Shogun 2: Creative Assembly must Learn
I love the Total War Series, and although the Community is divided in regards to Avatar Conquest in Shogun 2, how you earn and level troops, etc. I am a fan of this new bold system, and I hope Creative Assembly will stick to it. What raised my concern, especially with the new Rome coming out, is how Creative Assembly handles DLC material. Now, in terms of the Singleplayer campaign I see no problems. When I bought Fall of the Samurai I got a free Clan Pack that added another faction to play as in the Main Campaign. I tried the different Clans and when I gave the DLC Clan a go I found it well balanced, and not an overwhelming force with some unfair advantage. While I miss the days of Rome: Total War, where you would unlock new Factions as you conquered them in today’s day and age it seems normal for a company to release countless DLCs, effectively making you choke out more cash in order to have a full game experience. This is not the problem as such, the problem is how Creative Assembly deals with Multiplayer.
Recently I sat back to Shogun 2 and decided to play a bit as my Fall of the Samurai Avatar, and then the Core Shogun 2 Avatar. It was one of those days that for every three lost battle you would eventually gain one victory, and while I grumbled I could always see where I made my mistakes and how to correct them. The Fall of the Samurai does not appear to have any additional DLC content, so you are certain that whatever units the enemy might have you can earn through conquering provinces, in time. In the core Shogun 2 Avatar Conquest this is not necessarily the case, and this is my personal gripe. While others may use units from the Core or Rise of the Samurai Expansions others will reach out for much more powerful troops, through DLC content.
In case you do not know what Shogun 2 is about, it’s a Strategy Game set in Japan in a number of possible Eras, depending on which Expansion or DLC you bought. There is the Sengoku era (16th Century), “Rise of the Samurai” (12th Century) and “Fall of the Samurai” (19th Century). You have at your disposal a Singleplayer Campaign for each of these (as well as Multiplayer Co-Op Campaigns) where you have a specific objective to achieve (typically, conquer a chunk of Japan and hold it). Here you conquer provinces, where you pacify the populace, construct buildings that recruit units or offer economic or “Social” benefits. You move your armies around and defeat your opponents on Land and Sea, leveling your different characters who include Ninjas, Geishas and Foreign Veterans. The Multiplayer has a number of options, aside from the “core” Custom Battles, with adjustable settings, maps, additional buildings, etc., Avatar Conquest.
Avatar Conquest looks like this; You start with a level one general, holding a single province on a map of Japan. You move your Fleet and Army Marker to provinces or sea sections bordering the ones you control in order to conquer it and obtain something associated with that province. It might be a Dojo, like a Sword Dojo, that can unlock a new unit type or Retainer. It might be just a Retainer, or piece of armor (armor sets open up new retainers). As you conquer more of the same Dojos you unlock more units from that unit type. So, the first Dojo gives you, for example, Katana Samurai, then No-Dachi Samurai and finally Hero Katana Samurai (it takes more than three Dojos to unlock the Hero Units, but you get the idea). At first everybody starts with some basic cheap and weak units, and a single Dojo that gives you a better unit type, depending on the Dojo. That’s it. As your Units and General Level up you choose which skills to improve or what abilities to unlock. When you play in a Clan you will obtain Clan Tokens that may be used to further improve your units, and “buff” them even further in some aspect (for example, you can give Ashigaru Bowmen an ability to use Fire Arrows at level 5, something they will not have by default). This nicely operating system is ruined by the introduction of DLC Units, because they ruin the initial game balance entirely.
Now, you might think I am just ranting about how I refuse to buy DLC units in order to gain an equal advantage to the other players. Sure, I do not want to buy any DLC Units, as I feel they should not even exist. “Now you are just being ignorant.”, no. I am concerned about where Creative Assembly is taking its Multiplayer experience. Let us assume I am a late joiner to Shogun 2, and I bought the core game alone. I join Avatar Conquest and I have my feeble choice of Ashigaru and a Samurai unit type. I get stacked up against another Shogun 2 player who may be only one or two levels higher than me. At first levels progress very quickly, so whether you are level 1 or 3 should not make much of a difference. On the field of battle we should have a more or less equal force, of mainly Ashigaru, maybe some Samurai, and of course our low level commander. What could we end up having? Somebody who decided to pay a bit of extra cash in order to have far superior units, at an early level. If you were the guy with just the Ashigaru units, would you want to continue playing if your first experience is that of an army on your level using far better units?
I wrote not so long ago an Opinion piece on Quality vs Quantity in strategy games. I should approach this from a purely Strategic stand-point and say, “You do not need better units, you just need a better strategy.”. That is what I would like to say, but based on my own experience it is far from what I can say. DLC units for the Shogun 2 Multiplayer: Avatar Conquest, ruin the experience for myself. While in the Fall of the Samurai everybody is on equal grounds (no additional DLC units), and you know that you have access to what the enemy does, in Shogun 2 there is no such guarantee. Some people end up with far better units from the start, others may choose to stick to their own standard units or spend money on the DLC units.
So could you say that the DLC units ruin the balance. Short answer, “Yes”. Hear out my long answer however. They ruin the balance because of the way they are introduced in Avatar Conquest. In the Campaign you need to build specific Dojos or buildings in order to make these DLC units available. They are also tied down to specific Clans or Factions, so you cannot always have all of them, and certainly not from the very beginning. In Avatar Conquest you just have them. You do not need to conquer any Dojos or Land, you simply start off with some of the best Cavalry, Sword, Spear, Bow and Matchlock Infantry in the game. How does that make any sense? Why should an ordinary player be forced to conquer three quarters of a map to have any unit equal to cost or stats to those somebody else might have from the start?
Somebody might point out, “But it just costs £2!”, so what? Should we really ignore how additional content is added, and instead support bad DLCs because they are cheap? Don’t be ignorant of the facts. The DLCs are cheap, good. The DLCs introduce new units to the Singleplayer and multiplayer, also good. In the Singleplayer you need to build Dojos or have a specific faction in order to use them, fine, that is how it’s meant to be. In Multiplayer you have them from the start, bad. Horrendously bad.
Mark my words, when Total War: Rome 2 comes out there are only two possibilities. Either we will end up with more of the same, DLCs that ruin an otherwise interesting Multiplayer experience, or Creative Assembly finds a way of implementing these DLC units without murdering both balance and fairness in a Strategy game. Reviewers do not tend to notice, from what I read, how the post-premiere DLCs influence a game, because the game at that stage is already past its spotlight. While we grumble at day one DLCs or DLCs that should not exist we fail to observe the practices of companies like Creative Assembly who on one hand know exactly what they are doing right, but then do something incredibly dumb. Every game is about balance, and while DLCs might change that balance around a bit there are many cases where they will not tip it over too roughly. In this case, they did, at least I feel that way.
I wonder, does this qualify Shogun 2 DLCs as “Pay to Win”? I will have to check up on that one. In case you want to read another rant on DLCs, go right ahead!
Alex “WriterX” Bielski