Like a Feudal Japanese episode of EastEnders.
Based during the Sengoku period in Japan’s history, a period during which the many different clans fought for the title of Shogun and overall control of the land, this latest grand strategy title from Paradox Interactive, the masters of all things grand strategy, puts the player in control of one of these clan leaders. Diplomacy and politics are the name of the game, although having a large army to call upon certainly doesn’t harm the chances of becoming Shogun.
The objective of the game is quite straight forward. Control more than half of Japan for a period of three years and you become Shogun. However, being a grand strategy game and having been developed by Paradox, this straight forward objective is never going to be simple to achieve.
The game is set over a period of some 150 years, which in itself raises a few ripples for the player. As a character driven strategy game, Sengoku begins with the player choosing a character, a clan leader. Although time within the game progresses on a daily basis, something which the player can speed up or pause as they see fit, 150 years is a long time for one character to live, especially in the historical period of this game. So, through the course of a campaign, the player will find themselves marrying, having children, deciding upon heirs and then controlling them upon the inevitable death of their original character. This carries on throughout the game.
But the character driven aspect does not stop with simply extending the family tree. The game is filled with hundreds of different characters, each with their own agendas and all of whom can be interacted with through a series of on-screen windows. The key to this game is the management of these relationships, be they with friends, enemies or family members, who can fall into either of the other categories. All of these interactions are dictated by the Honor resource, something which must be managed carefully to avoid the game coming to an abrupt end. The amount of Honor that the player has will not only decide how your Vassals, characters that control provinces in your name, respond to you, but also whether or not you can go to war.
The war mechanic is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this game. During a time which was so violent, even though this game is focused on the politics and diplomacy, one would have expected the warfare to be more involving. Although going to war is fairly easy and has little penalty besides a loss of Honor, which is easily replaced by doing something nice such as sending an ally a gift or being kind to your subjects, the actual art of war is very simplistic and beyond the control of the player.
Still, with over 350 provinces on the map to try and take control of, numerous other clans, that are going about their own plans to become Shogun, to ally with, family and Vassals to stay on good terms with, and diplomatic planning for years ahead to be had, there is plenty to keep the player busy beyond the warfare. Sengoku is the type of game into which hours upon hours can be lost, and the very nature of a game that deals with such a massive length of time and so many different characters all plotting to their own ends, will prove that the actual goal of becoming Shogun is as much down to luck as anything else.
To look at the game, fans of the grand strategy genre will be pleased.The map across which the game is played is impressive and the models used on the map are pelasing to look at. There could have been a bit more variation between the models, but in comparison to other grand strategy titles, it still looks very nice. To players not used to the overhead map and tiles that are standard in this genre, it may well be difficult to move past the lack of 3D battlefield and other such graphical advancements that can be found in other gaming genres.
In fact, the newcomer will find themselves struggling right from the beginning. The game is lacking a comprehensive tutorial to teach the basics required for the rise to Shogun. Although the relatively light learning curve, in comparison to other similar games, will allow most gamers to pick up what they need within the first hour or so, it will take a far shorter time for a new player to decide that the game is not for them. Sticking with it will reveal much easier game than first impressions would suggest, but that is something that I feel most new gamers will not bother to do.
Ultimately, Sengoku is a game for the fans of the genre. The more forgiving learning curve and the more focused gameplay may be designed to make the game more appealing to newcomers, but the lack of tutorial and sheer magnitude of the game, in an age where games like Angry Birds are king, will simply turn away many new gamers. However, it does what it does well and as long as you have previously played a grand strategy game, you will find plenty here to keep you entertained.
Sengoku is available on Gamersgate for just £24.95