Total War: Shogun 2 is a sequel that admirably goes against the industry grain. As more and more videogame follow-ups appear to feel uncomfortable if they aren’t having their wares touted as bigger, louder or better than anything and everything ever released before it, it’s very refreshing to see a developer scaling back things a little. And Total War’s development squad The Creative Assembly haven’t done this because it’s what the fans demanded, nor have they done it to pander to any trends or senselessly buck others merely for the sake of it; Shogun 2 is slightly smaller in scope because the series clearly needed to get back to its roots. After all, this is a direct sequel to the property that started it all back in 2000.

Not that the last two games were failures – for some, Empire and Napoleon were the embodiment of the series functioning at its creative peak – but their emphasis on awe-inspiring scope and overbearing complexity meant that during some battles, the pursuit of spectacle somewhat dwarfed the importance of the strategy. That said, Shogun 2 is certainly no less rewarding, challenging or beautiful to look at (it’s the best looking series entry yet, for sure) and stands as perhaps the perfect entry-level Total War game for newcomers. The primary control interface has been impeccably re-designed, so you’ll rarely find yourself in situations where the last-ditch panic of a soon-to-be hard won battle suddenly causes you to fumble with your tools and lose valuable ground.

The fundamental order of play remains the same as ever, with the measured, turn-based campaign aspect allowing you to (as usual) manage your empire’s economy and elect your generals, as well as engage in political wrangling with some of Feudal Japan’s other guerilla factions; the relaxing yin to the nerve-wracking yang of the reliably epic real-time skirmishes that punctuate proceedings. The Total War games have always worked so expertly as single-player experiences that multiplayer has been pushed into the background until now, and some rather ingenious design decisions mean that combat is every bit as rewarding and furiously compelling online as it is against the standard single-player AI.

The new co-op mode allows you to either form an allegiance with a friend so that you can take on the campaign together, or go head-to-head and do battle against them. The co-operative side of things involves taking turns on the campaign map, but here you can also split the real-time battle environment in half, with each player taking the reins of fifty percent of your troops apiece. There’s also a mode that allows you to jump into battle against another player whilst he or she is actually playing through the campaign mode, effectively prolonging the duration of the campaign out to a near-infinite length.

If you want to engage in multiplayer sessions that are a tad less time consuming than those, there is a brilliant new mode called Avatar Conquest mode; in which you sculpt your own general and his minions, and then compete online against other generals and their armies. Victories unlock standard bonuses, as well as space on a giant online campaign map, and if you can secure wins in various sectors (all of which feature area-specific objectives in addition) you can allow yourself to become sucked into the constant competition of an online leaderboard of sorts.

Total War: Shogun 2 is rich with features, entirely bereft of any detrimental bugs (so far) and might just be the best Total War game released to date. If you’ve ever fallen in love with a predecessor, or have become intrigued after sampling one of the new pretenders to the throne, then you definitely shouldn’t pass it up. You may require a pretty souped-up behemoth of a machine in order to run it all of its silky glory; but if you’ve been waiting for an ideal opportunity to upgrade, you might have just found it.

Watch the Total War: Shogun 2 trailer here:

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