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Li-Ion 01-27-2012 07:18 AM

Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
After my recent Dark Souls-induced gaming depression, I thought I should try something completely different for a change. Games like Witcher 2 and Assassins Creed 2 simply weren't up to the task. So I was pondering and wondering, before I stumbled over Shogun 2, latest of the TOTAL WAR-series. This mix of real-time tactics and overarching turn-based strategy is something I haven't really tried before (XCom was exactly the other way round after all, with turn-based tactics and overarching realtime strategy ;)).

I have spent more than 4 hours with the game now. In any given modern military shooter I'd be almost done by now. But this is Shogun 2, so I've not even finished the tutorial.

Shogun 2 starts with a tutorial campaign, which features a Japanese looking dude speaking with a cheesy sounding accent. To my surprise, the strategy and tactics parts of the tutorial are not connected as they are in the actual game. Regardless of how many troops I send into battle, the battles are always pre-determined tutorial battles which have no relation to what you do on the campaign map. I'm not sure if this is the best way of preparing people for a campaign?

My first battle was a breeze. I just selected everything and double-clicked on the enemy to win. The second battle was a bit more challenging, as I realized that where your troops are positioned has much more impact then in let's say Starcraft. I managed to get my General in the first line, where he fought admirably, but to my growing horror I noticed that his unit strength is melting rather rapidly when outnumbered. Also, my archers were still too far away to do anything useful. I did the one thing that saved me the last time: selecting every unit and double-clicking on the samurais that threaten to slay my general. It was a disaster, a massacre, but somehow my general prevailed and by accident I killed the opposing general. Great success!

Then came the tutorial for the siege. I learned a couple of valuable lessons:
1. contrary to popular fiction, ninja suck in direct combat versus samurai
2. ninja are not invisible, and a hail of burning arrows illuminating them only underlines their visibility.
3. I should order my cannon to stop firing before my cavalry reaches the gate I just blew up
4. archers might be terrible in hand to hand combat, but they do an admirable job in shooting melee units in close range that try to climb a wall
5. don't attack with all units in one corner
I made it past the first gate, were all my units were cut down to the last man. No selecting and double-clicking could prevent that, an enormous failure.
Decisive Victory!
Wait, what? Did the game witness the same battle I just participated in? Apparently not, because the tutorial was convinced I had completely destroyed the enemies with little casualties.

I seized two more cities. This time I had a new battle strategy: just take 5 times more dudes with me than the enemy general has. Just for good measure, I took 2 generals with me. That should make my army twice as good, right?

After this worked out quite nicely, a single monk converted my special agent ninja on the campaign map. So I recruited a new ninja and a special-police guy in order to arrest/assassinate the monk. He evaded both attempts, instead converted my die-hard agents to a life of peace and buddhism. It was getting annoying at this point, but my army of doom was marching against the next city and I already traded my daughter with a neighboring clan to seal an alliance, so I didn't have much time to take care of this single monk. I recruited more ninjas and lawmen, one of them should do the trick. About 3 ninjas and 4 converted lawmen later, the monk was still happily converting my island. Who is that guy? Steven Seagal? Chuck Norris? I start understanding how the bad guys in 80ies action movies feel, that send whole armies to get rid of ONE guy and can't believe their ears hearing reports of constant failure. For good measure he also converted MY monks.

At that time I already finished off some pirates and worked on my own 'freelance trading business' (a.k.a. piracy). I loaded my army of doom, which I thought to be pretty sizeable, into ships to invade the nearest clan that doesn't like me. Most of my army got slaughtered before they got up the shore. Another massacre. I start seeing a trend here. With my general brother dead and me being on the wrong end of a no-dachi, I retreated to my cities, where Chuck Norris still disposed of my ninjas as if they were butterflies.

I think I'm ready to start a real campaign.

Zanbatou 01-28-2012 12:18 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
Thanks for your impressions. I love reading stuff like this. Let us know how your campaign goes.

I think I was too much of a perfectionist way back when I tried the original Shogun. The lack of complete control over my armies drove me crazy. I couldn't stand when I was unable to make my troops do exactly what I wanted or, worse still, when they started to outright disobey my orders. I remember replaying battles over and over until I was able to flank perfectly and absolutely slaughter the enemy. I never did finish an entire campaign.

I think I'd enjoy the series much more now. I realized sometime in the last decade that games are often much more interesting when things are going wrong. That's where all the best stories come from. Like your struggles against the Chuck Norris monk. Great stuff.

I doubt I'll get around to playing the game any time soon, if ever. I know how much time games like this can take up. But thanks to you the series is back on my radar.

Li-Ion 01-28-2012 04:44 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2

Originally Posted by Zanbatou (Post 200121)
Thanks for your impressions. I love reading stuff like this. Let us know how your campaign goes.

Thank you for the kind words :)


I think I was too much of a perfectionist way back when I tried the original Shogun.
It is pretty hard to get past the 'perfectionist' method in playing games. I don't even blame quicksave for this. In games you can always go back and have a fresh start and even permanent decisions are only permanent for that specific playthrough. Even in a tough game like Dark Souls, where the autosave is as merciless as it can get.

Sid Meier gave a talk some time ago where he described some things he learned when analyzing how people played Civilization. He had this idea that, after the player build up his civ a bit, there should be a good chance that the AI would attack ruthlessly and bring the players civ close to the brink. Then the AI should retreat, to give the player some time to rebuild, because he wanted to convey the feeling of rebuilding an even greater empire from the ashes.

99% of players never did that, because they would just reload an old save if that happens. They would never get this feeling like being a phoenix from the ashes because they wanted a 'perfect' game. That made me think about my own gaming rituals. I immediately started a new game of civ, where I vowed not to reload an old save, unless I genuinely misclick horribly (sometimes I wish for a simple undo-button).

That was the first time I lost a game of civilization. It made the game better though, because I realized I never 'truly' played civ, if that makes sense. I never made a decision that mattered, since I would always reload and try to get a better solution. Now I play more considerate and don't just send my army over and over in a no-win-scenario, just to reload until random chance would make my spearmen take down two tanks and a helicopter.


The lack of complete control over my armies drove me crazy. I couldn't stand when I was unable to make my troops do exactly what I wanted or, worse still, when they started to outright disobey my orders.
Isn't that great? The last RTS I played excessively was Starcraft 2, where every unit obeys your every whim. It is a great game, but the fact that every soldier can be bossed around makes me never feel like I'm commanding an army.

An army consists of people, which generally have some sense of self preservation. You would never believe that from any game of Starcraft, Warcraft or Command & Conquer. In Total War I don't feel like I'm having control the same way I do in Starcraft, where control is absolute, but I actually feel like I'm commanding an army.

Next time I'm here I'll be giving you some impressions of my new campaign, which might be over very quickly in a disastrous fashion :D

p.s.: I found the talk I mentioned by Sid Meier, it was from GDC2010 and can be found here:
About an hour long.

Pedro 01-28-2012 07:43 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
Good stuff! I must admit, my finger hovered ove the 'Buy Shogun 2' button during the Steam sale at Xmas but I didn't follow through. Pieces like this are often the best type of advertising and it's now on my radar again when I get a PC capable of playing it and have the time to put into learning how to play it (the latter is probably the biggest obstacle).

Interesting stuff about playing perfectly, and it can definitely be enjoyable fudging through with various things going wrong and the 'campaign' spiralling out of control.

A minor example of this would be Lautrec in Dark Souls - I knew he was up to no good (maybe it was the sinister laugh that gave it away) but I had no reason to kill him at that stage, and it was enjoyable to see where the story would go, even though most people I knew looked that up and killed him immediately. I lost no time kicking him over the edge of Firelink Shrine in NG+.

Mount and Blade had a difficulty setting where you only had one save. It was great, as a misjudgement on your part could see the troops you'd spent ages training up wiped out or captured, you taken prisoner, and choice pieces of armour (or later in the campaign, whole cities or forts) confiscated. It was the only way to play.

Li-Ion 01-28-2012 01:23 PM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
I am Ujiyasu, Daimyo of clan Hoyo. It is the year 1545 the question was posed: who will become the new Shogun?

Probably not me, judging by how things went so far. But I get ahead of myself. You want a cup of tea? Tea ceremonies are a sign of honor and who doesn't want to be a honorable Shogun?

Clan Hoyo starts out on an appendix-shaped peninsula in the southeast of the mainland. Hoyo are master builders, but the reason I picked Hoyo was because I like the symbol. It reminds me of the triforce of a far away land. On the appendix I own two provinces. I thought one of them is on fire already, but it turned out just to be a blacksmith. Right away there was an enemy army in my territory. The vile clan Ogigayatsu dares to walk on my land? I will crush this enemy! See them driven before me and hear the lamentation of the women! A swift right click and my armies went into motion. My trusty general, 3 units of spearmen and 1 unit of archers. Give em hell boys! I sit here in my castle and wish you luck.

At the begin of the battle I put my units in a nice defensive formation. My idea was to have my spearmen take the blunt of the cavalry charge, I'd try to get my units in the flanks, all the while my sole archer unit makes... something. As the battle started, the enemy ahead refused to run into my (rather obvious) trap. Instead the ran up a hill to the side and disappeared in the woods. That was not running according to plan. I waited a while, but they probably already started a nice picnic up there. Grumpy I moved my army uphill into the woods. The ensuing battle wasn't pretty. The enemy had more units and especially more archers. Due to my generals abilities I could prevent my units from fleeing and somehow won the battle. A phyrric victory.

After getting some more troops, I took pretty much all my units and went to take sweet revenge. And for hearing lamentation, of course. Reaching my target I attacked right away the quaint little fortress opposing my might. Well, after some trash-talk. The Japanese kind of trash-talk, mind you, which could not be further from the talk Marcus Fenix utters if they would be on different worlds. Oh, wait, actually they are... anyway: needless to say, it didn't go well. However, somehow I managed to get a small group of spearmen past the grand melee at the west wall to the heart of the fort, claiming victory! Another costly victory. However, you should see the other guy.

With one neigbour down, I looked at the clans surrounding me. Two were allied, attacking one would proably cause trouble with the other. The clan on the other side was friendly towards me however. So I decided to start trading with the ally of my enemy, hoping he would think twice attacking me once we're nice trading partners. I also started trading with the clan on the other side, to prevent them from falling in my back once the fighting starts. All I needed now was to gather forces and look for a way how to start a war with my target but not with everyone else. Just as I gather a nice army and ponder what excuses to make, my chosen target suddenly marches against me. Brilliant! I would love to say I planned this all along. Siege was laid on my town. The enemy outnumbered me quite extensively and I realized I accidentally marched two units of cavalry to reinforce my troops instead of the archers I wanted to send. What good will cavalry serve me when defending a siege?

The battle started and thanks to my archer/cavalry mixup I didn't have enough archers to cover all sides. My east wall was completely undefended. My enemy, not having such troubles, had me completely surrounded with tons of archers and crack samurai units with nerves of steel and a lust for blood. Also no less than 3 generals opposing my trusted general. Also, I had a siege weapon, which was the only thing my attackers were lacking. But what good is a siege weapon that more often than not has troubles hitting a solid wall against a moving army? Things were looking grim. They started to march. Suddenly I realized that the units nearing the undefended east wall were all archers. Not a single melee unit? CAVALRY! ATTACK! I furiously double-clicked as if my life depended on it (the virtual life of my general did, for sure) and my light cavalry ran into the fray. Arrows were raining on them, but they could close the gap quickly and were wreaking havoc in the lines of archers. The insane slaughter displayed made all neighboring enemy units uneasy. As the first two units of archers were turned into minced meat, I sent my cavalry to attack the next, which happened to have moved further already, exposing their flanks. The first unit started to flee pretty much as the horses were looking at them funny. Back at the wall, the samurai started to climb the wall, being pushed back repeadedly by archers and my only samurai unit. As I moved my general a bit forward, I noticed the archers in range would start shooting at him immediately. Now that the enemy archers were stationary, my siege engine would even cause some damage. Most of the damage was taken by my own wall, however. After a misfire from the siege engine almost destroyed my south gate, I threatened painful death and they stood down.

My cavalry had smashed through the next row of archers and was now getting to the south gate, smashing into more archers. Samurai that were on wallclimbing duty jumped back off to confront my cavalry, which made them easy targets for my archers. At that point the enemy troops were in complete disarray and to my surprise I hardly lost anything. A last charge by the generals themselves smashed into one of my heroic cavalry units, wiping them from the map just seconds before they fled the battlefield.

A heroic victory!
Only 28 made it out alive of more than 1800 that were attacking me. And I lost only about 300 soldiers.

Spured by this success, I took all my armies and marched against the enemy capital. Laying siege for a round, I noticed it became winter. I got a message some of my soldiers died during the siege. Looks like we forgot warm blankets and tea. After two seasons of siege, the enemy general got fed up and attacked me. That turned out to be excellent, since it meant I don't have to scale their walls. Another victory! Defending is much easier in this game than attacking it seems. I just have to make them attack me every time and I should be fine!

I sent a ninja to scout ahead. My plan was to take the last province, thus destroying this puny clan, before next winter. Otherwise I'd need more blankets this time. My ninja, handy in sabotage and mayhem, put some farms on fire. As I went further to the city to check their army I noticed it was massive. I thought I had wiped out most of the army already, how much more can they possibly have? And they still have 3 generals? Do they grow on trees there or what?

Then I suddenly realized: this army had a different flag. An entirely different flag indeed. They were not at war with me (yet... wait until they find out about their farm....). My ninja returned to my nearest city at once and I started diplomatic relations with my newfound enemy. They were unfriendly. However: they said yes straight away to my trade proposal. That's odd. Normally such a proposal involves threats, bribery or a nice lump of money, even if the clan is only 'indifferent'. Then my view went to a notification. Tea ceremony? Why would I research that?

Shogun 2 has two distinct tech paths. One is Bushido, which involves everything that hurts one way or the other. Weapons and combat techniques. The other is Chi, which covers bonuses for economy and social interactions. At the beginning of the game I had researched some basic Bushido-related upgrades, before researching some Chi, with the aim of getting to better farms since an army marches on its stomach after all. The way the upgrade system works is that every time an upgrade is done you get notified, but you don't automatically get to the menu to choose your next upgrade to research. Instead the program picks a default(?) and you have to open the upgrade menu to pick something different if you want. As it turns out, I had neglected exactly that and my upgrades went down to tea ceremonies and even more advanced forms of drinking tea. The tea ceremony gives me a bonus to my 'honor' and the higher tier-stuff further bonuses to diplomacy.

While everyone around me had gotten two-handed swords and similar, I had mastered the art of brewing tea. I looked at the map and indeed: all my neigboring clans were at war with each of their immediate neighbors except me.

Now I'm surrounded by two clans that both think I'm super-cuddly and we're BFF. But my armies are too big and starving out my lands. Food shortages make my peasants unruly and if I don't come up with something quick I will have a riot on my hand. I have to do something, now. No more Mr. Nice Guy...

Li-Ion 02-01-2012 06:18 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
Quite a lot has happened, since I posted the last time. Shogun 2 gets more interesting as I go and I slowly realize where I could have done better so far.

I write these words as my Hojo-Empire reaches legendary status. Large parts of Japan are under my control or controlled by my pawns or allies. But my empire is also stretched to the brink. I am locked in old wars and driven into new wars because of alliances. I have two major battlegrounds. My main army lead by Daimyo Hojo Ujiyasu is holding off siege after siege in the west, as armies of clan Shimazu clash against my castle walls. All the while my son and heir marches against some puny little upstart clan in the center of Japan. Just to give you an impression, here is the map as it looks at the start of the game:

Clan Hojo is in blue with the triple-triangle symbol. Currently my Daimyo is battling in the west where clan Mori started (in red). Clan Mori itself already perished. My son and heir is coming from the province in white, where Tokugawa started (already perished as well) and marches into the yellow region, where clan Oda started (Oda was the second major clan to fall). My empire is currently split into two, because of this upstart-clan that has conquered large parts of what my ally clan Takeda (dark red) was holding in the center. My son shall unite my clan and by that show that he is worthy to lead my empire in future, as I grow old and don't know how much time is still left.

Last time I left being locked between clan Takeda and clan Satomi, as a puny empire. Let me briefly tell how it became that my clan became a major player after all. I allied with Takeda and declared war on Satomi, which was in the east of my starting position. I also started trading and got eventually allied with Satomis other neighbor, forcing Satomi to a two-front war. This was fairly successful, but I was still severely outgrown by my ally Takeda. Takeda moved aggressively towards Kyoto (in the center, near the large lake) and to the north, seizing large territories. All went well for Takeda, until they picked a fight with Clan Hattori. Hattori pushed Takeda back, until I suddenly realized Hattori reached my doorsteps. At the same time Shimazu (green, all the way in the west) suddenly invaded my hinterland and seized two territories rather quickly. This is the source of my feud with Shimazu, which holds until this day.

I abandoned the art of brewing tea and learned the art of shooting flaming arrows. In a brutal siege and with help from ally Takeda I could crush Shimazu on home soil and drive them back. That, and my large scale use of ninjas, monks and metsuke (special police) against Hattori gave Takeda momentum and they reclaimed large territories in central Japan. My ninja started to resemble ninjas from movies with his ability to slow down armies and kill generals left and right. He wasn’t my only ninja, but all the others got themselves killed trying to do similar.

That was when I made the mistake of splitting my empire. At first it sounded like a good plan: since I could march my armies freely through allied territory, I could cross Takeda-controlled provinces quickly and attack enemies far away, while Takeda would serve as buffer. It worked out in the beginning. I also bribed an then unknown and not very powerful clan to let me pass with my armies for 5 seasons. That allowed me to strike one of Hattori’s lackeys with their pants down and give me access to the sea in the north. This was also when I got my first vassal. After seizing some provinces, it is an option to make that province or even an entire clan a vassal state. I still haven’t figured out how it works exactly. I’m sure it’s written down in the extensive ingame-encyclopedia, but I’m too lazy do have a look. Anyay, they retain their independence, but have to pay tribute in form of percentage of all the trade they have, one military unit and can’t say no if I order them to attack someone.

After 4 seasons the small clan cancelled our agreement to let my troops pass through. That should have sent alarm bells right there, but I was too busy seizing a Shimazu settlement at that point. You might wonder what happened to the Hattori. They were still pretty much my enemies, but somehow I lost sight of where they are. Also, they were busy getting their provinces back from Takeda, as to be an immediate threat to me. The only thing Hattori did at that point to annoy me was send Judge Dredd after me. This metsuke ran up and down my provinces for years, arresting or executing my agents. My ninja-movie style ninja, was at that point of the other side of Japan. Judge Dredd wreaked havoc and single-handedly destroyed my large secret police force. Only two metsuke, one monk and ninja-movie-ninja survived this madness because they happened to be at the other side of Japan.

But I had other problems: my main force had seized a castle at a mountain pass at Shimazu territory. As long as I could hold this castle, clan Shimazu could not simply walk into Mordor. I mean towards my provinces. I invested into improved defenses, hired local archers and prepared for the incoming onslaught. It was a glorious day, when the Daimyo of clan Shimazu himself came to battle with my Daimyo for supremacy of the mountain pass. I was outnumbered and outgunned. Shimazu had a massive army consisting of their feared katana samurai (Shimazu get bonuses for sword wielding troops) and bow samurai. But I had solid walls to hide behind. As the battle started, I did what I learned at the last massive siege and lead out my cavalry troops to flank the main unit of enemy archers. One of my generals would lead them, while the Daimyo oversaw the defenses of the castle itself. It was an intense battle, which cost a lot of good troops their lives. The general who was leading the cavalry troops died an honorable death. He will always be remembered. I just can’t remember his name though…

I was so pre-occupied with Shimazu, I failed to notice the downfall of clan Takeda. My oldest ally was driven back on all fronts and only a shadow of it’s former glory. More problematic for me: Takeda lost central Japan entirely, leaving some upstarts and clan Hattori in charge there. Yes, old-time enemy Hattori was back. That meant my empire was divided. The only way to reinforce troops would be via the sea. As if I wouldn’t have enough wars already, one of those upstarts, Illo-something, attacked one of my vassal states. Bound by honor, I had to declare war myself, albeit not being able to really afford a war on three fronts. My ninja-movie-ninja continued to be a pain in the lands of Shimazu, killing not only generals but large parts of the extended family of the new Daimyo (the previous one had fallen in battle). Needless to say, that didn’t reconcile anything. The new Daimyo collected fresh troops from all parts of his territory and marched towards my mountain castle, which I was just trying to improve at this point. I needed to slow down his advance, a task my ninja excelled in. On the other fronts I noticed that small armies without general are easily bribed by metsuke. So I did exactly that: bribing small armies in enemy territory and attacking their cities with what happened to be their own troops 5 seconds ago. And that brings us into the present. While I hold out against an overwhelming army of Shimazu, my heir marches into war to seize the provinces weakened by my metsuke, those who survived Judge Dredd. Dredd is still out there, however. I have this feeling he might strike again, just when I need him the least...

Li-Ion 02-01-2012 06:22 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
sorry double post for some reason...

Pedro 02-02-2012 05:17 PM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
Looks like its getting interesting! The AI 'blunders' when they started beseiging your city - sending unprotected archers to the walls etc - is that common or just a result of the difficulty being turned down for your first game? You seem to be doing really well (though not for much longer maybe).

Li-Ion 02-03-2012 03:10 AM

Re: Li-Ion goes to TOTAL WAR! Shogun 2
I noticed that the AI simply sends too many archers for a siege. There are just not enough melee units to cover all the archers, thus there are always some groups of archers you can pick apart with cavalry. There is even stranger AI behavior during battle however: at one siege I could kite a total of 5 units away from where they wanted to attack and brought them around to a neat field of fire of my archers. All it needed was a general (who is a cavalry unit). Apparently the AI can't resist sending slow moving infantry after the lonely command unit on horseback for the chance that he might stop and they could catch up. A human player would quickly realize that infantry could never catch up. Apparently the AI sees that a bit different.

On the campaign map the AI seems to operate quite good. At least I didn't notice big blunders apart from sending too many archers. It's the real time battles where the AI has problems with odd human behavior.

I play on normal difficulty, which I generally assume is the difficulty these games are supposed to be played at.

Regarding doing well: after the initial struggle I managed to get things going in the mid-game. Now I am at the end-game and things turn to the worst. For my next posting I'll place a spoiler-tag for what exactly happens in the endgame in case you want to have a similar "wtf?"-feeling as I got. Let's put it that way: I was not prepared for this.

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