Fall of the Samurai Review: Dawn of the Empire
Fall of the Samurai is a stand alone expansion pack for Total War: Shogun 2, set two and a half centuries after the ending of the Shogun 2 timeline. The Tokugawa Shogunate, undermined by the arrival of Perry's Black Ships and the strength of the Western powers, is having its authority and legitimacy challenged by the Imperial court. Japan is experiencing a time of extreme change and rapid industrialisation, and conflict between the traditionalist factions and those embracing a new age of modernity is looming. This is the setting for Fall of the Samurai, and is perhaps the most ambitious expansion in the history of the Total War franchise. I loved Shogun 2, and felt that it was a great return to form for a series that was hurt by Empire and Napoleon due to the overwhelming emphasis on ranged fighting in those two titles. Melee combat is what Total War has always had at its core when it is at its best, and Shogun 2 was a welcome return to that. It was obviously concerning for me then that Fall of the Samurai would be another weal entry because of the return to ranged weapons as the focus of the game, but Creative Assembly have managed to avoid this possibility and provide an extremely fun, lengthy and satisfying standalone expansion.
Fall of the Samurai allows players to select from two broad sides, the Imperial loyalists and the Shogunate loyalists, with several clans to choose from on each side. You start out with a small area of control, just like the main Shogun 2 campaign, and expand your influence and power through war and diplomacy. As your territory expands so too does your fame, and Fall of the Samurai has a similar event to the Realm Divide mechanic from the main game, which will force you to launch a final campaign for your chosen side in the war for Japan's future and go into the end game conflict. Its a really great setting, with different clans taking different sides and you attempt to cobble together allies for your chosen side. It is also possible to choose to attempt to take control yourself, aiding neither the Shogunate or Imperial Court, but this will be a difficult path as everyone will be out to take you apart. The game has opening cutscenes which really serve to set the narrative stage and setting for the player and detail how things have changed since Sekigahara.
Fall of the Samurai uses the same engine as Shogun 2, and the visual fidelity is the same as the core game. The game still has the beautifully rendered drawn map of Japan, with changed city layout and an entire extra island, all in accordance with the historical period and time change that the expansion is depicting. The world map still has the great effect of revealing the geography as you explore new areas with your units, and the battle maps retain the detail and variety of environment and weather detail that they had in the original game. Character models are still extremely detailed and capture the feel of the era and region, though the more powerful your computer the more you will get out of these visuals, and Fall of the Samurai as well as vanilla Shogun 2 are extremely demanding titles in terms of requirements. The sea battles are perhaps the most impressive sight in the whole game, with glittering seas churning as warships open fire upon each other leading to incredible destruction. The battle and weather effects of this game are incredible, and Fall of the Samurai manages to have plenty of colour and contrasts the European style uniforms of the Imperial troops with the traditional armour of the Samurai warrior units in a truly effective way.
The soundtrack of Fall of the Samurai still has the outstanding ost of the original main game, replete with all the Japanese traditional music effects, chants and instrumentation. Fall of the Samurai integrates a really ingenious presentation technique of subtly changing its music on the world map as you modernise your clan technology to a more industrial sounding musical theme. It is not overly noticible as it occurs but it gradually dawns on the player they they have irrevocably changed their region of control by modernising it, and this message is delivered via the change of music. The battle music can be as exhilarating as ever, with drum beats and explosive climaxes as your units impact onto enemy ranks and the carnage ensues. Beyond the music the voice acting is superb. Japanese accents are used for the narrations and cutscenes, adding a great sense of immersion, and like the original game the general speeches are delivered in Japanese. The foreign veterans are also accented along their nations of origin, showing plenty of attention to the small details on the part of Creative Assembly. Horse screams and the fire of guns and shouts of men are all brilliantly conveyed and make the battles sound truly alive and hectic.
The core gameplay mechanics of Fall of the Samurai are generally the same as Shogun 2, but the balance of the game has been changed in a really interesting way and makes for more variety in the strategic options available to players. The dynamics of the campaign map mean that the conflict is effectively a north vs south war, and this means that navies have a far greater role to play in Fall of the Samurai. The tech system has been streamlined in a way that makes it more clear to the player what each technology will achieve for their faction. You still control the construction and taxation of your provinces, and troop requirement is as central as ever. The shooting units are extremely powerful in Fall of the Samurai, but they are extremely expensive to recruit while traditionalist units are fast to recruit and less costly, meaning that there is a strong balance between the two styles. The fire arm wielding soldiers are also capable of melee combat courtesy of their bayonets, but they will be destroyed by dedicated Samurai units in combat. Bows have greater range than guns but are less powerful when they hit, shops can be used to bombard enemy coastlines and armies and disrupt trade routes. There are also a lot of agents that can be used to sabotage enemy plans and undermine their economy. You can build railways in Fall of the Samurai, and there is a huge emphasis on speed and actually getting your troops to where you need them. Siege battles are less important due to the sheer power of artillery, and cavalry are more for getting troops to a location quickly and then dismounting than using them as a hammer, but all strategies are viable ways of playing Fall of the Samurai. Its a game of extraordinary depth that has genuinely made some great and meaningful changes to the original Shogun 2 game.
Fall of the Samurai is an exemplary game in terms of its presentation. The menus have beautiful backgrounds and art among them, with lovely music and writings from historical figures and writings of the era available to look at. The game also has a full encyclopedia of all the units, buildings and commanders of the game, which is important for avid fans of the series. Fall of the Samurai has its own set of historical battles and custom battles are back, allowing you to field an army from Fall of the Samurai against a Shogun 2 one if you wish. Multiplayer is also back in the same form as the original Shogun 2. Unfortunately, Fall of the Samurai still has the horrendous loading times and technical demands of the original title. My computer is not a top of the range machine but I experienced frequent crashes and plenty of strange bugs, including the world map being covered in water after exiting a battle. These are not game breaking issues but they are extremely annoying and take away from the playability and ease of access of a masterful strategy game.
Fall of the Samurai is the best kind of expansion pack, it adds new things to the game and changes core aspects while retaining everything that was great in the original. The presentation is impeccable and the game is extremely in depth and intricate while having a fantastic system of tutorials to explain how to play the game to newcomers. The new campaign adds a lot of life to Shogun 2 and is very long, depending on what way you decide to play the game. Questionable AI behaviour and long load times are still in the way, but Fall of the Samurai is an absolute must for any fan of the Total War series. Just keep in mind the high technical requirements that the game demands for a smooth experience.
- New altered map to go with the era
- Great visuals and music
- Full campaign with new elements added
- Long load times and steep performance requirements
- Poor AI pathfinding
- Some annoying bugs/glitches
- The Last Samurai: the game
- 8/10 - Great