Beginning with the well received Shogun: Total War, the Total War games franchise has grown over the past twelve years to become one of the most popular turn-based strategy games on the scene, spawning such classics as Rome Total War and breathing new life into the genre due to its combination of typical turn-based game elements with real-time battle scenes and a gripping, often historically accurate narrative.
Little wonder then that Total War fans have been salivating to get their hands on Total War Battles: Shogun, a version of Total War designed specifically for iPad. As with all such complex titles however, concerns remain as to whether the game is well suited to the iPad’s unique form. Let’s see if SEGA have nailed it.
A New Kind of Total War
Those who are familiar with the existing desktop Total War titles will no doubt be aware that the games are not really suitable for the iPad, at least not in their original form. Love Total War as I do, I can’t imagine leading complex battle manoeuvres with nothing but a touchscreen interface for input. Clearly, some radical thinking was in order and the developers seem to have risen to the occasion, resulting in a completely new gaming experience for the series which only barely resembles its bigger brothers.
In fact, so different is TWB: Shogun to previous Total War games that experienced armchair generals may initially find themselves balking at the use of a simplistic and very small battlefield cut up into hexadecimal portions, in addition to drastically reduced numbers of soldiers – but hang in there, because Total War Battles: Shogun soon proves itself to be a fitting iOS-friendly reboot of this cherished strategy classic!
Total War Battles: Shogun eschews much of its predecessor’s freedom and there’s none of the sense of openness which many games in the series have offered, but in its place is a fast-paced and lean war machine. Throwing you in the deep end, the game begins with a short introduction battle and in addition to setting out a storyline, this battle also serves to teach you the relevant controls. One must raise troops and put them into place so that they can take on enemy combatants and the whole experience is very engrossing as you lead your tiny units to victory.
As the game continues, it offers little variation or respite from the repetitive battle scene but I nevertheless did not feel myself tiring of the formula and in the limited time which I have been able to spend with it thus far, TWB: Shogun seems to promise a healthy level of longevity, due perhaps to the virtually endless permutations of stratagem which can be executed even on the vastly reduced battlefield size on offer here.
The Devil Is in the Details
As the old saying goes, amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics and this is just as true in TWB: Shogun as anywhere else in the arena of warfare. The action is thick and fast but this belies the need to focus on building a suitable array of buildings to provide essential tools, weapon upgrades and men. Naturally, the enemy isn’t going to be too keen on you amassing an impressive armoury and will take steps to destroy your buildings with some well placed torches – it’s up to you and your men to stop them.
It is perhaps this friction of trying to be both a great general and logistician which underlies much of the tension inherent in the game – just as I found myself finally tackling the enemy’s cavalry, I found my buildings were aflame and the delay between calling up a unit of soldiers and being able to actually deploy them made for the kind of excellent edge-of-seat gaming which can only come from a well made strategy game.
Besides its single player campaign missions, TWB: Shogun also hosts a rather novel multiplayer option too. Instead of morphing into a turn-based game, the real-time pace is kept, with each player meant to sit on either side of the iPad, playing simultaneously with controls on both sides of the screen. After finding a somewhat reluctant accomplice, I gave this a go and, following some moments of awkwardness from adjusting to the new birds-eye view, had a lot of fun playing against a friend.
Total War Battles: Shogun is bound to rub some hardcore Total War fans up the wrong way because, frankly, it shares relatively little in common with the franchise and cannot hope to provide comparable depth and complexity. That said, when one judges TWB: Shogun on its own merits, we’re left with an outstanding game which certainly deserves a place on your iPad.
It would be great to see SEGA follow up with some more iOS-ified titles from the Total War series and with the strong reception that Total War Battles: Shogun seems to be garnering, we certainly have cause to hope this will indeed be the case!