"We were talking a moment ago about a historical character who, in a battle, inspired his men to great feats of bravery by cutting his own head off during the charge,” says Mike Simpson, Creative Assembly's creative director. “Now, this is obviously a one shot special ability.”
Total War is going back to the beginning. Before there was Napoleon, or an Empire, or a Rome to fall, there was Shogun: Total War. Released in 2000, it wed battlefield tactics and campaign strategy, enabled us to conquer feudal Japan, and turned its developers from creators of EA Sports titles to leaders of strategy gaming. This is a return to where it all started.
Where Napoleon was meant as a standalone expansion to Empire, one that grew larger than expected, Shogun 2 is absolutely meant to be the next major entry in the series. I've travelled to Creative Assembly's headquarters, to a room where the Shogun 1 menu music plays on a loop and Shogun 2 posters keep peeling from the walls, to get the first glimpse of what Creative refer to as both Total War 6 and Total War 0.
“The idea is to take roughly ten years of experience in making Total War games and make the game we wanted to make right at the beginning,” explains Kieran Brigden, CA's communications manager. “We take all the technology and advancements in everything we've done and we apply that to making the game we wanted to make right at the start.”
So it's back in Japan – that much is obvious – but a lot of the details are different. Your journey for supremacy begins in 1540, later than the beginning of the original game, which Simpson now feels got off to too slow a start. There are now four turns a year, one for each season, rather than just two. And the fight for Japan is between eight clans – not including a ninth tutorial faction.
“All of these warring factions in the 1540s period are poised to take over Japan,” Kieran says. “Direct assault on the emperor himself is absolutely forbidden because he's God's representative on Earth, but you can still control the emperor as a puppet, much like people did with the papacy in medieval Europe, by saying, 'I'm clearly the military force here, and if you designate me as the Shogun – the armed protector of all Japan – then I will be the sword for your heavenly vision. Shogun 2 is about becoming that powerful.”
During my visit I spoke to Simpson, Brigden, Total War's lead designer James Russell, and Shogun 2's design lead Jamie Ferguson, and what immediately became clear is that it's still early days. Some of the questions I asked during our discussion would elicit not an answer, but a smirk and a knowing look between them. They're obviously still in meetings every day, talking about the game and trying to work out exactly what they're doing. But they're also obviously loving every moment of it, and their excitement at returning to Japan is infectious.