by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
I remember sitting at the Paradox Gamescom press booth last year, blurting out that I was glad to see Paradox branching out in other directions than their ‘Europa Universalis’ grand strategy games which had all looked the same for years. At the time, I didn’t realize one of its lead designers, Johan Andersson, was sitting right behind me. It wasn’t one of my brighter moments as my statement did not reflect the hours upon hours I spent enjoying the various Paradox-developed titles in any way. That’s not to say I didn’t mean what I said. Whether you play Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron or Crusader Kings, they all play out in more or less the same way. And you know what, sometimes more of the same is just fine and Sengoku fits that bill quite well.
Sengoku is set in 15th century feudal Japan, a time of great upheaval for an empire that is on the brink of falling apart. After being the single most powerful entity in the empire for almost 200 years, the Ashikaga Shogunate is left weakened through internal feuds and treachery. Smelling blood, some clans take up arms to strengthen their powerbase, others take up arms simply to defend themselves. Warfare and treachery threaten to rip the island nation apart from the seams.
Descending into chaos
Fans of Europa-engine games will feel right at home when starting a game of Sengoku. Your first order of business is choosing a scenario and a ruler. There are four available scenarios, each beginning in 1467, the start of the Ōnin War. You then either select one of the suggested rulers or click through the map to pick a ruler of your own choosing. An informational box shows you existing alliances and wars for each of the rulers, if any, as well as the expected difficulty level.
The latter is somewhat arbitrary as an active war does not necessarily mean you will be fighting or defending against all of the already existing enemies. True to historic events of the time, chaos ensues the moment you un-pause the game. Armies rise up in virtually every province as local lords respond to the call for war by their respective daimyo’s and soon after, large armies traverse the map in all directions. In the midst of this chaos, chances are that your enemies will have their hands full with fighting on other fronts.
Making sense of the chaos can be a little tough. A patient commander may be able to take advantage of weakened armies in a later stage of the initial onslaught, but may also find events moving so quickly that his options for conquest become limited. That is, of course, if you are in control. Sengoku brings an interesting mechanic where local lords and Daimyo’s (clan leaders) ‘share’ control over their forces. Daimyo’s have control over all levied armies and a ‘personal army’ of regulars, whereas local lords only command their regulars. Playing as a Daimyo, you determine who to war on and who to befriend, but once war has been declared, local lords have a mind of their own and will lay siege on enemy towns with armies sometimes rivaling that of your own levied forces.
Full camera control, best Europa-engine game ever.
Improved engine doesn’t disguise the lack of innovation over Paradox’ other grand strategy games.