It took me a while to bend my head around Shogun 2's multiplayer element.
While this might be explained away by some emotional clouding (read knicker-wetting terror) brought on by the loss of just too many brave Samurai warriors in my first, bashful attempt at Shogun 2's siege battles , I honestly believe it's more down to the depth and intricacy of what the multiplayer offers. It isn't just a departure from anything Creative Assembly has implemented previously; it's quite unlike anything anyone's attempted before.
So let's get the simple stuff out of the way: you can match up for man-on-man battles, pitching your army against a fellow-player's, which is no less than you'd expect. A nice addition to this is that you can unit-share with a pal who may not be in a battle of his own, and invite him to command selected units from your army. Neat.
But Napeoleon brought 1v1 multiplayer campaigns to life, and Creative Assembly's ambition brooks no acceptance of repetition for the sake of ease. In Shogun 2, large numbers of players can be involved in a single campaign, and in a considerably more subtle and complex way than you might imagine.
Your general and his attendant army begin the multiplayer campaign planted in one of 65 territory zones, over which you have ownership. As you expand and invade new provinces, the matchmaker hunts for other player-armies of your level, ready for a fight. The battle is fought, and ownership of the province decided. Certain provinces bring key battlefield technologies to your army, so they're worth striving toward.
The big-brain genius of this is that your general and army don't represent a one-man crusade, rampaging across the map like a plague of armoured locusts with bonkers hats. You play as part of a clan, and the territory you conquer on your version of the campaign map tallies points towards the clan total. Moreover, clan leaders can direct their members to specific provinces on the map by placing a marker on that province. This becomes visible on each clan-member's campaign map. You don't see your fellow clansmen's armies on the map, but through the use of various overlays, you can track territorial losses and gains, stronghold areas, point-tallies and general ownership.
So, you have choices. Do you go for tactical land-grabs which may improve your army, or kow-tow to the head Daimyo's wishes, and work towards the common goal? It might be worth impressing the boss, as he's able to dole out army-improvement points to his favourite generals. There are enough variables here to generate some really interesting in-clan politics, and potential skulduggery.
The next stroke of genius is achievements. And don't groan; these aren't just the 'I've won 20 battles, meh' variety. As you might imagine, they're earned by achieving specific victory conditions, or adhering to a peculiar set of rules while fighting. The joy of them is that key combinations unlock new battlefield skills and technologies, which improve your fighting abilities and, ultimately your ranking. And don't get me started on just how many crazy hats you can unlock to perch on your general's head. Visual modification of your army is a fundamental part of the experience.
Achievement whoring… with meaningful consequences? Yes please. And here's the really beautiful thing: achievements can be earned in single player, too.
Factor that whole state of affairs into your clan politics. You're fighting in a key territory for your clan, hoping to impress the big cheese, and realise that you're close to hitting a desirable achievement which will enhance your arsenal. But there's a risk involved: you'll need to play a certain way to get that achievement, and what if the guy you're fighting sees what you're not doing, and exploits that? Failure beckons.
Exciting stuff, and plenty to chew over before the game's March release.