It's hard not to feel a little sorry for The Creative Assembly. Whilst virtually every developer in existence has committed serious time towards mobile spin-offs to their intellectual property on Android, iOS or Facebook, the chaps from Sussex have just about the worst possible product to migrate away from the PC.
The Total War series is so vast in scope, and so demanding in execution that current-gen consoles can't even deal with the thousands of units, sprawling maps and graphics, never mind mobile hardware. So it's little wonder that the iOS version of Total War Battles: Shogun is an extremely uncomplicated hex-based battle-brawling time-waster, and that the Steam version really isn't much different.
Campaign mode, doubling as a tutorial, gradually steps players through the placement of basic units and support buildings. There's no surprises in the rock/paper/scissors unit matchups, and the placement of unit manufacturing plants such as the lumber yard, blacksmith and barracks all adhere to fairly well-regulated rules. Naturally, the main goal is to advance a warring clan through an overarching plot involving deceased parents, betrayal and Japanese-accented cameos, but it all manages to hold together well enough provide an impetus to continue.
Once the campaign has been mastered, players can move on to a skirmish mode whereby the lessons learned previously are used to good effect against the AI. Various objectives must be met in order to succeed, such as placing a certain type or quantity of support buildings, or merely massacring the enemy in a particular fashion. Three difficulty levels – normal, hard, or Shogun – keep the combat varied and, at times, extremely difficult. The developer has stated that this PC version will be harder than the iOS example, no doubt looking to capitalise on the wider aspect ratio and faster method of control.
The latter, unfortunately, is probably where the game suffers most. PC gamers are used to having console titles ported over to their native platform with barely a pause to carefully optimise the input for keyboard and mouse. That developers have been guilty of immense laziness in this area goes without saying. But in the case of Total War Battles: Shogun, PC gamers are faced with an ignominious twist on the formula – a mobile title ported to the PC, with the same scant regard to input. Instead of horrendous latency and "Press X to continue", it's a matter of putting up with a lack of hover-over tool tips, forcing players to hold down the left mouse button for a couple of seconds to get a description of the unit or building in question. Touch screen users obviously have no ability to use such tool tips, but mouse-wielding gamers certainly do, and it's hard to imagine that these would have been particularly difficult to incorporate.
After a protracted start spent working around this issue however, both the campaign and skirmish modes open up into a welcome challenge, with a fairly steady resource-gathering, unit-producing metric ably keeping up with the introduction of new unit types and strategies. Thanks to the Japanese laws of Bushido, units aren't permitted to reverse direction in any way, meaning that the unit limit can be reached quickly when units move too far forward to be useful.
The unit animations are hardly likely to set the world on fire, but that's not really the point. Total War Battles: Shogun may have very little in common with its hugely respected relatives back in the Total War stable, but it represents a cheap foray into a new market for the team at The Creative Assembly, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.