in Bizen with a general and 14 identical troops of mid level linemen, making for an easy counter. But these were outliers, and potentially the work of historically accurate simpleton generals. Most of my foes were perfectly capable of building railways and using offshore bombardments to wreck my towns.
Out at sea, naval combat still has problems, too. The powerful guns and torpedoes of the new steam ships make for more decisive battles, but wet war is, by its very nature, a sluggish affair. Scrambling for a broadside while your ship executes huge, slow turns is just frustrating. You can now take direct control of your cannons and aim them, but this often means trying to pick the enemy out through a forest of masts. It’s hard to do a better job than your AI crew. I found myself accepting the extra losses and auto-resolving most of my naval battles.
A wider problem is the lack of difference between the Imperial and Shogunate sides of the conflict. Each clan starts in a different position and each has their own specialities, but they travel down the same clan development tree and, towards the end, fight with the same units. You can try to stave off the advance of technology to stay in line with the Shogunate’s traditionalist values, and you’ll experience fewer revolts among the populace if you do, but obstinately avoiding the chance to play with some of Fall of the Samurai’s finest units is a move for alternate history buffs and the terminally traditionalist only.
Many of these troops are also available in Fall of the Samurai’s multiplayer mode, which will let you create a new avatar that can be levelled up with victories against human opponents. This unlocks new armour pieces that reflect the Boshin War period, and there’s a massive new tech tree that lets you specialise in gunpowder weapons or create hard hitting Bushido melee units. At the very top of the tree you can unlock bombardments, too. It’s too early to tell how well balanced these abilities will be when the multiplayer mode moves out of closed beta, but it’s hard to imagine standard Shogun 2 armies standing up to artillery. Outside of multiplayer and the campaign, there’s also a good series of historical battles to play through which tell the story of the Boshin conflict.
This is a great expansion. Shogun 2 was about taking a clan and carving out a niche in history in a time of tumultuous change. Fall of the Samurai is about being part of a larger conflict. It takes the strong narrative drive of Total War DLC such as Empire’s Warpath and Napoleon’s Peninsular Campaign and applies them on a much bigger stage while simultaneously taking Shogun 2’s warfare to a new age with a series of smart, satisfying technological advances. With better boat combat, clan objectives that tie into the fate of Japan and greater differences between Shogunate and Imperial forces this would sail past the 90 mark, but as is it’s still superb.
If you’ve played Shogun 2 to death, there’s enough here to make the war for Japan feel fresh again. If you haven’t, buy Fall of the Samurai anyway, if just for that magnificent, booming artillery
a glorious scramble for power elevated by some fantastic new units. Shame about those boring boat battles.