Friday, 15 April 2011

Part 5, in which fails are numerous

(As I mentioned earlier, due to some screw-ups with FRAPS this post doesn't really have proper screenshots - the few present are just lucky salvages. But it's just the first of many failures in this mistake-ridden chapter of the story.)

Last time we left off with the Takeda war machine getting all shiny and polished, an ally betrayed and a period of peace about to end. In a shocking and entirely unpredictable twist, my next target is Anegakoji - the mostly friendly (though slightly irked) neighbors to the west whose previous attempt at disturbance of peace was thwarted by me when I got to do that first.

Despite their temperament being listed in-game as "defensive", they've been acting rather aggressively - starting from just a single province they have already grown to four. However, after having my monk pass through their territory, I can see they only have one really strong army and even that is a fair bit away from my borders. Little immediate resistance means I can get some foothold in their territory before any tough combat starts, so I confidently open up the diplomacy screen and declare war.

"These notes about your armies? I just want to pray for them later."

Before we get to the action, let me mention an interesting aspect of campaign map design in Shogun 2. Let's take Hida province from the screenshot as an example - even though it technically borders six other provinces, only two of them (North Shinano and Etchu) have road connections, the rest being blocked by impassable mountains and forests.  Similarly, there is a mountain range between neighboring provinces of North Shinano and Etchu, meaning that traveling from one to the other requires taking a long roundabout.

It seems that the whole map is a maze like that, so exploring the terrain beforehand is a must before attempting any kind of invasion - getting stuck in a dead end just doesn't instil the kind of fear you want your enemies to  have.

Anyway, let's get some conquering done. I decide to start easy and move my smaller army to take Etchu which, in what is starting to look like a pattern of AI incompetence, is left pretty much defenseless, with a couple of units stationed just outside castle walls (I presume the soldiers are all claustrophobic, or maybe it gets smelly in there too). The battle is so clean that none of the buildings get damaged, which is notable because even when you don't damage anything during a battle the game still likes to throw in something for you to repair. That went well.

Hida is next. This one actually has defenders behind the walls - the first real siege battle of the campaign. I left the better part of our force for this side of the assault - a three-star general, a nice assortment of katana, bow and light cavalry and a unit or two of spearmen and archers. I only realize what a bad idea it is to bring such army to a siege when it is already in position.

Still, a battle is a battle. Anegakoji had three (I think) units of spearmen, one of archers, the default bunch of samurai retainers (a unit that is only present during sieges, and quite a formidable one when supported by others) and a one-star general - nothing impressive, but more than a match for the part of our force that is capable of assaulting castle walls.

After thinning out the enemy force by using up all arrows we had (their archers seemed to be okay with it and did nothing, choosing to protect the side of the castle we weren't going to attack), it was time to move in our infantry. The need to construct siege engines has been removed from the game; instead, all infantry units can turn into spidermen for the occasion and climb the conveniently sloped fortifications. Also, castle gates appear to be made of cardboard because I'm pretty sure destroying them bare-handed takes less time than doing the same with a battering ram in Medieval 2.

No simplification can protect from stupid mistakes, though. When ordering my spearmen to climb the walls I accidentally select the nearby archers as well. Evidently, climbing down is too complicated; they go up despite my repeated attempts to undo the order and get all but slaughtered by samurai retainers waiting at the top.

A unit of spearmen is more successful at getting the gates open, and so I finally send all the cavalry into action. It goes exactly as well as any head-on cavalry attack against spear infantry in a crowded area would go, that is to say, not particularly well, but at this point I have superior numbers and use them to push the defenders into defeat. Game dubs it a "close victory" for me; the losses are indeed much too high. Still, we've just occupied half of Anegakoji land in one turn - it's not all bad.

Hey, you there, come see these sweet new towns I got! Oh wait, no...

So, the big Anegakoji army we saw earlier is already next to the new additions to our clan. That promises a lot of fun. But first - a sea battle!

Remember the trade ship we sent south to search for a trading post? It reached one that was already in use a bit earlier so it went further still. Next one was also taken. However, a quick check revealed that the fleet belonged to a single-province clan in the far end of the island that everybody hated - really, the whole relations map was tinted red for it. Figuring that there's nothing to lose, I attempt to wrestle control of the trade post - after all, our warship should give us the upper hand, right?

Top-left-most anchor marks the location.

Er, well, not quite. "Warship" is a bit of a strong word to use here, anyway. And they had three trade ships. Bow kobaya has extra archers and maneuverability, but lacks in sheer manpower, of which trade ships have plenty. I do manage to take one their ships and push another right to the brink of surrender, but my own trade ship gives up before being able to finish the job, and the kobaya is pretty much helpless when left by itself. I mutter something about wanting to give away my ships from the beginning and decide not to continue naval expansion for a while.

In general, sea battles are a bit of an unfamiliar territory for me. Medieval 2, with its automatic battle system that - I swear - was constantly trying to get back at me for all the land victories, left me craving for a way to control sea battles, but when it finally came in Empire it didn't take long before I started thinking that perhaps auto-resolve isn't such a bad thing after all. It seems I should probably steer clear of of the sea in Shogun as well - at least until I figure out how to make ship cavalry.

But even leaving the sea alone, there still is trouble. For example, I don't think Anegakoji's daimyo and his stack of dudes there is particularly excited about my surprise visit to his towns.

Tune in next time to find out exactly how much he's not excited about it.


  1. My main problem with the sea battles was that they were hopelessly unbalanced (Rocket ships.) and then they balanced it with suck. Like, reducing the range of bigger ships' cannons, which feels like the opposite of realism. Just like making a fleet full of nothing but ships of the line and assorted novelty ships (Rocket, bomb). Also every relevant thing in the RAGE! thread, of course. And the controls could be quite awful.

    On the plus side, once you entered a sea battle with somewhat equal fleets, I found few to none exploits to turn that into a spotless victory. And fighting with a weak fleet against a stronger one was genuinely hard. Realism and controls aside, I considered sea battles the strongest battles in the game. Not that they have much competition.

    You mentioned a maze-like map with dead-ends. Can you make a guess on whether the AI knows the map in advance or not?

  2. Well, the map mostly makes it impossible to plan the grand strategy of your army's movements just by looking at the general overview which only shows provinces. I imagine the AI doesn't "think" like that so it simply wouldn't have that problem. Also, it appears that hidden armies and agents can be really hidden in this game (so far I've had a case where my ninja didn't see an enemy ninja right right next to him, and some small hidden armies that escaped the eyes of my monk and metsuke, not to mention that "let's sneak into their capital" incident), so it can be difficult to tell if the AI has scouted the area before moving in. Without having any evidence either way, I'd say it's entirely possible for AI to play fair and not get stuck anywhere.

  3. Damn you, bucaneer, your constant victories are making everyone else in the business look bad! Seriously, here I was, preparing for what was hyped as a defeat of the century, with finest Earl Grey and biscuits five bucks can buy, and you go ahead and win again! Come ooon, you can do worse than this, just try a little harder. Or, er, easier... whatever.

    Seriously though, is there a way to change the difficulty on the fly?

    Also, how many unit types are there in Shogun? Seven? I know Empire had, like, two hundred, and only a dozen of them were actually worth a damn, but this one seems like the opposite extreme.

  4. Two hundred?!? Unless you're talking of ships, I'd estimate more like twenty, inflated with minimal paint jobs. Or maybe they just felt all the same.

  5. Save your tea and biscuits for Part 6 (Sunday, I think).

    Pretty sure the difficulty can't be changed, but I haven't checked. I can do always do some suicide runs or something if it seems I'm having it too easy, though.

    Yeah, there's very little unit variety - lots of names but hardly any substantial difference between clan-specific versions. Though to be fair, I'm simplifying the picture even more in the posts; perhaps there'll be more to talk about unit-wise later in the game.

  6. @Sekundaari: the weird unit types were one of the reasons I couldn't play Empire (or Napoleon, I forgot which). I remember I tried playing some campaign and the game started me out with, like, 4 different types of infantry, each with a fancy name like "fusiliers", and I've had no idea which of them did what and why did they all suck so bad.

    Then again, the only thing I know about History is that Vlad the Impaler was the seventh chancellor of the UN, so maybe this game just wasn't meant for me.

  7. @bucaneer: fingers crossed!

    It does seem like you're having it easy although, from what I can remember about Total War, you don't actually LOSE battles all that often, even if you really suck (and do I ever!), you just suffer unit losses and move on.