Neither snow, nor rain, nor the ham-handed groping of the TSA agents could keep me from visiting Creative Assembly's studios last week for my very first chance to play the latest installment in its celebrated Total War series, Shogun 2. Multiplayer is the new Big Deal for Shogun 2, so it's about time we got a chance to play it. The new game follows on the heels of Napoleon in offering up competitive and cooperative campaign play, which uses the same map and clans as the single player game. There's even unit sharing, so you can give your allies control of a small segment of your armies during the battles.
The big news, however, is the online campaign map and the persistent general profile. Here players will be able to fight across all of Japan, gaining new abilities and units with each victory. Taking one province, for instance, may give you basketwork quivers, which give your ranged units extra arrows during a battle. Another province may give you a Blind Bow Sensei, who you can use to increase the accuracy of your archers.
Everything persists on the campaign map. You'll retain your specializations, your unique skills and your armies. You'll even have to worry about casualties, keeping a careful balance between giving each of your units time to earn experience on the battlefield, and time to rest and recover their losses in between battles. You can even upgrade the look and name of your units in between battles, giving Shogun 2 a sort of Warhammer appeal.
Your daimyo will also grow as you play, which adds a tremendous level of context to multiplayer. You can customize your armor based on pieces you've earned during play and actually see those choices in the battle maps. This way, you can just look at an enemy general and know the types of things he's accomplished. And since the armor pieces confer bonuses (and special bonuses if you collect an entire set), there's a practical benefit behind all this as well. Beyond that, there are retainers you can earn during the game, which take the form of cards played before a battle. You might, for instance, invoke a Cold Snap to reduce the reload speed of enemy archers, or play Bandit Horse Thieves to reduce the speed of enemy cavalry on the field.
There are four broad skill trees for each general. You might focus on Leadership, which contains abilities that affect the entire army. This tree will help you to rally your troops, or even intimidate the enemy. Melee skills will improve your general's fighting ability, making him a force to fear on the field of battle. If you'd rather specialize in your specific units, you can follow the Bow tree, opening up the option for fire arrows, invisible snipers, or arrows that have better armor penetration. There are similar options in the Physical tree, which grants increases to speed, fatigue, charge and other abilities.
Your general will also include certain traits that describe the way you play. This way, enemies will know what to expect when they play against you. You might be listed as a "leader," which will let your enemies know that you have lots of skills. You might also be shown to "favor a balanced army," which means an enemy will have to be prepared to fight against a wide range of troop types. There's even a trait for "dishonorable coward," used to punish rage quits. This last one is particularly useful, but even quitters can redeem themselves and remove the tag if they stick around to the end of five separate battles.