I love the Total War series. Ever since I got a copy of the original Medieval: Total War for my eighth birthday, I have been repeatedly captivated by the sprawling scale that the team over at The Creative Assembly have had to offer. Now, with almost every historical period covered by the time-conquering studio, and with the much-anticipated Rome II on the horizon, it is only fitting that the Assembly have decided to bring the Total War to the mobile space.
And what’s better to bring to the smartphone world than the war-forged era of feudal Japan? Initially embodied in the very first game of the series, Shogun: Total War, the home of the samurai has since seen a magnificent grand-scale sequel in the form of Shogun II. Now coming to Android in what I can only hope will be the first of many mobile titles, we have Total War Battles: Shogun. So, have the Creative Assembly served up the slice of meaty mobile strategy that we’ve been waiting for? Read on to find out.
One of the pinnacle achievements of the Total War series, as well as being one of its most recognised features, is its absolutely massive scale — the campaigns feel like the extensive military conflicts that they are, and the battles are grand and jam-packed with tactical tension and strategic slaughter. It should go without saying that making a satisfying mobile edifice of this series is going to be no easy feat, and at the very least it will require an awful lot of creativity.
In other words, don’t go expecting a 1:1 representation of the epic, 5000-man battles you’re used to on the PC, not for a long time at least. Instead, Total War Battles: Shogun offers a slightly different approach, almost styled like a board game — whilst the integral building and recruiting mechanics are more or less still there, battles take place on a hex-based environment, in which units move space by space, and cannot retreat.
What the Shogunate
As mentioned before, it’s a far cry from the immense level of depth offered by the PC counterpart, however that’s not to say that Total War Battles does not serve up anything in common with its older brother. The attention to a sensible degree of historical authenticity is still here, and as it is, it also happens to offer up a surprising amount of depth, and indeed fun.
Buildings are tiered on a rudimentary tech tree, starting with your Tenshu (keep) you can construct a variety of structures that will generate resources, which can then in turn be used to train troops. Some buildings have to be connected to others in order to function, and some cannot be placed adjacent to others, adding a surprising level of planning and strategy to the base-building element, with the varying footprints of each structure making base-building almost like a jigsaw puzzle.
The resources generated by your base can be used to train units — from the basic ronin swordsmen, to warrior monks and cavalry, there is a diverse variety of options, each with their own clean-cut strengths and weaknesses.
Consequently, combat in Total War Battles: Shogun plays out in a sort of rock-paper-scissors fashion: spearmen will stop cavalry dead in their tracks, but can be picked off at a range by archers, whilst archers in turn will be run down quickly by cavalry. Ronin swordsmen are thrown into the mix as a sort of well-rounded anti-infantry troop, whilst warrior monks take to the field offering buffs to adjacent units.
Whilst you can command your units to move up and down the battlefield if you need to manoeuvre, retreat is not permitted, meaning that unit placement and positioning requires some careful strategy.
Besides this, there’s not much else to say on the gameplay front: the campaign is fairly linear, with a few side quests offering the opportunity to unlock a new unit or the like, with a variety of different maps and environments keeping things fresh on the visual front.
Indeed, the visual front is something that Total War Battles hits the mark on quite nicely. Departing significantly from its older siblings, this rendition ditches the realistic aesthetic style and instead opts for a cel-shaded type design, something that looks reminiscent of Borderlands, or The Wind Waker’s iconic visual motifs. As a result, environments are vibrant, with units and buildings almost looking rather cute. It’s an aesthetic that works well for a mobile display, as well as being rather splendid.
The interface is stylish and functional, with neat little pictorial cards representing units and buildings on menus, and with text rendered in a suitably oriental style. That said, a lack of annotation in some areas may leave you a bit confused as to what does what, and it may feel somewhat cluttered at times, leading to the odd mis-tap or two.
In the audio department there is not a great deal to say. Sound effects are functional to the purpose, although I was mightily pleased to see that many elements of the Shogun 2 original score have found their way over, including the rather wonderful title theme.
On the entertainment front, it’s safe to say that Total War Battles: Shogun succeeds comfortably. Thanks to solid, true-to-form gameplay, coupled with a great visual style and an interface that works well for the platform, the game does dignity to the bigger franchise that spawned it.
And whilst the single-player offerings may dry up somewhat quickly, the inclusion of multiplayer ensures that you’ll have a lot more to do once you’ve burned through the campaign. If you like your strategy games, then I would certainly give this a shot.