Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai first impressions

"The Battle of Hakodate", c. 1880. Artist unknown. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Note: my final review can be found here.

 

With its promise of firearms, ironclads, and railroads, I was eager to leap into Fall of the Samurai, the nineteenth century-themed expansion to Shogun 2. After getting ~70-80 turns (up to 1867) in my abortive first campaign on “hard” difficulty, starting a second hard campaign, and then reaching the mid/late game (1866) of a third campaign on “normal” (all three times as the Nagaoka clan), here are my early thoughts:

 

I like the balance between firearm and traditional units. At first, cheap spear levies should remain the core of any army – early muskets are inaccurate and slow-firing, which makes levy musketeers better suited to manning fortress walls than to the open field. However, it doesn’t take long (~12 turns) to unlock modern rifles, which shoot much faster and more accurately than the muskets. Train up a decent force of riflemen (again, this doesn’t take long; they’re not too expensive, and they only take a single turn to recruit), and you can safely relegate the spearmen to anti-cavalry support or castle wall fodder. And not only does better technology unlock new units, it also grants bonuses to the basic ones, so those basic riflemen remain useful later on. In my first game, it was a delight to give a whole army of charging samurai a lesson in modern warfare.

 

Fortress assaults are even more lethal, due to the ubiquity of guns. Against well-defended castles, artillery seems to be essential.

 

I have yet to get the hang of naval warfare. Unlike Empire and Napoleon: Total War, all the ships are steam-powered, so the wind doesn’t play as big a role as it did in those games. For now, it seems to be a matter of bringing the most (and the most technologically advanced) cannon, engaging broadside to broadside, and praying one of your ships doesn’t blow up to a lucky hit. I have not yet unlocked the high-end naval units (ironclads and torpedo boats), so these might shake up the equation.

 

Naval bombardments are cool without unbalancing the game. If a land battle takes place near a friendly fleet, you can call in up to two barrages. While powerful, they have a very long cooldown and aren’t especially precise, so navies aren’t the “I win” button.

 

Money is harder to come by. There are no more trade nodes, so to obtain goods for export (silk, tea, etc), you have to seize the provinces where they’re produced. As such, resource-producing provinces are now far more valuable than in the base game. This is even more pronounced when playing on “hard” difficulty, in which everything is more expensive.

 

On “hard”, the AI loves to dogpile you – especially if you’re at war with its allies. You do get significant diplomatic bonuses with clans that share your allegiance (pro-shogun or pro-imperial), but that, by itself, is no guarantee of your safety. In this regard, Fall feels similar to the previous expansion pack, Rise of the Samurai.

 

The in-battle voices have deteriorated. No more Japanese voice acting from your units, no more “yari ashigaru de gozaimasu!”, and no more advisor yelling, “shameful display!” Instead units acknowledge orders in accented English a la Rome: Total War, and the battle commentary now comes from a hammy, booming-voiced, all-American sort (“The enemies’ allies run like he-eathens from a preacher, sir!”). I liked things better in the original. Still, this is a relatively minor problem for me.

 

The “hard” difficulty setting lives up to its name – after a while, I found it more frustrating than fun. “Hard equates to more demands on less money (costlier buildings + more enemy armies to fight), and the overall difficulty is closer to Rise of the Samurai than to the base game. Unless you’re a lot better than me at Shogun 2, I don’t recommend Hard for your first game.

 

Meanwhile, “normal” turned out to be pretty easy once I  hit the midgame. It would be nice if there were a difficulty setting in between. (Of course, realm divide could shake me out of my complacency!)

 

Apart from the difficulty, though, so far so good. I missed Empire’s gunpowder warfare, and I’m glad to see it back in Shogun’s more polished form. Watch this space for more!

 

UPDATE: So as of late 1867, I can state that on “normal”, the short campaign is quick enough to finish in a single day. I haven’t finished… yet. But I’m two provinces away from fulfilling the victory condition (14 provinces, plus Kyoto and Edo in the hands of Shogunate-aligned clans), and standing on the cusp of realm divide. I could easily have won the game any time in the last hour and a half; I’ve just been holding off so I can unlock the endgame units (Gatling guns!).

 

UPDATE 2:  Went back to an earlier save and won the campaign, on “normal”, in one day! Hurray!

 

UPDATE 3: Reflecting on my campaigns as Nagaoka, I feel disappointed with Fall. While as noted above, I really like Fall‘s basic building blocks, the difficulty and pacing have prevented my early experiences from becoming the sum of their parts. I’ve described above my problems with the “hard” campaign, and “normal” turned into a pushover once I got past the early game — all the nearby clans were either friendly, too small to be a threat, or both. And since I was playing the short campaign, realm divide wasn’t a serious danger: this only kicked in after I took 13 provinces, and only needed one province more to win! (The victory thresholds, at 14 provinces for the short campaign and 26 for the long, are far lower than for the base game.) However, I’m willing to give Fall another chance: it’s possible I was (A) unlucky*, (B) playing a less fun faction, (C) unwise to play a short campaign, (D) not experienced enough for my first, “hard” campaign (when I was still learning how Fall worked) and too experienced for the later, “normal” campaign, or (E) some/all of the above. I look forward to reporting back once I’ve tried another campaign.

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5 Responses to Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai first impressions

  1. AlexCouceiro says:

    I also believe Creative Assembly was never capable of creating a proper hard level. When you set your campaign on hard, you tend to believe AI will have some more money and will research faster – and that´s it. Unfortunately, however, along with hard difficulty level, a lot of nasty tricks gets in your way, especially concerning the diplomatic field, where nonsensical betrayals and all kinds of devilries against the player will take place.

    My solution to that is setting my campaign on hard and using some of Radious Mods, which among many other things, will improve diplomacy and reduce the annoying and exaggerated cheating from hard level mode.

    • Peter Sahui says:

      I agree that both Rise and Fall of the Samurai suffer from this problem on hard mode, but in the original game, the AI seemed much more reasonable on hard.

      I was actually thinking of using Radious’ mods for that exact reason! Which ones do you use, and have you tried them with Fall?

    • olstar18 says:

      Hell I was having those random betrayals on normal. I even had an ally I had been working alongside since the first turn in the game suddenly switch allegiances at around 90 something and then switch back the next turn to declare war.

  2. AlexCouceiro says:

    I Haven´t played Fall of The Samurai, for I usually prefer to wait for CA to release a couple of patches before purchasing the game. However, I am just about to finish a Shogun 2 campaign playing as Date, on hard, and these are the mods I used on this campaign:

    Here it is a short briefing about what they do:

    AI Mod – Reduces some of the exaggerated cheating from hard mode and stretches the deadline victory condition. On a short campaign, you will have 220 turns instead of 120-140 turns.

    Diplomacy V9 Mod – Basically increases a little bit all the diplomatic stats, in order to make up for all the unjustified penalties you get for no reason at all; it also gives you a proper Realm Divide. In other words, if you are able to make allies before RD hits, you will very likely keep them until the end of the game.

    Garrison v8 – This is his strongest garrison script. Just to give you an illustration, a stronghold is garrisoned at all times by 2 Katana Samurais, 2 Yari Samurais and 2 Bow Samurais. This mod makes every siege battle epic. It becomes very tough to take provinces from the AI, at the same time that it provides very good defense for the human player once you have taken them.

    Food + supply v5 – 1 slot more for recruitment at all level castles; markets will not consume too much food ( All Radious´ mods applies its features for both you and the AI ). This will allow you to better develop your internal economy, not needing to rely so much on trade. Food shortages will be rare.

    Experience v13 – Chances are a little higher for having children and finding wives, 3 points, instead of 2, for developing general´s and agent´s skills – and also a couple more things.

    * All of his mods can also be downloaded for Rise of the Samurai and Fall of the Samuray.

    ** Mods are a very personal thing, but I must admit it would be very hard for me, and also a little unpleasant, to play Shogun 2 and Rise of the Samurai without his mods. And the best thing, in my opinion, is that you can select which mods to use according your own preferences. I would definitely give them a try.

    • Peter Sahui says:

      Cheers, Alex! Thanks for the write-up. I’m pretty happy with the base game, but I’ve downloaded the AI mod for Fall of the Samurai in the hopes that it’ll make the AI more likely to recruit decent armies instead of sending in hordes and hordes of rubbish. I might give the diplomacy mod a try, too, if I ever attempt “hard” again. More aggressive AI players, and more expensive recruitment/construction for the human player, are one thing. Having the AI actively gang up on me is quite another!

      “And the best thing, in my opinion, is that you can select which mods to use according your own preferences.”

      Definitely! The problem with kitchen sink mods is that they’re usually tailored to suit the modder’s definition of fun, which might not be the same as mine. I prefer the a la carte approach.

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