11
Sep
unnamed

The real-time strategy genre has a lot to recommend it: tactical thinking, fast-paced unit and resource management, and multiplayer atmosphere that's unlike anything else in gaming. But it's hard to escape the fact that in order to have a real RTS, you just need a mouse. Precise movements and commands are nigh impossible on a touchscreen. Sega's Total War Battles: Shogun is a spinoff from their wildly successful Total War PC franchise, which breaks with tradition and tries to adapt the RTS genre to the touchscreen. Unfortunately, just about everything that makes a strategy game enjoyable is lost in translation.

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A new Spin On An Old Hat

Some of the staples of real-time strategy are here: bases with buildings which manufacture units, gathering different kinds of resources, incremental technology upgrades. But instead of being given a basically open map, you're restricted to a hexagonal grid. Buildings must be fit into an area never more than five or six spaces high, which is frustrating when the buildings themselves take up three to four. Some of the placements are baffling, as well - everything needs to be connected by roads, but thanks to the strange shapes imposed upon the buildings, getting an efficient layout is nearly impossible.

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Arbitrary restrictions are killers when building bases. For example, a Temple which spawns monks takes four spaces, effectively blocking anything around it, and must be connected to a logging camp. But it can't be anywhere near a market, and like other buildings, it can't overlap existing roads. It's a good thing that you can destruct and move any building at any time, or a single placement could ruin an entire match. As it is, creating your base becomes a tedious game of hexagonal musical chairs.

Not Exactly Fast As Lightning

The units are nearly as frustrating. Spawning infantry, cavalry or archers creates a few units that are restricted to the same grid, meaning that close-quarters fighters are limited to attacking the three spaces in front of them. Archers and gunmen can attack longer distances, but only in a straight line. In order for infantry to attack something more than one space away, or for archers to attack up or down, you'll have to use the up and down movement commands, a step that takes an extra motion and can only be performed once in a while.

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Add to that the fact that even the fastest unit crawls across the map, and you get a "real-time" strategy game that plays a lot more like a board game (or a really slow match of Plants vs Zombies) than anything else. While it's possible to use traditional strategy to outwit your opponent, it's generally easier just to spam archers with a few infantry in front to slow down the line. The most important resource is space, not gold or wood, which seems like a poor basis for strategy.

No Worthy Opponent

While multiplayer is present, I found it hard to establish a stable game with Sega's matchmaking service. When you can find a human opponent, the matches are without buildings or resources: each side gets a set number of units to deploy, and they duke it out until one general is down. Again, this is more like a board game than a real-time strategy game. Multiplayer is best avoided, which is a downright shame.

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The campaign is easy, whenever buildings are taken out of the equation. You can fly through the simple story mode or take side missions to build up experience, thus making your buildings and units more effective for later battles. Your upgrades won't carry over into the multiplayer or skirmish modes (not that they should) which makes the side missions little more than busy work. The computer opponents are laughably easy once you get the mechanics down. Those looking for challenge will have to enter the skirmish mode on hard or "Shogun" difficulty. And perhaps tie one arm behind their back.

Sumi-e Style

On the other hand, the graphics and production values are surprisingly appealing. Breaking from the absolute realism of the PC Total War games, Total War Battles goes with a more colorful cartoon style that fits the overall feel of the game. You won't see any blood, but there's plenty of luscious scenery, and you could be fooled into thinking that you were looking at a strangely-annotated wall decoration while playing the game. The campaign has cut scenes, of a sort, and some filler story with decent voice narration. If only the cartoony style was supplemented with better menus - figuring out which buildings and units you're using with the simplistic icons can be very difficult.

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Total War Battles won't push your phone or tablet's graphical abilities, assuming it's less than 18 months old. This lowers the barrier to entry, which is nice, but it seems that Sega is having trouble deciding which phones and tablets are compatible. Many are reporting that the Nexus 7, which should be able to eat this game for breakfast, can't access it in the Google Play Store.

Weak Yen Vs The Dollar

Total War Battles: Shogun is $4.99, which places it at the high end of Android games. Considering the production values and the work that went into it, it's certainly reasonable for Sega to charge that much... or at least would be if the game were more fun. Unfortunately, Sega has committed a cardinal sin in this reviewer's opinion by injecting in-app purchases (specifically experience boosts for the single-player campaign) into a paid app.

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This sort of thing is annoying enough, and all too common, at the $1 and free level. But trying to squeeze more money out of what should be a "premium" experiences leaves a poor taste in my mouth. Developers: pick a monetization strategy (paid, ad-supported, or in-app purchases) and stick with it. Don't try to nickel-and-dime your players by mixing and matching.

Conclusion

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Sega and The Creative Assembly should be applauded for trying to make traditional strategy work on mobile, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Total War Battles: Shogun is at best annoying, at worst incomprehensible and unnecessarily slow. The production values are appealing, but can do nothing to help what is a deeply flawed game to begin with. The addition of in-app purchases to an already expensive game is the nail in the coffin.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • Kernschatten

    I bought it. It's no C&C or Starcraft. But, it's not a bad time waster. I agree that the in app purchases are a mistake.

    • ari_free

      IAP is here to stay. It's the rare game that doesn't have it.

      • Himmat Singh

        Rare indeed. Heck, I can't remember the last paid or free game that came without IAP.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

    I remember when Rome: Total War came out, all the TW veterans (those who played Medieval or Shogun) were thumbing their noses at it and sneering at how it was "dumbed down" and "made for kids".

    I wouldn't be surprised if those Rome "kids" are now doing the same to this mobile game.

  • Himmat Singh

    Well, I digress - I actually think this is the BEST game I've played so far this year, and am half-way round doing my own review on it. I am not going to read through your review so as to not cloud my opinion of the game for the time being, but really this is an in-depth experience lacking in many Android games. There's no point in comparing it with a PC counterpart.

    Regarding the IAPs, I was irked at first, then I realized it's not so bad and totally optional. As one guy out it, "the IAPs make the game slightly easier, not significantly easier". Which I think is an important distinction to make. You eventually earn XP and you really need to upgrade everything for the first tier only - anything else is a bonus and makes very little difference to your actual performance.

    I don't know how much of the game you've played, but I am almost at the end so I can speak with certainty on this matter.

    • Jeremiah Rice

      I'm glad you enjoy it. Perhaps as a regular player of real-time strategy games on the PC, my expectations were somewhat slanted. I'll agree that it's got plenty of depth, it's just depth that I didn't enjoy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/StevenCaravella Steven Caravella

    Any news on when Civilization Revolution is coming out. I havent heard anything for a while and would like to know more.

  • Andrea Rossi

    I waited a long time for a game like this on Android. Looks like I'll still have to wait..

  • Tim Kermode

    I don't understand why we can't have a C&C game (there's already one for iOS devices) or similar such as Warzone 2100 which could be resurrected.
    They don't need complicated controls, touch a unit to select it, double tap a unit to select all units of that type, click an open area to move to it. On any screen 4.3" and above I can't see this being an issue with touchscreen.
    Warzone 2100 PSX version is even playable through the emulator using silly touch gamepad controls.

    Just seems to be a genre that is horribly lacking. There are endless FPS android games out there which I don't think can ever be properly suited to touch controls. Not one half decent RTS, Gameloft sell one which is sort of headed int he right direction (can't rememebr the name, have to buy it from their website)

    • Andrea Rossi

      I totally second your moan, sir. We want effing RTS's on Android! I'd give a kidney for Age of Empires on my Nexus 7...

      • Al McDowall

        +1 to AOE. I've played that game more than any other in my life, would kill to have it on the girlfrend's tablet (assuming she ever stopped playing it long enough for me to have a go)

        Also +1 to Tim, if anything this genre could work better with touch than with a mouse. In some ways it's only a little different to Tower Defense games, in that each unit can move.

      • liono1787

        OH MAN... AOE on my Nexus would be awesome.. a game like that is the sole reason my brother bought one.. hopefully something like that will come out before the next generation Nexus.. lol

  • fixxmyhead

    is this game like one of those world of warcraft games?

  • http://www.facebook.com/coyo7e Carl Hueske

    They updated this game to 1.02 and broke it so bad it wouldn't play on my phone or tablet. Then they never posted another update, they don't even have a TW Battles area on their official site, and one of my devices is no longer even listed as compatible. Sure glad I bought this pile of crap.

  • meta_meta

    Is this seriously a review or just a complain from a sore loser? Sure the building placent is hard, but the complexity allows one to think Nd place them carefully, like back in starcraft one days when simcity was important. For example, with careful arrangement you can hide your cannon behind the building line allowing great defensive strategy. Seems to me you just need more koreans to play this game pfsh.

    The price if still at 4.99 would have been exorbitant but its down to 2.99 rite now and well worth the purchase. It provodes great skill and mind to think all the building out and the unit match plus the resources and the general order command. Restricted unit movt also provides challenge and makes one to revert from making the istake of the se units or beingwasteful with the resources. Also the comp ai is sufficiently difficult but easy to master once you reali think on it.

    I haven't checked out the multi play yet but would love to try it after finishing the mission. This is so far the best androidd game yet.

    Oh yeah if things are running slow get a good phone like galaxy s3 or galaxy note 2. I am running it at s3 and dont have roo much spyware to weigh me down so its fun to command units and build and put general order at the same time at lightening pace

  • Suckmyorbitals

    This game is fantastic, and I'm a long time fan of Total war & all rts games. I feel as though it has a lot of strategy & variability crammed into a traditionally limiting platform. For $2 it's excellent value.

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