Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition

Total War: Shogun 2 will come in three flavours when it's released in March. The standard edition, a limited edition that adds a new playable faction and scenarios, and a collectors edition, which comes in its own bamboo war chest. Read on for the full details.

If you buy the limited or collector's editions of the games you'll have access to an extra unique faction, the Hattori Clan. The game will also include an extra historical scenario, the battle for the castle of Nagashino. It also grants your online avatar a shiny set of armour and a lump sum of XP to spend right away.

The collector's edition contains everything that the limited edition does, but also comes in a bamboo box which holds a Shogun 2 artbook and a figurine of Takeda Shingen, one of the most famous military leaders of the Sengoku period.

For an idea of how your online character will work in Shogun 2, check out our Shogun 2 multiplayer preview. For more information head over to the Total War: Shogun 2 site.
Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition

It took me a while to bend my head around Shogun 2’s multiplayer element.

While this might be explained away by some emotional clouding (read knicker-wetting terror) brought on by the loss of just too many brave Samurai warriors in my first, bashful attempt at Shogun 2’s siege battles, I honestly believe it’s more down to the depth and intricacy of what the multiplayer offers. It isn’t just a departure from anything Creative Assembly has implemented previously; it’s quite unlike anything anyone’s attempted before.

So let’s get the simple stuff out of the way: you can match up for man-on-man battles, pitching your army against a fellow-player’s, which is no less than you’d expect. A nice addition to this is that you can unit-share with a pal who may not be in a battle of his own, and invite him to command selected units from your army. Neat.

But Napeoleon brought 1v1 multiplayer campaigns to life, and Creative Assembly’s ambition brooks no acceptance of repetition for the sake of ease. In Shogun 2, large numbers of players can be involved in a single campaign, and in a considerably more subtle and complex way than you might imagine.

Your general and his attendant army begin the multiplayer campaign planted in one of 65 territory zones, over which you have ownership. As you expand and invade new provinces, the matchmaker hunts for other player-armies of your level, ready for a fight. The battle is fought, and ownership of the province decided. Certain provinces bring key battlefield technologies to your army, so they’re worth striving toward.

The big-brain genius of this is that your general and army don’t represent a one-man crusade, rampaging across the map like a plague of armoured locusts with bonkers hats. You play as part of a clan, and the territory you conquer on your version of the campaign map tallies points towards the clan total. Moreover, clan leaders can direct their members to specific provinces on the map by placing a marker on that province. This becomes visible on each clan-member’s campaign map. You don’t see your fellow clansmen’s armies on the map, but through the use of various overlays, you can track territorial losses and gains, stronghold areas, point-tallies and general ownership.

So, you have choices. Do you go for tactical land-grabs which may improve your army, or kow-tow to the head Daimyo’s wishes, and work towards the common goal? It might be worth impressing the boss, as he’s able to dole out army-improvement points to his favourite generals. There are enough variables here to generate some really interesting in-clan politics, and potential skulduggery.

The next stroke of genius is achievements. And don’t groan; these aren’t just the ‘I’ve won 20 battles, meh’ variety. As you might imagine, they’re earned by achieving specific victory conditions, or adhering to a peculiar set of rules while fighting. The joy of them is that key combinations unlock new battlefield skills and technologies, which improve your fighting abilities and, ultimately your ranking. And don’t get me started on just how many crazy hats you can unlock to perch on your general’s head. Visual modification of your army is a fundamental part of the experience.

Achievement whoring… with meaningful consequences? Yes please. And here’s the really beautiful thing: achievements can be earned in single player, too.

Factor that whole state of affairs into your clan politics. You’re fighting in a key territory for your clan, hoping to impress the big cheese, and realise that you’re close to hitting a desirable achievement which will enhance your arsenal. But there’s a risk involved: you’ll need to play a certain way to get that achievement, and what if the guy you’re fighting sees what you’re not doing, and exploits that? Failure beckons.

Exciting stuff, and plenty to chew over before the game’s March release.
Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition
Japan's best spear delivery company.
What is a castle?

Our western sensibilities suggest an establishment for the nobility; a structure that represented the feudal power-base, and a way to keep enemies out.

The medieval Japanese agreed on two out of three of the above principles. Why on earth would you want to keep enemy soldiers out of your castle, when you can lead them in, to fight – and die – on your terms?

This level of combat artistry is something that Total War: Shogun 2 aims to recreate. And no, that’s not a typographical error; in a move to establish brand consistency, Sega recently announced that Creative Assembly’s grand-strategy epics would begin, not end, with Total War. I really hope they apply that retroactively too – it’ll tidy up Steam libraries worldwide.

But back to the field. I recently got stuck into our first siege battle in Shogun 2, and what became apparent as the troops clashed was that things have changed from previous games in the series, and you need to think of castles in a very different way. You’re not simply aiming to keep enemies out – although that’s a valuable tactic, and there are times when denial of-entry is absolutely key. But the space and configuration of these castles means they work in interesting ways.

Our castle is low, broad, and three-tiered. The base-tier is, well, huge. Quite un-castle-like all round, compared to European designs. It’s like a series of big stages; there are wide-open areas where multiple units can clamour, with elbow-room to spare. Exploiting these spaces properly is a case of tempting a limited number of units in through the ground-level gatehouses, or an unprotected section of wall. By which time, hopefully, you’ll have the perfect configuration of troops ready to rout and ruin.

That’s not how it went down at all.

My initial deployment tried to cover every facing of the castle. I had Samurai archers and melee troops stretched thin across the base tier, with an aim to retreating to the second tier if things got dicey. My mounted General was right at the top tier, out of harm’s way.

The computer bluffed me. He sent in waves of archers, with a blade unit to scale the walls. I was weak of will; I redeployed to meet the threat.

Then what must’ve been the bulk of his army marched out of the eastern mists – a veritable brigade of melee and cavalry units. Panic stations! I pulled everything off guard-duty to meet the threat in the east. And just as I was micro-managing the rampant disorder I’d created for myself on the lower-east tier – spearmen bouncing off swordsmen, archers struggling through the throng to line the walls – the Combat Advisor’s words froze my heart:

“Our General is in grave danger!”

Panning over, I saw the AI’s double-bluff in horrifying execution. Three melee units had scaled the first two tiers on my unwatched western ramparts, and spearmen were engaging my General.

And that was that. The General fell, the soldiers wept, I shat the bed, and the wheels fell off.

I almost feel sorry for the AI. It can’t revel in this moment of victory, or dole out the kind of conceptual tea-bagging that my martial lollygagging so richly deserves. It can’t even call me a noob.

Round two went a lot more smoothly. Now keenly aware of the AI’s potential to posture and lure, I presented a couple of obviously weak flanks, and didn’t budge my troops. I ignored his ruses. I let his melee troops scale the walls, and closed the net each time, with fire-arrows and whistlers terrifying the attackers, and my fresh, tight-packed blade turning them on their heels. By the end, all he had was a few groups of scattered archers, and a bunch of cavalry cantering around uselessly outside, as I hadn’t let him take a single gatehouse. Fetlocks and hooves? Not so climbey.

I shudder to think how terrifying this is all going to be in multiplayer. Shogun 2’s battle AI has impressed me so far, and I’ll be interested to see what improvements have been made to its campaign-brain. But this level of jiggery-pokery could make for some very, very tense encounters when it comes to skilled players. It’s also worth noting that multiplayer in Shogun 2 brings a massive shakeup for the series. Check back shortly for the altogether exciting details.

For now here's the dev diary behind some of Shogun 2's music, mainly involving muscular ozzies banging on taikos -

Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition

A series of new Shogun 2: Total War screens have landed, revealing new units and features, from the eagle eyed bow monk to the huge siege engine of the sea, the tower ship. If you're looking forward to next year's strategy epic, you'll definitely want to check these out. All the images can be found below. Click on them to see them full size.

First up we have a scene showing a boarding party in action. As with Empire and Napoleon: Total War, you'll be able to attack enemy vessels with boarding parties. If your forces manage to annihilate the enemy crew then the vessel becomes yours, and will be a part of your fleet in future battles.

The mean looking guy in the foreground is a bow monk, an elite type of archer that even outstrips the famously skilled Ashigaru and Samurai archers. He's so good that he doesn't even need his right arm to be able to shoot his enemy dead at a hundred paces.

Far away from the horrors of battle now, we're on the peaceful waters just off the coast of Japan. Naval warfare along coastlines is a new for Total War games, and the addition of the extra terrain promises to add an extra strategic variant to Shogun 2's naval scraps.

In the last few Total War games the pride of your fleet would be some sort of colossal battleship boasting hundreds of metres of sails, bristling with cannons. They did things quite differently in 16th century Japan. Pictured below is a floating fortress, a giant floating box packed full of highly trained warriors. The most important difference between the stately vessels of Napoleon and Shogun 2's fleets are that many of the ships are driven by oars, which means you're no longer slave to the winds, and the ships will be much easier for players to command. Smaller boats like the one in the right of the image will still be agile enough to outmanoeuvre a floating fortress.

The wooden vessel taking up the foreground here is a tower ship. These seaborne beasts are designed as the siege engines of the open waves, and will be a useful weapon when trying to board and sink enemy craft. The tall ships are packed with gunners and boast a belly full of troops just itching for a chance to duke it out on the enemy decks.

Total War: MEDIEVAL II – Definitive Edition

Ever since there have been Total War games, there have been Total War modders. As soon as the Creative Assembly release a new Total War game, an army of enthusiasts pounce, retexturing units, overhauling the AI and crafting new campaigns. We've sifted through the hundreds of Total War mods out there and found ten of the best. These mods give us whole new areas of history to explore, fantasy worlds to conquer and challenging new campaigns to play. From Rome through to Napoleon: Total War, we've got you covered.

1. Rome: Europa Barbarorum

Fans of historical accuracy will be delighted with Europa Barbarorum, easily the most well researched of the mods on this list. Five new factions have been added to diversify the barbarian forces, and all of the vanilla factions have been rigorously reworked to bring them closer to what modern scholars know of the era. This is an essential download for history buffs, or for anyone looking to get a more detailed and challenging experience from their copy of Rome: Total War.
2. Rome: SPQR

SPQR is another realism mod that offers a different experience to Europa Barborum's intensely researched overhaul. There are new units and hundreds of balance tweaks to the core game, but the most important changes have been made to the battles. Reduced upkeep costs mean that there are more armies on the campaign map and more troops on the battlefield. Warriors break far less often and some units, like the Spartans will fittingly never flee, preferring death to dishonour. The rewards are greater should you manage to outmanoeuvre the enemy as well, with added damage bonuses for flank attacks. Rome's battles are bigger, brainier and more brutal with SPQR installed.
3. Rome: Roma Surrectum

Roma Surrectum is a great mod for anyone who loves playing as the Romans. It adds four new factions and 35 new Roman legions, supported by a detailed new recruitment system that will only let you train certain warriors in certain regions, adding an extra layer of strategy to army management. The new models and textures give every legion a unique look and the campaign map has been tweaked to accommodate the new forces. Check out the video below for footage of the new Romans in action.

4. Medieval 2: Broken Crescent 2.0

This remarkable mod moves Medieval 2 to the Middle East. It's an extensive and incredibly polished package that introduces 30 new factions and over 250 new units, with expert reskins from the team's dedicated pair of artists. Religion has been overhauled to reflect the tensions in the region at the time, and leaders can now gain specific titles based on their experience and the lands they've captured. On top of all this, the area of recruitment system added by the most recent release adds even more strategic depth to an already excellent campaign.

5. Medieval 2: The Third Age

It was only a matter of time before someone realised that the Total War format would be perfect for a Lord of the Rings conversion. The Third Age is the result, a lovingly crafted mod that brings Middle Earth to Medieval 2. Every race is represented in the twelve new factions, including Orcs, High Elves, Dwarves and the forces of Mordor. The fantastic new skins and models provide a detailed take on Tolkien's fantasy universe, with designs heavily inspired by the films. Even now, the mod's creators are working hard on creating new campaign to bring the story of the Fellowship of the Ring to your copy of Medieval 2. Not convinced? Here's the trailer. It has Oliphants in it!

6. Medieval 2: Lands to Conquer

If you're tired of the Medieval 2 campaign, check out the alternatives provided by Lands to Conquer. The early, high and late era custom campaigns offer varying experiences from the short, action packed expansionist feel of the early campaign to the long, settled, diplomatic style of the late era. Lands to Conquer also makes a few general changes, incorporating a few aspects of other mods to improve battle AI and slow down the pace of empire expansion to a more realistic rate.
7. Empire: Darthmod Ultimate Commander

Many grizzled Total War veterans have fallen to Darthmod's cunning AI over the years. There's been an edition of Dathmod for almost every iteration of Total War, but Ultimate Commander for Empire: Total War is the best, bundling Dathmod's traditional swathe of AI updates and difficulty tweaks with a series of smaller mods that improve almost every aspect of the game. Most notable of these submods is the excellent Blood and Smoke update, which does a brilliant job of making Empire's gorgeous battles even more brutal and satisfying.

8. Empire: The American Revolution

The American Revolution doesn't exactly revolutionise Empire, but it certainly expands it, adding four new campaigns, new units and beautiful, carefully researched new skins and uniforms for many of the existing units in the game. It's an ideal mod for Empire players looking for a bigger and better version of the original game, who don't particularly relish the crushing difficulty of Darthmod. The 24-bit skins are another fantastic addition if you have the machine to support them.
9. Empire: Period Music Mod

Empire requires you to spend an ungodly number of hours on the campaign map, and it's only a matter of time before the eternally looping music begins to grate. Avoid a slow descent into psychosis with the Period Music Mod, which adds 50 period accurate pieces to the mix. It's a quick and easy install process so you'll plotting massacres to the jaunty sounds of Mozart in no time.

10. Napoleon: All In One

Napoleon: Total War has been out for less than a year, but the Total War modding community has already released hundreds of mods, tweaks and additions for the game. There are almost too many, which is why the super helpful Napoleon: All In One mod is so useful. It incorporates over 50 mods into one big package. Most of the updates focus on retexturing many units to help differentiate them on the battlefield and, where possible, bring them more closely in line with their historical counterparts. More sweeping changes include an increase in unit size to ensure even bigger battles and some alterations to unit AI that should see them stay in a fight for longer. Have a look at the trailer below for an overview of the changes.

That's just ten of the hundreds of mods out there for the Total War series. If these ten aren't enough then you'll find many, many more over at the excellent Total War Centre.

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