Creative Assembly brought us another installment for Shogun 2 Total War series with Fall of the Samurai (FotS). The original Shogun 2 was about Sengoku Jidai and then there’s Rise of the Samurai DLC. If Rise of the Samurai centered around three sides competing for the ruling of Japan with the invention of Samurai class, Fall of the Samurai is something that you can expect from the title itself. But how does it fare with that infamous Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai?
It’s worth to note that, the game poster is somewhat misleading. Sega, or perhaps Creative Assembly, are like trying to give an idea at us that we will be playing Tom Cruise’s Last Samurai the Game. Apparently all sides have somewhat identical units. No, it’s not even about unbalanced type of weaponry as the movie depicted. In fact, you can recruit both samurai and Western-styled units side by side. This standalone expansion is all about the clash between Imperials and Shogunate.
So, what the game offers? Six competing clans with three clans on each side. Well, if you made pre-order on Steam like me, there’s an additional playable extra clan. Depends on where you made your pre-order, you will get different additional clan since Sega’s currently promoting their own store (I am not sure if that’s worse or better than Origin). Both the Emperor and Shogun pursuit for modernisation of Japan. But modernisation made people unhappy. In FotS, certain buildings can be built in the city to curb people’s restlessness over modernisation like fort upgrades, police station and inn. Western barracks, ports and factories may add more modernisation unlocks to the clan for researching on the tech tree. Traditional buildings like samurai barracks and gambling dens reduce modernisation points but certainly adding happiness to the citizens.
Nation building is pretty much easier. Easy to get money and food supplies are no longer required to upgrade the cities unlike in the original Shogun 2. As long as you got the money, things in the cities are fine and you can get more income through various buildings. City upgrades, farms, cottages/factories, ports and inns are things that provide city income. I believe FotS is pretty much the easiest in many Total War games as each cities can do almost all of the upgrades at the same time. Empire and Napoleon Total War were pretty much city-dependent on what kind of upgrades or income that you can get.
Now we go on to the military side of the game. Land units are more deadly than ever. Introduction of Gatling guns like in the trailer are surely make people think that the weapon is overpowered. Practically, the guns have very few movement points in the campaign map. Attaching them in your stack of army would make them move less than any standard army of infantry can go. Which is why I prefer to use Armstrong guns. This cannon is pretty much the deadliest weapon in all range. Plus it can destroy buildings unlike Gatling guns. Cannons in the original Shogun 2 were weak since it’s mostly used as siege weapons. Armstrong guns, however, are killing machines on the battlefield. It’s long range accuracy can devastated an infantry unit long before they can reach the guns position. I tried 10 guns (a unit has 4 cannons, so it means 40 cannons) against 10 Line infantries (a unit has 150 personnel) and the result was the routing of the infantries. Why? Apart from lone range attack, the guns also have canister rounds for some short range blows to deal with the large concentration of the infantries. Also, this gun and Parrot Cannon can be limbered in case you want to change your position in the battle.
The main line infantries use muskets. While standard riflemen usually have shorter range in their line of fire than bow samurai, they have larger number in a unit and creating such units only require 1 turn unlike 2 turns for any kind of samurai unit from the Traditional samurai barracks. Plus, Sharpshooters unit that use muskets have similar range as bow samurai. The bullets from musket defy armor which make the lowest rank of infantry, the Levy Infantry, can fight very well especially when defending a siege attack (as long as the attacking side didn’t bring cannons). Although Levy Infantry has the lowest morale so they love to run away when enemy attempt to have melee attacks on them. On a funny note, every rifle infantries in FotS use katana or sabre for melee. Wait? What happened to the bayonets? Graphically, the bayonet didn’t exist. Historically, the infantries did use bayonets, like in the Last Samurai movie (if you bother me to say that).
There are several kinds of units. While identical to all sides, Aizu clan of Shogunate has Levy Infantry being replaced as Tiger Infantry. While being listed as line infantry and has slightly more strength, it cannot do Kneel Firing (must be research on military tech tree) like any other line infantry could. Not forgetting that it’s pricier and quite a challenge during the start of the game with Aizu to recruit any of them being at war with neighbouring clan. Standard line infantry for Aizu is called Black Tortoise Force. Then they have Azure Dragon Force (remember Date Masamune?) and elite unit of Vermillion Bird Force. Other clans do not have such differentiation of units like Aizu apart from special elite units. Special elite units are like Satsuma’s Black Bear, Choshu’s White Bear and Kihetai, and Tosa’s Red Bear and Tosa Riflemen.
If you’re trading or rather established a formal relationship with a specific foreign countries (between British, French and United States), you will be able to recruit specific foreign units like United States Marines, Royal Marines and French Legionnaires. While historically absurd since these foreign governments never really provided Japan with actual combat units other than veterans to only train them, the addition of limited units such as this make the game more fun in this way. Foreign units use an advanced weaponry that I guess would be Snider-Enfield type of rifle (using cartridge) due to supreme rate of fire. Historically, Japan at that time just barely using Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket while earlier they had matchlocks (through Traditional barracks, you can train Matchlock Kachi). Apart from land units, Ironclads are build-able from the trade port (only one) that has an established connection with a foreign country although there’s a build limit for the Ironclads. In addition to that, you can have Torpedo boat for naval battle. Yep, a freaking torpedo boat and it can destroy any kind of vessels with one or two shots.
I believe, apart from units and other addition, the best thing to have is the Foreign Veteran unit, the training agent. While there are Ishin Shishi (or Shinsengumi for Shogunate) that adds repression to a city or persuade enemy forces with money or assassinate enemy generals/agents, Geisha that can enchant enemy agents/general to switch side or entertaining nobles in city, or Ninja that can sabotage buildings or assassinate enemy agents/generals, Foreign Veteran can train troops to gain experience without going to battles. While Foreign Veteran can also challenge enemy agents/generals to a duel and also harassing enemy units (a Ninja can sabotage enemy army but harassing may reduces enemy units a bit by bit), training army is a very powerful addition to this expansion of Total War. For instance, you might have one or two regions at the start of your campaign but by having some Foreign Veterans that can train your army, it can be a huge advantage when you’re ready to start conquering nearby regions. On a funny note about this agent, despite having his look pretty much foreign, his profile animation is pretty much the same as any Japanese units with bowing and such.
Like usual Total War games, there will always be some bugs although it’s pretty much minor compared to Empire Total War or Medieval 2 Total War. There’s one time when my Levy Infantries (as I mentioned earlier, the very basic rifle infantry), about 13 or 14 of them, being fully trained in a city that suddenly being besieged by superior enemy forces in term of technology. Interestingly, the auto-resolve option shows that my forces are superior than them by 90% of winning (due to experiences I guess). But when I clicked it, I lost the battle decisively. I loaded the auto save file and have another go, I lost it decisively again. It’s true that between auto-resolve option and real-time battle may have different impact but I am not that keen to play a real-time battle all over the time. Though defending a castle with those levies is pretty much easy where you just have to let them come to you. Another funny thing is, while it’s pretty much possible, but I almost lost all of my ships,including Iron-plated Frigates, just because the enemy had a single torpedo boat.
In another occasion, despite you’re using a lot of levies, having 3 to 4 units of Armstrong Guns really can change the battle. I seldom using cavalry for my armies in the campaign because they are smaller in unit counts compared to foot soldiers and bullets, the bullets in the game do not care what kind of soul you have. I had my general killed in the battle due to a stray bullet despite his unit being dormant at the back of the battle. Although it’s proved to be useful to have cavalries in real-time battle to flank the enemies from sides.
How about the traditional units like Katana samurai? Yep, you still can train them as I said earlier. Yari samurai, archers and even mounted ones. Even you can train hero samurai units like the ones in the original Shogun 2. But having armors on their bodies do not make any differences against bullets. Of all, they’re like some cannon fodders and target practice for riflemen. The only units that I always use from Traditional barracks are bow samurai and the mounted bow samurai. Bow samurai on horses are very useful as they can shoot almost omnidirectional while moving.
Having said all of that, FotS made a critical move that displeased some people where it replaced Japanese unit voices with Engrish. But it’s very hilarious for one to refuse not to play this game just because of that. As a fan of Total War games, I play the game not because of such tiny matter. What people are complaining the most was that a full standalone game like this only added Hokkaido in the map. That’s because people are expecting some addition to Korean Peninsular or maybe some parts of Mainland China. It’s being speculated that there might be a few more DLCs to be made available for Shogun 2 like those for Empire and Napoleon Total War. But with such time span, perhaps Creative Assembly have already had another project in development.