Saturday, 12 March 2011

Battle Report: An evening at the Creative Assembly.

Hello one and all! Been a while eh. I thought I'd update you all on my doing's. Particularly the day I spent at The Creative Assembly in Horsham, where they develop the Total War games, and my hands on experience with their new title, Shogun 2.

As requested, I figured I'd put together a Battle Report detailing my hands-on evening with Shogun 2, and my impressions of the game on the cusp of release. Sorry, but this is a long post. I suggest a cup of tea, or maybe even a lie down half way through.

After arriving almost embarrasingly early, I hung around in the lobby. After a few minutes, and being joined by another early shower, we were greeted by Craig and Mark ("Of Mark O'Connell fame") and shown up to the Creative Assembly Office, taken through their fancy kitchen (and prison mugs) and into the demo room. Immediately, we were sat down, the game was running, and we were told to go for it.

Rather cautiously (after cranking the graphics settings up) I decided to check out the Naval Battle tutorial, as I was curious to see how it played out (after becoming adept and making massive lines of ships in Empire/Napoleon, I knew I was going to have to relearn something).

Without spoiling the tutorial, Naval Combat is, in principle, straightforward. In a lot of ways, it's theoretically similar to Land Combat; your "Bune" come in 3 different sizes and are best used to draw alongside other ships and fight them hand-to-hand combat. Your Bow Kobaya should not engage in hand to hand combat, for obvious reasons, but should be constantly moving around your opponent and peppering them with arrows, or trying to set them alight with fire arrows.

The Naval fights are frenetic and constant when there's more than one ship at play per side, and despite the Melee focus of Bune, there will always be arrows flying around from ship to ship. Unfortunately, as it was a Tutorial, I couldn't get much of a handle on the Naval AI, so not much to report there.

After this short introduction, I decided to dive right in and get to grips with the Campaign. Starting as Uesugi (on VH/VH), I was thrown immediately into a situation where Rebels were threatening my sole settlement. Moving my Daimyo's army to them I prepared, perhaps somewhat cockily, to assault them in an "evenly matched" battle.

After forming up and starting the battle, I began moving forward. It was then, with horror, I noticed that the AI had taken a position on a hill, shrouded by forests, and were refusing to come down. As I was assaulting, the onus was on me to break their formation.

Providing a united line against them on a hill would have been fruitless, so I attempted some kind of petty flanking maneuvre whilst my Archers frittered away trying to keep them busy. It didn't work, they had turned to face me every time and when battle finally joined, I was still fighting uphill and they made short work of my Yari Ashigaru. With my forces soon in dissaray then advanced down the hill and to my remaining unit of Archers, and my Daimyo, who were positioned on a smaller hill but nevertheless vastly disadvantaged.

I was crushed.

Swallowing my pride, I prepared to carry on. Instead, I rage quit and started again.

I won't go into detail about every AI battle I participated it, but needless to say the AI, for the most part, was consistent in its thinking through of the battle field and its surroundings and, although I didn't suffer many more losses (once burnt, twice shy), I did find myself remaining constantly alert and vigilant for any tricks the AI might try to pull on me. Of course, the AI is going to fritz every now and again, but from what I've seen, it will provide enough of a challenge to keep people on their toes.

A brief mention on the visuals. Most people have seen in videos and screenshots, but it's still worth saying; even without full DX11 support, this game is beautiful. Both in how much detail is put into the game, and the atmosphere; the small swaying of the breeze, carrying leaves and petals along on it as your units move is really something. The music goes without saying. Jeff van **** is a maestro.

Anyway. After a while Kagatsuchi suggested we try a Multiplayer Battle. We all enthusiastically agreed. Craig had a mischevious smile on his face, which you'd think meant he had something planned bu--well, nevermind, eh?

Myself and Kagatsuchi were auto paired onto one team, whilst ExtremeChimping and single PC combo of Mark (Mouse and Keyboard control) and Craig (...Support, I guess?) took the other team. After loading our armies, generals and units out in ridiculous colors and ridiculous names, and forming up on the battlefield, the battle began!

The enemy force directly opposite me was Mark and Craig, who stalwartly refused to move from their position, whilst Kagatsuchi paired off against ExtremeChimping in opening maneuvres that were slightly more energetic, but not much.

After maneuvring for 5 or 10 more minutes, and some cavalry skirmishes between Kagatsuchi and ExtremeChimping that resulted in the loss of one of my cavalry units, and Mark still not moving very much, we decided that battle should finally be joined. Moving my archers into position, ranged fire began exhanging between my army and Mark's whilst, on my left flank, his cavalry moved to defend ExtremeChimping.

Unfortunately, my remaining Cavalry and superior foot infantry saw off this attack, leaving ExtremeChimping's army, which had advanced somewhat ahead of the body of Mark's force, open to flanking. Chimping's force, which was already pinned down by fully-joined battle with Kagatsuchi, was sadly powerless to resist as a small contingent of my army rolled up his flank, the rest of my force closing around Mark's now exposed lines.

As you would expect this all came to a head as the first routing units of the Mark/Chimping alliance began a chain reaction which soon lead to the shattering of both their armies. We had our victory and, whilst it wasn't the most inventive fight, it was nevertheless hugely entertaining. I expectantly await a rematch.

All this giddy horseplay had, however, brought our time at CA to a close and, after thanking them profusely for having us and the free T-Shirts they gave us (sorry, ExtremeChimping!), we began our journey homewards.

This is not something I say lightly, but I do believe Shogun 2 could fully live up to the legacy of its decade old predecessor. It is beautiful, smart and engaging, with the combined experience of a decade's successes and failures. Tuesday cannot come quick enough.

Thanks again for the experience!

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