The recent trend for strategy games has been to follow the Three A’s – Action, Adrenaline & APM. Fast-paced battles explode on players screen in a mad flurry of destruction, leaving lost units strewn across blood stained maps with no time to linger over the loss before racing back to the front lines. Veteran developers Paradox Interactive want to remind us, however, that not every war is won on the battlefield, even though it plays its part. Their latest title, Sengoku, takes a more leisurely pace, but don’t assume that it’s going to be an easy path to victory. Politics can be every bit as brutal.
Sengoku isn’t an easy game for a novice to get into. With no tutorial to ease you in and a difficulty level that goes from tricky to nigh on impossible, your first few hours are going to be dedicated to delving through menus, getting to grips with the map and uncovering the best strategy for picking advisors. The interface is complex out of necessity and can make for an intimidating first encounter, but the game’s mechanics are quick to learn and the information overload soon becomes an essential resource for power-hungry players.
At first glance, Sengoku may resemble the Shogun Total War titles, especially thanks to its incredibly accurate recreation of feudal Japan. You take on the guise of a clan leader with a clear but monumental aim – to control at least half of Japan before your dynasty fades. Brute force isn’t an option for most of the game, as rival clans are always poised, waiting for you to reveal any weakness before they strike.
It’s your skill as a diplomat, negotiator, trader and matchmaker that will be tested as you expand your network of allies, slowly choking out any opposition as they find themselves surrounded by unfriendly factions. Personality plays a major part in ensuring you strike the right balance between loyalty, honour and ability. Pick an incompetent advisor and your whole infrastructure will suffer as you rely on them to be your ambassador of both war and peace away from home. Similarly, your family becomes your most valuable asset as you negotiate marriage contracts that ensure your heirs will succeed the wealthiest and most powerful figures that once threatened to oppose you.
Sengoku is a game that requires planning across generations and prudent foresight can win you the game. An innovative trait inheritance system means you need to rule your family as carefully as you control your land. Raise an argumentative, sickly son and you can expect at least a major delay to your best laid plans as he fails to follow in your footsteps. At worst, you risk alienating your most trusted advisors should personalities clash – something that you must be careful to spot as well as take advantage of whenever you spot an opportunity to grab more land.
There are still times when words will fail and you’ll be forced to rely on the sword to settle disputes. Battles are automated and, to be honest, a little dull with only two or three units (depending, bizarrely, on whether you adopt Christianity or not) that go about their grisly work based on an automated fighting system. Again, a strong leader and sturdy economy are key to your success.
The complex and deeply engaging gameplay is Sengoku’s main draw by far. The map is detailed, with the option to view the terrain and movements of your advisors and generals up close, but much of your time will be spent poring over stats and traits to cherry pick the finest solution to your problems. Similarly, the sound is functional, but I took to playing with my own music playing in the background purely because, after 5 hours, I wanted something a little different.
Sengoku is an example of a niche title that is executed with style, solid mechanics and provides an incredibly engaging, robust experience that rewards the patient with a wealth of replay options, including custom scenarios and the chance to live out centuries of rich history. It may not appeal to all but, for those with an interest in a more cerebral, carefully paced experience, it’s a perfect world in which to get carried away.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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