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If you could just play one Total War, if you could only have one for your desert island exile, it needs to be this one. Shogun 2 is where all of the series' best ideas have been gathered into one game, and married to a stunning aesthetic inspired by its setting. And with its Fall of the Samurai expansion, Shogun 2 also turned to the Total War.

In its second outing, the Total War series reached near-perfection. I'm still not sure a more balanced Total War game has ever materialized. The Risk-style map is easy for the AI to manage, and the various starting positions of each kingdom and empire allows for some legitimate AI superpowers to challenge and form players in the game.

So ahead of the series leaves background behind for the grimdark faux-history of Warhammer fantasy, let's put to order the times that Total War was at its best... and why sometimes its lows were so very low. We'll save the worst for last, because if there is one thing that each Total War enthusiast enjoys, it's a debate over which games were the biggest disappointments.

All Total War games have had impressive graphics for their time, but Shogun 2 stays beautiful even today. Its appearance owes more to movies like Kurosawa's Ran and Kagemusha than to reality, and gives each battle a vivid, dreamlike quality that is unmatched by any other Total War. Once the battle is joined and the final reserves have been dedicated, Shogun 2 is a game where you can just zoom to ground-level and observe individual sword duels play out beneath all the lovely carnage.

After Rome 2, it was hard to be optimistic about the future of Total War. Shogun 2 succeeded because it took a couple good ideas from Napoleon Total War and ignored just about everything else that the series had attempted since Rome. Was the future of Total War going to be repackaged strikes?

The use of the Pope in Medieval: Total War also deserves special mention as one of the most enjoyably infuriating villains of any strategy game. Just when things are starting to go well for a Catholic ruler, the Pope can always be trusted to screw things up for another ten years, which makes Medieval a very good argument for the Peace of Westphalia.

At its best, the Total War series casts a spell over you. Your empire rises from nothing, surrounded by enemies that are poised to trample it in the dust. Each choice on the strategic level is a gamble on the future, where 'one more turn' isn't just a stepping-stone to a new upgrade, but a perilous step onto thin ice. Each time you take to the battlefield is just another do-or-die moment, a possible Hastings or Austerlitz that can open the road to conquest or plunge you into a desperate struggle for survival.

Napoleon still does not completely come to grips with warfare in the horse-and-musket era. When the campaign starts, not one of the foremost powers of Europe have figured out that you can have two and even three ranks of soldiers shooting simultaneously if the guys before take a knee. It requires years of research for someone to have this idea, apparently. Grenadiers also throw grenades at close range, which is Total War at its most endearingly literal.

If an outside power takes Kyoto and the old Shogunate retains other states they'll now lose the Shogunate status and forfiet their Daimyo. As before a Daimyo can re-establish the Shogunate by beating Kyoto.

Recommended:• OS:/Windows 7/Windows 8• Processor:Intel® Pentium® IV 2
.4 GHz or AMD 3500+• Memory:2 GB RAM• Graphics:NVIDIA® GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon® X1900, 1024mb video memory recommended• DirectX®:9.0c• Hard Drive:2 GB HD space• Sound:Direct X-compatible soundcard• Other Requirements:Broadband Internet connectionAdditional:Controller support: 3-button mouse, speakers and keyboard. Internet Connection or LAN for multiplayer


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