Another year, another Total War: Something. Creative Assembly’s been building and building, year after year, on the engine and gameplay systems that initially started off a little shaky with Empire but have since then matured gracefully. Every single new installment has resulted in better AI, better gameplay and better everything. So, Fall of the Samurai represents another iterative leap, building on the fantastic Shogun 2, but the question is whether that’s enough to qualify this new Total War game as fantastic, and, well, it’s not.
Nothing’s truly bad or immediately flawed about this expansion pack; after Shogun 2, but after Rise of the Samurai, FotS is fatiguing. There are a lot of new things. Being able to bombard a province from the sea is strategically interesting. Railroad systems allow army stacks to move far beyond what a dirt path could provide, which makes the provinces with railroads that much more valuable, and balancing between modernization and old traditions often results in internal thought processes, like asking yourself if giving your samurais guns is worth the discontent that will follow.
“…it very much feels like Creative Assembly has peaked creatively.”
It’s just that at this point, it very much feels like Creative Assembly has peaked creatively. FotS is the culmination of every good idea and improvement that came beforehand. Napoleon was a massive leap relative to Empire, realizing much of the potential that lay in the new technology Creative had built. Shogun 2 revisited a setting and fully realized it with all this fancy tech, and, more importantly, the AI reached its game-changing potential.
Yet it’s still fun. Having played any of the Total War games since Empire will make you familiar with how this game works. The Imperial and Shogunate divide is the most fundamental gameplay wrinkle in FotS, functioning as the type of play style you want to use. Imperial armies will have the upper hand technologically, while clans loyal to the Shogun and its methods will continuously be at a disadvantage until you manage to close in.
It’s an interesting divide in play styles, as one functions largely on range, and the other excels when blades meet. You kind of have to create this type of scenario yourself, though, fully committing to a singular path of modernization or Shogun philosophies. The game gets far more interesting the longer you progress in the campaign, as the years pass and new tech surfaces, further pushing you in one direction or the other. Chances are you’ll dabble in some guns here and a spear there, but to make it more interesting upon yourself, stick to a single path and see where that takes you.
The multiplayer continues to be fun, but that’s dependent on the mode. Shogun 2 faced some serious de-sync issues when trying to play a cooperative campaign. It’s a shame, as the campaign game is well-developed and is rendered unplayable because of the possibility of the game breaking due to the troubles of playing over the Internet. That said, the avatar conquest and drop-in games work just fine, so that’s two out of three, if you’re looking at it as a glass half-full guy.
So what’s next? Creative Assembly knows how to churn out a Total War game in its sleep, but it’s hard to wonder if just a new setting will be enough to reinvigorate and reinvent. Creative has settled on evolution rather than the revolution-evolution-revolution cycle they have clung to until the release of Empire. It’s definitely smarter but far less ambitious and far less inventive. Maybe it needs to happen; maybe Creative needs to go lights out for the next two to three years before revealing something massive, because for as great Fall of the Samurai is, I’m not waiting for the next Total War.
Well, unless it’s Rome 2. That would be awfully persuasive.