Are you a fan of the Total War series of real-time strategy games for Mac and PC? Then tread lightly as we move forward. Are you a fan of expertly developed, wonderfully involving and entertaining real-time strategy games in general that just happen to bear the Total War name? Then sound your battle cry and charge forward with weapon drawn, because Total War Battles: Shogun is a blast.
What is it?
Total War Battles: Shogun is a spin-off of The Creative Assembly and SEGA’s popular PC-based real-time strategy war games (of which Rome: Total War Gold Edition has seen a Mac release, and Empire: Total War Gold Edition is forthcoming). I need to stress spinoff, because Total War Battles: Shogun is not those games. The PC counterparts are too complex to pull off on a touchscreen device, so SEGA wisely chose to develop a unique real-time strategy game built specifically for touchscreen devices.
But although they made necessary sacrifices in gameplay, they didn’t compromise in quality.
How does it work?
The action of Total War Battles: Shogun is placed on a hexagon grid across which you, as a “hot-headed young samurai who vows to avenge the death of this father,” will send your various units to destroy the enemy. As is standard in real-time strategy games, you’ll need to mine resources to construct buildings to create your warriors to send into battle, so the game is as much about resource management as it is about combat. Buildings must be constructed in proximity to each other and their respective resource in order to function efficiently (or at all), but Total War Battles: Shogun provides decent tutorials to help you get started. In fact, some of the 18 sidequests seem to be there specifically to train you for future levels in the core missions.
The hexagon-based combat grid provides for unique strategies. Tapping the direction pointers (hands at the bottom of the screen) can send your units down or up, but always forward.
You can halt their movement, but you cannot bring them back. As such, you need to plan ahead to use the terrain and the hexagon spaces to your advantage (you can, in effect, have three squads attacking one…more if you also have your ranged fighters attacking). It all takes some getting used to, especially considering the variety of terrains and mission types, but it provides a rewarding experience once you’re in the flow.
Is it contagious?
Without a doubt, and for numerous reasons. First, the Retina display graphics are beautifully designed, with inspiration drawn from art and music of the period. Second, it has a well-told story that drives you forward with voice acted narrative between levels. And third, the combat itself manages to be intense without being overwhelming; you’ll have time to set your strategies in motion, although you’ll often have to refine them multiple times to have success as you work deeper into the 27 core missions.
There are, however, a couple of problems, too. I became quite frustrated with the game’s inability to recognize when I’d tapped on a unit. If I need to halt my warriors quickly, I shouldn’t have to tap them five or six times before the iPad recognizes that. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed quickly.
I also hope to see multiplayer expanded to include WiFi or GameCenter support. Currently, it’s single device 1 vs. 1 only via special multiplayer modes.
But until then, Total War Battles: Shogun offers enough to keep you busy, and I could really use the practice, anyway, before I attempt to take the battle beyond my personal iPad.