Fall of The Samurai, the latest expansion of Total War: Shogun 2, takes us back to the late feudal period of Japan and presents us with one simple task (well, maybe not that simple) – choose sides in the war for the future of Japan and wipe out the opposition off the island. As befits a great expansion, FoTS does not re-invent the wheel, but rather refreshes the familiar gameplay, and innovate where it needs to. But is it really worth going back all the way to Japan of old just for a few new units? Well, FoTS offers a little more than that.

Veterans of the Total War series are probably already familiar with the elements that made it one of the most successful strategy game series of all time, but for those who have never experienced it, let me elaborate: Shogun 2 is a turn-based strategy game with real-time battles, that puts the player in the shoes of a military general which must expand his territory by means of diplomacy or war. Fall of The Samurai doesn’t change this formula much, but adds to it and builds on it with new units, more advanced technological levels, several significant changes to naval battles and of course a completely different story.

Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of The Samurai takes place about 400 years after the events in the original game. Japan had become a united and prosperous nation, that opened its doors to the Western world, and even began to adopt some of the advanced technology (relatively speaking) it offers. FoTS is the first game in the Total War series that allows players to take advantage of such technology, including steamers, trains and even machineguns. Of course, all this technology is nice, but thriving peace periods do not offer much challenge for shrewd strategy gamers. Fortunately, the peace and economic boom do not last long, and soon a new Shogunate questions the Emperor’s right to rule over the Japanese Empire, and declares war on him.

At the beginning of the campaign the player has to choose sides in a military conflict – whether to join the armies of the emperor, or the forces of Shogunate. There are three tribes to choose from on either side, each with different initial difficulty level and benefits. From here on the game is pretty standard, and anyone who played Shogun 2 before will get the hang of things very quickly. What about those who did not to the opportunity to play the aforementioned strategy game, you ask? Well, FoTS is an excellent entry point for anyone who always wanted to enter the world of strategy games, but was concerned about the steep learning curve. This expansion is very friendly towards new comers, particularly at lower difficulties, and offers quite a lot of tips and hints for beginners who are willing to invest time and learn all the little details. Less patient players can learn the trade in real time thanks to in-game consultants which provide general information about the new units and the various game modes.

As mentioned, the real highlight of Fall of the Samurai is the new technology that is available to the player; Westerners brought with them more than foreign currency and funny hats – they brought steam-based technology (after all, the industrial revolution just ended). The most notable addition is the railroad tracks: for the first in the series, you can build railroads along the map, enabling rapid and effective deployment of land forces. Like the familiar trade lines, railroad tracks are also susceptible to sabotage or other interference from the enemy and it’s important to keep them safe, especially during wartime. This addition certainly contributes to a sense of total war on the island, and the ability to quickly advance units a significant distance makes it easy for the player to manage multiple fronts simultaneously.

Like the new steam-powered trains, in the Japanese Navy also they also enjoys modern, state-of-the-art steam ships that can cause a lot of damage to less advanced enemy ships and ports. Better ships are not the only change to the game’s naval combat system; FoTS allows ships to attack land units and ports directly, which makes the ships feel very useful in time of war. A strong fleet could help soften resistance in enemy cities (as long as they are close enough to shore) before attacking full force with infantry, which sometimes feel slower (especially if there is no rail service in the area). On the other hand, there are new coastal guns used to defend against attacks like these that can destroy any ship caught in their line of sight at the end of a turn.

Besides the steamers and artillery there is a variety of new units – all utilizing the technological advances coming to Japan at that period. The new machine guns were already mentioned, but there are quite a lot more new land units, such as the firing squad and Western warfare units. These units are nice little additions that feel really strong at first, but as the game progresses and the battlefield is balances out, they lose their innovation and simply become “just another unit”. In addition to the standard units that fight in real-time battles, there are three new special units – The Foreign Veteran, available on each side, can hurt military leaders or entire armies without engaging in actual combat. The Ishin Shishi and the Shinshengumi are exclusive units to the emperor and Shogunate (respectively), who function as assassins and instigators. They can damage enemy lines, or raise the morale and effectiveness of any army in which they serve. All three of these units have their own skill trees that evolve as they survive longer and perform certain operations successfully. These special Units are very useful, both in peacetime and during war: sending an Ishin Shishi into a city ahead of your army and starting a roit can make all the difference between winning and losing miserably.

Fall of the Samurai doesn’t only add to the single player campaign, but also to the game’s multiplayer. Besides being able to play the campaign against other players on-line, there is a new option that allows each player to create their own avatar and go on to compete for territory against other players. While it sounds nice on paper, this mode really stripes the game from its strategic elements, leaving only the real-time battles. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing; it just becomes boring and repetitive very quickly, and downplays the advantages and innovations that FoTS provides.

Relative to a strategy game, the graphics of FoTS are not bad, but it won’t really impress the average player. The game looks fine, and its graphics engine does a good job in presenting a large number of units on the battle map simultaneously, which can turn any battle chaotic and much more intense (in a good way). What does hamper the game’s experience are some rarely encountered visual bugs. In addition to a single case in which the game crashed for no apparent reason, there is an annoying bug that causes the entire world map to disappear, leaving only the sea visible. You can still continue playing in this situation because, after all, this is a turn-based game that doesn’t require fast response, but it’s still difficult to deploy forces and reading of the map correctly. Typically, re-loading the game solved the problem, and since the game automatically saves at the beginning of each turn, the campaign do not really suffer for it.

Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai does exactly what an expansion pack should do – it takes the familiar formula of the original game, and just improves it in almost every way possible. The new units, the introduction of steam technology (particularly that of the railways) and the improvement to the naval combat system definitely make FoTS an expansion that anyone who enjoyed Shogun 2 must try. Even new players will find themselves immersed very quickly in the world of intrigue and war of the late feudal period of Japan , thanks to the deep and addictive gameplay. Some graphical bugs and a boring multiplayer mode can’t prevent this expansion from being one of the most successful in the series. The time of the samurais may have already passed, but it seems that the Total War series is not going anywhere anytime soon.

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