Total War Battles: Shogun ($4.99) is not perfect. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or particularly forgiving in regards to an absence of visual cues. Nonetheless, while Creative Assembly and Sega’s first attempt to bring their award-winning franchise to the iOS platform is one pockmarked with problems, it doesn’t change the fact that this real-time strategy game remains an excellent addition to the App Store.
Set somewhere in late 16th century Japan, Total War Battles opens to a familiar tune: an overcast sky, one army torching another army’s infrastructure to the ground, a father passing on his final instructions to his son. As the earnest heir, it is your responsibility to seek out those who are responsible for the tragedy that befell your clan and to exterminate them with extreme prejudice.
While hardly the most inspired premise out there, the story works well enough as an excuse to visit slow, well thought-out havoc onto opposing factions. Of course, it kind of helps that the game is also lovely to behold. Though not on par with games like Infinity Blade II, Total War Battles: Shogun still boasts of well-animated military men, excellent weather effects, decent voice acting and a suitably epic soundtrack.
Gameplay in Total War Battles: Shogun consists of you first picking one of the campaign-based missions currently available to you or an EXP stage from the world map. Depending on the nature of the level you’ve selected, you can either expect to be called upon to beat down on a number of units, defeats a certain type of enemy or to participate in a round of city planning.
Yes, you heard me. Should you choose to accept the responsibility, you’ll find yourself taking a break from the rampant warfare to work on stuff like figuring out how to jam eight shrines into a less-than-spacious map. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Buildings here come with their own set of requirements and restrictions. For example, shrines will not permit themselves to be constructed next to the vice-den that is your average trading post but will require the proximity of a lumber mill in order to exist. (No, I have no idea why either).
As for the rest of the game, it’s a little more straightforward. In between assembling the correct assortment of unit-producing buildings and ensuring that they remain in serviceable condition (enemies will do their best to burn them down), you’re going to have to send your army at your foes. Simple, right? There’s a small twist. While you’re capable of manipulating their frontal charge, you will not be able to tell your units to move back. Retreat is impossible for them as they apparently subscribe to the laws of Bushido. Additionally, you’re also going to have to take the fact that your battalions are incapable of turning on a dime and the fact that there’s a cooldown associated with your navigation-related commands into consideration.
Needless to say, this isn’t your average hair-trigger, ‘300 actions-per-minute or bust’ sort of RTS. Forethought is mandatory here. To make matters more interesting, you’ll be able to utilize a certain amount of units at a time, something that can spell life or death. If you throw everything you own into a frontal assault, you may find your home base decimated even as you watch on helplessly. Mistakes aren’t easily forgiven here.
There’s a fairly decent variety of units and buildings, by the way, one augmented by a considerable amount of available upgrades. With more than 10 hours of expected game time, gorgeous aesthetics and half-decent voice acting, Total War Battles: Shogun should represent one of the pinnacles of the iOS-based real-time strategy genre, right? Maybe.
As I’ve mentioned early on, Total War Battles: Shogun is not without its flaws. To be fair, they aren’t big flaws but they’re certainly the sort that can niggle. Units don’t come with health bars and buildings will not provide information about their structural integrity in an easy accessible fashion. There is nary a number to be found; you won’t ever get to figure out precisely how much of a defense boost your monks provide. These issues aren’t exactly game changers but if you’re the sort who likes their statistics, you might find yourself bristling at your inability to accurately calculate the likelihood of a win.
As for the multiplayer, I haven’t had the chance to get someone to sit down to poke at it with me. Unsurprisingly, Total War Battles: Shogun only supports 1vs1 same-device multiplayer, something that is generally best played on the iPad as opposed to its more diminutive cousins.
Still, if you’re willing to overlook the aforementioned issues, Total War Battles: Shogun is a refreshing change from the App Store’s barrage of angry avians, physics-based puzzler and match-3 games.