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Feature: Total War: Shogun 2 Hands-On Impressions

After going all around the world and recreating pivotal points in history, the Total War series comes full circle and returns to the country that started it all in Shogun 2. Japan has fractured into different warring clans vying for territory, and it's up the player to take up the role of Daimyo, a clan leader, to unite all of Japan under his banner. Using the latest graphics technology, players command samurai warriors to battle on the grassy fields of feudal Japan, and the introduction of rifles revolutionizes warfare across the country. Players can also take the fight out to sea with large scale sea battles.

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Total War games have always specialized in recreating epic sized historical battles by giving players command over hundreds of units. Separated out into groups, players strategically maneuver soldiers to try to get the upper hand on the battlefield, even against seemingly impossible odds. Based heavily on the writings of Sun Tzu in The Art of War, Shogun 2 commanders fight to take the high ground, find cover in forests, and make calculated use of archers that have limited ammunition. When the enemy draws close, send in swordsmen to fend them off and use the cavalry to flank enemies when the opportunity arises. Although most of the army will be equipped with bows, swords and spears, gunpowder plays a major role so players can look forward to using mobile artillery and small groups of rifle troops.

It's fair to say that even at the easiest settings, Shogun 2 is a real challenge that's designed to appeal to strategy enthusiasts that can appreciate the ever changing tides of war. Weather plays a large role and so does the morale of your troops. Having the general nearby will help bolster moral, or completely wreck it if he is killed in battle. Between all the different unit types, players will have to do a great deal of multitasking, especially in historical scenarios like The Battle of Sekigahara, where your allies may suddenly turn against you, forcing you to fight the battle from two different fronts.

There's little room for error, since there aren't any reinforcements, so players need to know the strengths of their army and how to best gain an advantage on the battlefield. Things quickly become hectic once swords clash and it can be a real challenge to manage troops spread out across the battlefield, especially if units end up chasing a fleeing group to finish them off and end up wandering too far away.

Troops are fantastically detailed as are the sea vessels. Unlike the Age of Sail depicted in the Empire games, broad side positioning isn't as much of an issue for these ships since cannons aren't in use. Instead, the emphasis lies in using bowmen to weaken a ship, possibly using flaming arrows to light an enemy ablaze, and boarding to conquer the vessel. Players must also take care, because sailing to close to a burning ship might spread the fire onto a friendly boat. Players must also keep a careful account of the soldiers they have left aboard their ships to mount successful attacks.

When not in battle, Daimyos manage over their lands by recruiting soldiers and ensuring that there's enough food to maintain them. Trade can also be established with neighboring clans, but players will also need to protect trade routes. Players have the option of taking things a step further and interrupting enemy trade routes and stealing their goods. Other less honorable methods of fighting include hiring ninjas to infiltrate enemy strongholds and sabotage them by leaving the gate open or assassinating a general.

Commanding so feudal Japanese troops will certainly put players' military prowess to the test, and it's easy to get lost in the game's beauty, zooming in close to watch the samurai battles. Apart from the difficulty, one thing we noticed were very long load times when starting the game and its missions. Hopefully that the game will be fully optimized when it releases on March 15th.

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