There will still be a sharp learning curve for anyone new to the game, but the hints and help screens get straight to the point, and explain matters clearly enough to keep you heading in the right direction.
In addition to the useful hints, the general information that the game provides about various statistics and statuses are also invaluable and always on hand. However, the reasons why you can't perform certain actions are not always immediately obvious. The more you stick with the game, the more it starts to make sense, but you definitely need an acclimatisation period while you adapt to the style of play that gets results.
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The strategy involved in Sengoku will probably feel somewhat alien for most players. With honour being a resource to be managed carefully, we started to develop interesting ways of resolving problems. Initially following the path of the butcher and trying to carve a bloody road to conquest, we soon abandoned this method and grew to enjoy the more subtle methods of play, and the steadier pace that Sengoku encourages.
As an example of this change in strategic method, after we realised the extent of the damage caused to our honourable reputation by declaring war on our neighbour, we decided to carry on and see the conflict through with a view to committing suicide. This would effectively enable our heir to take over with a substantial part of the family honour restored. Although ultimately old age snatched this choice away from us, it's not a tactical option that we've ever found ourselves able to make in the past.
The process of building up your relationships, lands and reputation to enable you to elegantly forge ahead also feels highly satisfying. However, Sengoku's one major drawback is that it's easy to find yourself sitting around waiting for things to happen, which can tempt you into making some heavy handed game-destroying mistakes. Starting with a very small power base and trying to work your way up peacefully can lead to a lot of thumb twiddling as you speed through the months, and we also found it frustrating that you could only ever send out a handful of court members to perform special tasks. A few more multitasking options in the key diplomatic areas would have been very welcome considering the amount of time it took for events to trigger.
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However, at the other end of the scale, when it came to wielding the military might of a larger clan, we found marshalling our troops quickly became overwhelming. Deciding where to direct your various armies is an exercise in forward planning, with troop movements always taking considerably longer than you think, meaning you can quickly find yourself out of position to deal with the threat of invasion or provincial revolt. This is really a job for a dedicated armchair general.
Becoming Shogun is definitely not a simple or quick task, and in an age where the 6-10 hour game is king, it's refreshing to be reminded of titles such as Sengoku, which are clearly designed to take months to make any progress. If you liked the potential lurking in the political and factional side of the Mount & Blade series, or you've enjoyed Paradox's other historical strategy titles, Sengoku is definitely shaping up to be worth a look. This could turn into a very interesting and innovative title for anyone wanting to unleash their subtle scheming side, or for strategy gamers that just want to play something a bit different.
Sengoku will be published by Paradox Interactive on the PC, and will be released on 13 September, 2011.