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I have had the pleasure of visiting CA at their offices in Horsham. For a few hours, I had the opportunity to play the SP campaign to a small degree and have a go at a 4v4 Multiplayer battle against Mark and Craig.
In gratitude, I have agreed to post my experience to the community and hopefully answer a couple of the questions bothering a large number of the player base. I apologise for the coming wall of text.
Let me start by explaining how much is missing from the demo compared to the actual game. The demo is a great way to introduce the game for sure, however it doesn't do the full game justice one iotta. The game was played on what seemed like a capable system, not uber by any stretch but better than my laptop.
The visuals are immensely better in the full game, it seemed richer, more full of detail and atmosphere. I didn't feel like the demo absorbed me into the experience but as soon as i started the full campaign for real, my first thought was "OMG, this is actually going to be hard, like real hard".
I had chosen to play this pitifully small clan (Tokugawa) in the middle of this emmense map of Japan and it felt like it would take me about a week just to sail a single ship round it.
My neighbours seemed stronger and like real obstacles in quest for the shogunate.
The level of detail, the music, the artwork and general atmosphere of the game will quite likely make you feel overwhelmed by the size of complexity of the task to come. Fortunately, the game WILL draw you into the mood of the period and suddenly, I was tokugawa Ieyesu's father, planning my first conquest. I couldn't wait to begin. (which quickly went horribly wrong for me on Legendary btw).
I never played Napoleon Totalwar, so i can't compare the two. However, I can compare it to all the other Totalwar games and the recent demo. This is what I can tell you of certain aspects of the game i played and questions I asked the Dev Team about.
This is perhaps the most important element for me, Totalwar has always been an absorbing series of games but the AI was the weak link in the experience. Not anymore.
It is by no means a Big Blue with human like qualities. but it surprised me. I played one battle against the Imagawa. I was outnumbered about 2 to 3 and the enemy AI advanced methodically and with purpose, the enemy general held back and the forward units all came on with a purpose.
A few Ashigaru to absorb my arrow fire, followed by its own archers. The army began to split just before the clash in order to counter my attempted flank and once battle was joined, suddenly, from my right flank appeared two further generals and an ashigaru spear unit to "roll me up". At just the right moment, the enemy general charged my mangled line to began a rout while the flank attack finished of any and all resistance. I was ****d!!
I would have done almost the exact same thing if the tables had been reversed.
The Campaign AI seems just as good. It makes what appear to be calculated and strategic moves counter to whatever you might be wanting to achieve or do. It never overdoes it though and I didn't feel like it was getting a huge helping hand from bonuses. However, one thing I can be grateful for is that there were other clans out there causing trouble for my enemies otherwise it would have been too much!
However, The AI does seem to struggle to find a solution to unusual problems, for example, the Oda were wiped out early on and it had 1 general unit remaining on the map (in my province) given that there wasn't much it could do, thats exactly what it did, nothing, at all. It didn't act rebel like (which it was: Oda rebels), it just sat there.
That said, I feel that the AI is a vast improvement over old attempts and finally, for those courageous enough to try Hard or V.Hard, you will find the game a serious challenge!
I didnt experience this to any great detail but I can say that you will not be able to romp accross the map using tried and tested tricks of diplomacy to keep your enemies at bay. The AI immediately, almost too quickly infact, forms alliances and trade agreements that will really put the squeeze on you, without making you feel like the only enemy in Japan. Smart diplomacy will definately make things smoother, but don't expect an easy ride.
I played a couple of these and they were pretty basic. They are enjoyable and definately make you feel like your probably going to get wet. However, my limited exposure left me feeling like some battles would be autoresolved after the novelty wore off. The addition of land definately gives you a few strategic options, but with only 2-3 boats per side in my battles, it didn't feature as much as it might have with 2 large fleets bearing down on each other!
This aspect is HUGE! so huge infact that i barely scrathed the surface. I am looking forward to this aspect of the game in a way that no other TW game has even come close. (except maybe good old STW 1, which i rate as one of the best games ever for its time)
However, one or 2 questions were bugging me about this aspect, so I asked:
Q1: Can 1 super zerg clan dominate all other clans just through numbers alone?
A: NO!! Apparently, the system is setup so that even a small clan of just a few players can stand a chance against any other clan. Now, be clear about this, against a mighty clan of hundreds of players - everyone is going to have an uphill battle. ONLY the small clans that are organised and skillful will have a chance at beating a much bigger clan, but it is possible. Playing the right battles using the correct bonuses and tactics will prevail against a less well run clan, regardless of size. Just as it should be, only those clans that work as teams will win the top leagues.
So if you love the game and will play it religously, join or start a clan, get at least 5-10 other dedicated players and you will have a good shot at the top spot, regardless of who you face.
If you are more of a casual player, then the system will probably affect you less and therefore, either a quality clan of small size or a larger clan will do fine.
Q2: Can players who are losing, cheat my causing the game to lag out, forcing a draw.
A. yes and no. If a player forces the game to slow to a crawl by flooding their connection, they will be dropped eventually and given a loss (under certain conditions rather then arbitrarily). But a cheater can still lag the game out.
Apparently, using a funky system within steam (I dunno what he called it), CA can monitor broadband usage over certain maps and they intend to use this information to streamline the system to limit cheating of this kind.
Until the game is released and information is gathered, The Dev I spoke to was understandably unsure as to how this might pan out but happily, they plan to improve this aspect and others as they are able.
I have been looking forward to this game for ages and tbh, I probably sound as biased as I could get, however, that genuinely is because I am so impressed with the game. It has a few small flaws as any game would but given my limited exposure, I can't wait for it to be released and I can confidently say that the daemons of Empire have well and truely been exorcised!!
Lastly, I would like to exoress my gratitude to Mark, Craig and the CA team for allowing me the opportunity to try the game out before release!!