by Ryan Sandrey
previewed on PC
The Land of the Rising Sun
Paradox Interactive have never been about the battles. Whilst the likes of The Creative Assemblyís Total War series strives to allow the user to claim the glory of victory in its large-scale battlefields crammed with soldiers. Paradox Interactive have always been about the bigger picture, whereas the likes of Hearts of Iron 3 focuses on a whole range of political and socio-economic factors of warfare. Whilst not accessible to all, this approach has gained Paradox a cult following amongst the grand strategists of the PC gaming world. The two companies have rarely clashed but now, to the casual observer, they would appear to be in direct competition with their latest titles focusing on 16th Century Japan. However, Sengoku is to Total War: Shogun 2 what yellow chalk is to cheese - the colours might be the same, but the taste is undoubtedly different.
With the release date tentatively set for September, the preview build of Sengoku is incredibly stable with the game benefiting from the multi-threading technology that Paradox introduced with Hearts of Iron III: For the Motherland not a month ago, with the game using a heavily modified version of the Clausewitz Engine that Hearts of Iron III uses. Graphically, the game isnít particularly impressive, but grand strategy games rarely are, as the pure amount of processing power alone for the game is enough of a strain on the system. The user interface is both intuitive and user friendly, with a handy hint system providing helpful tips for the player. These replace tutorials, and are a helpful way of easing you into the grand strategy experience. Sengoku does seem to be one of the easiest grand strategy games to pick up and learn, but certainly not to master.
Medal of Honour
To succeed in Sengoku, you must control 50% of Japan either directly or through your vassals, and then claim the title of Shogun and rule for 3 years. Taking control of a country in the grips of a civil war is no easy feat, as I was about to find out. Starting as the Yamana Clan, one of the biggest warring factions in the Onin War, and one of the two clans who began the war for the title of Shogun; the game wasted no time in advising me what to do and where to begin, without ever feeling like your hand was being held too much. I started as I meant to go on by appointing court advisors, as you cannot Ďruleí alone. These various understudies you employ not only gain you honour and improve the stability of your nation, but assist you in your business by helping to hire Ronins and Ninja Clans. Honour is important, as it has been throughout the ages in Japanese culture, and it is important to conduct yourself with some decorum if you donít want to find yourself being backstabbed by one of your vassals. If your honour drop is too extreme after misjudged actions, you commit Seppuku, and thatís it. Game over. As the game is more character based than focused particularly on your clan, as long as your family lasts, you can still play.
Honour is almost like currency in Sengoku - the more you have, the more actions you can perform and the more units you can recruit and levy. It is therefore vital for any budding Shogun. However, it is also necessary to advance through the ranks of your clan. Unlike most grand strategy games, you donít have to play only as the leader of the clan. You can play as a Kokujin, a landed understudy to a Daimyo, and via impressive and honourable actions and battles, you can work your way to the top of your clan, or backstab your Daimyo and form a rival clan. Itís up to you - Sengoku is about building up dynasties, and if your idea of a dynasty doesnít match up the ideology of your clan, you can break off and spread your influence across all 350 provinces of Japan.
Of the 400+ scripted characters in the game that are historically accurate, there is always the possibility that things go sour for them, and they find themselves without land or a clan. If this happens, they will become Ronin, samurai without a master, roaming Japan rather than committing Seppuku, as the Code of the Samurai stated. While they are seen as dishonourable, you can use these drifting samurai to your advantage by hiring them to fight for your clan. The 47 Ronin they are not, but they are useful in your conquests in Japan. Itís also possible for you yourself to become a Ronin if you lose your land but still possess an Army.
And those aforementioned conquests will have to stay in Japan, as it is the only country featured in Sengoku. The game is focused on challenging the player to become the Shogun of Japan and unite the clans and provinces under your rule, so it doesnít include countries in the traditional spheres of Japanese influence, such as China and Korea. For some, this might be a nothing issue, but for others it could be deemed a negative. However, this doesnít mean that your role as leader will not be subjected to the influences of outside nations. After passing a certain point in your game, the Portuguese will land in a coastal province of Japan, bringing with them the ability to develop fire-arms and the ability to convert to Christianity, both of which can have cause serious changes to the way the wars are fought in Japan.
The Art of War
And what wars! Although not on such a micro-management level like Total War, there are the possibilities for large scale battles, with the likes of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 being a very real possibility of occurring. It is literally possible that all 160,000 soldiers that featured in the real historic battle appear to cut each other down, with the possibility of more or less soldiers depending on a whole range of decisions the player has made throughout the game. War doesnít necessarily have to be large-scale though, as Ninja Clans can be hired in Sengoku to assassinate your enemies or sabotage opposing clans. Wars are fought however you want, with it down to the player to use the wide range of available resources in the ways they see fit in order to be victorious at the end of the turbulent Sengoku period, where the game gets its name from.
All in all, Sengoku is shaping up to be an enjoyable experience for the grand strategists who lay unsatisfied by the strategic elements of Total War: Shogun 2. It is a game for those yearning for more management whilst simultaneously developing an ego-boosting dynasty to match, and it is definitely looking like a worthy addition to the Paradox roster.