Sixteenth Century Japan was a time of conflict, with samurai clashing on battlefields and clan Daimyo campaigning to become the supreme military ruler, or Shogun. But then you probably already knew this - after all, we've been here before.
Creative Assembly has returned to Japan for its latest instalment, although it's keen to stop this game appearing like a reboot. Instead, Shogun 2 is another evolution for the series, with tedious events removed, processes streamlined and a greater focus on fun things such as Ninja assassinations and political machinations. Gone are the stupid merchant units of Empire: Total War, for example; in Shogun 2 you merely have upgradable buildings.
Go for the...nevermind
The need to make a stark choice between castles and towns has also been removed - Japan didn't insist on such difficult choices, so town planning is much more flexible. You upgrade the castle to unlock new build slots, and then fill them with economic, military or specialist constructions. It's this nuanced flexibility that epitomises Shogun 2 – for every Yari Samurai, there's a Buddhist Monk Archer. Success is a matter of carefully combining the tools at your disposal.
These tools include some fairly advanced diplomacy, which you'll have to master on the harder difficulty levels. The diplomacy screen is as sophisticated as we've seen in a Total War game, with options ranging from straightforward trade agreements to offering your own children as hostages to secure a particularly important deal. The hostages are given back after two years, unless the agreement is broken, in which case they're executed.
If you want to play the long game, you can even marry your sons and daughters into other clans in the hope that once their Daimyo die you can stake a claim. If you're feeling particularly sneaky, you can use a Ninja to accelerate that chain of events too, though you’ll likely pay a price for your dishonour if your betrayal is uncovered.
Like a ronin stone
Ninja are just one of the agent units that roam the intricately drawn landscape; you'll also find Metsuke (essentially secret police) and monks. The three agent types perform much the same tasks - stopping enemy armies from moving, sabotaging fortifications, preventing attacks on your castles and so on - but with slight differences. Ninja will attempt to assassinate enemy generals, for example, while Metsuke will bribe them to join your forces.
Shogun 2 introduces an intriguing RPG system for your clan's tech tree and units too. You'll rarely finish a tech tree, which means each tree is laden with tough choices, such as whether a general is able to inspire his troops on the battlefield or move them across the map quickly, or whether a Ninja specialises in assassination or sabotage. As well as being important strategically, these choices made us empathise with our characters more. We were gutted when our first Ninja died of old age - we'd laughed as he'd bungled assassination attempts (some of the cut-scenes of Shogun 2 are by turns chuckle-worthy and quite moving) and rejoiced as he'd delayed armies just long enough for us to gather our forces. Then, suddenly, he was dead for very human reasons.