Total War

Shogun 2 isn’t a masterpiece

Intro

I keep hearing all about how Shogun 2 is the last good Total War game. How it's a masterpiece. How it has unparalleled tactical depth that stood the test of time. It sure doesn't seem that way to me.

I will be dunking on it pretty hard, but know that I WANT to love it. I want to be proven wrong and explained that actually the game is really good and I just didn’t play it right or something. I don’t think this will happen tho.

When I say I heard this I am talking about a Youtuber called Volund. He is the one who made all these videos claiming that Shogun 2 is really good and that modern Total War games suck. What’s that? All these games suck and there is a really good old one? Sign me up!

By the way, Volund, I know you are reading this subreddit often looking to dunk on the WH3 consooumers or such and such. I won’t get into his videos because it’s like 10 hours of content. I just want to play a good game and I heard from you that Shogun 2 is that game. In case you do see this and feel compelled to destroy me with facts and logic™, you have my consent.

Regarding my Total War experience I have only played 3K and Shogun 2. What I can say on 3K back when it first launched (haven’t played since) is that yes, single entity units are OP. Yes, fights can get very blobby. Yes, cycle charging is OP. Yes, it’s all around unbalanced. However there are a LOT of OP things in the game to try. Stacking the stables to get nearly free cavalry units. Stacking fire trebuchets and killing the enemy's entire army before they even get halfway to you. Using Lu Bu to kill everything. Stacking infinite peasant armies with Liu Bei… They were all OP, but fun to experience.

All of this was carried by solid multi-core game performance, lots of great flavor text and most importantly an absolutely gorgeous and functional UI. All in all, 3K was not some paragon of perfect game design or tactical depth but I enjoyed my time with it greatly.

Performance and UI

Let me start with what almost kept me from playing the game altogether. I have just mentioned the great UI and performance that 3K has. Maybe that has spoiled me, but Shogun 2 is significantly worse in these aspects.

The performance and optimization are bad. It is unfair to expect an 11 year old game to be optimized, but still I have to mention it, because it bothered me a lot. Shogun 2 is single CPU core usage only. This means that it is impossible to have a good, solid performance in any battle let alone really big fights. That is with medium units size and no shadows. I have a pretty good 6 core CPU, but now only ⅙ of it is being used, effectively making Shogun 2 have the same performance on my modern CPU as it had 10 years ago on a good dual core.

The second problem is the long load times. This on an SSD. Turns out that DX11 has much longer load times then DX9. However DX9 has significantly worse graphical fidelity. I’m talking no anti-aliasing unless you want to use MLAA and you DON’T. You don’t, because it’s a CPU based AA method and turning it on is a great way to obliterate what little performance you have.

The second thing is the bad UI. Maybe I have been spoiled by recent games, especially 3 Kingdoms. The campaign UI is mostly fine. The battle UI and control on the other hand are bad. The default camera is too close. It’s so close it’s really hard to tell what is going on when things get chaotic.

The unit UI clarity is bad. At a glance you can only tell if a unit is wavering and what type it is. Nothing more. You have to hover over a unit to get this information in Shogun 2 and it’s presented really poorly. It’s just a block of text. No symbols, no color. It takes you like 2 seconds to decipher it and that’s if you know what you are looking for.

But you can get used to all this. The bad performance and the bad UI all fades away under a good game. But here the main problem lies.

Shallow Gameplay

What disappoints me most is that this game is very shallow.

First is the economy's simplicity. You have all these buildings and most of them are a waste of money. Just build markets and if you have room, sake dens, in every city. Don’t ever upgrade them because they take like 200 turns to pay for themselves or you have a very specific reason.

There is supposed to be a balance here between growth and taxation. However growth is such a negligible amount of income over such a long period of time that it’s always better to put your taxes on max. This will give you a lot more money and more importantly it will give it to you straight away.

That’s it. That is all you need to know. Get one or two recruiting centers where you have the fletcher or the armorer and everything else should just be as small as possible with a market. On my first playthrough I suspected this, but I thought I was missing something. This guide however solidified my belief.

Ashigaru units are too strong. I’m not going to just repeat what has been argued in this forum thread here. That forum thread was the last straw for me to write this.

I’ll give you a quick summary. Ashigaru units are cheap to buy, maintain and recruit fast. Having a lot of Ashigaru let’s you abuse the autoresolve feature and gives you a lot of granular control over your forces. They upgrade linearly with building upgrades like the forge and general upgrades. This results in them scaling incredibly well while still being cheap. Thus they outperform every other unit in the game.

Finally, the naval battles are a complete mess. The AI is bad at them and they look like such a clusterfuck. I was looking for tips and they mostly are “spam bow ships” or “get Christian ships they win in 10v1 fight”.

Conclucion

We have a shallow economy, shallow army composition, bad performance and UI and the cherry on top is the boring naval battles.

Once you start looking under the hood a little and examining what's going on in the game, you realize that Shogun 2 is a pretty bad game. It's fun if you just want to roleplay being a sengoku-era daimyo, but if you look closer at all the whole thing falls apart.

After all this I must say that despite all this the game is very charming. The animation are pretty to watch. The flavor is nice to absorb. As the WH community says “don’t care, looks cool”. I’m just disappointed that under the coat of paint it’s as shallow as a puddle.

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