RPG Index: Single player Role Playing Games

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Guide to winning Shogun 2 on harder difficulties

Select your faction carefully!


Shogun 2 is a brilliant game. The expansions and DLC content are also very acceptable if not slightly overpriced. Playing the campaign with a friend or even alone is unbelievably addictive. Whilst Normal difficulty is a stroll through the park, when you bump it up to Hard mode or higher; the challenge can be frustratingly overwhelming- even if you have two people.

Legendary is just obscene and I doubt many people even have the patience to persevere through the sheer amount of new games it would take to stand a fighting chance. Armies just spawn over and over making it a very slow uphill battle to snatch a couple of provinces. Therefore for the best challenge I recommend most people stick to hard, unless you are a mathematical genius who wants to abuse mechanics. The normal campaign is designed to ease you into the game, and can be completed using auto-resolve for every battle. I personally find normal easy, but hard and higher are exponentially more difficult.

The start of every campaign is usually the most challenging, if you lose your first large army or the majority of your provinces it's safe to say you are probably going to lose. Most of the information here is designed to help you early game, so you stand a better chance of grabbing provinces early on and then keeping them. With a bit of luck this guide will give you a good shot of becoming the Shogunate.

Hattori really struggle to get started.

The basics and start up

The key to winning any Total War game is patience. If you methodically complete your turns on the campaign map, you will have a significant advantage. Back up a save every 5-10 turns because every playthrough you will get blindsided and surprised. It's better to go back several turns to prepare for that sneaky army as opposed to starting over again as they took most of your provinces.

Most factions you choose to play as may require a few restarts until you can break through the initial troublesome waves of enemies at the start. If you're unlucky several factions may just declare war on you at the same time; and at that point if you're not in a very good position you might not be able to handle the onslaught, in which case it would be better to start over.

Every new game you begin will mostly be different. Since there are so many factions, at the beginning you have no idea which clans will rise to be superpowers, and which will be crumbled into the dust. However, if you restart a few campaigns you will start to see patterns and variables early game. You will learn who you can attack without them spawning a gigantic army and retaliating. You may notice some recurring events every time you restart. For example, if you're playing Uesugi- it is incredibly likely for Takeda to declare war on you in the first 30 turns. Use the knowledge you obtain and use it well. If you know a faction is going to attack someone or move their army to a particular place; take advantage of the information or you will not get far on the difficult campaigns.

For example, if you play as the Hattori, you have a hard decision to make at the beginning. There are two possible factions you can attack. The Asai or the Tsutsui. Attacking Omi and the Asai means you will be able to grab an easy province, but you will be losing a potential trade partner and ally. Not only this, but the Ikko-Ikki and other factions in the east will attack you very shortly afterwards. If you attack the Tsutsui however, they are allied with the rather large Hatakeyama- somebody you don't want to be messing with early game.

So what can you do when the only two provinces you can go for are essentially untouchable? Think up a strategy to work around it. In the above situation I choose to ally with Asai, and wait for Tsutsui to declare war on me. Inevitably, Tsutsui will always attack you- thus removing Hatakeyama out of the equation. This strategy allows you to take your first province without putting yourself in immediate danger of being wiped out. With the Asai and Shogunate protecting you in the north- you're very well protected. The only downside is you may have to protect the Asai from being wiped out at the beginning, because otherwise you'll be saying hello to the Ikko-Ikki.

To summarize, your first 20-40 turns in any campaign are integral to victory. Later on you can afford to make mistakes. If you fuck up early, you will likely get eradicated for your mistake. Hell, I've been wiped out in 30 turns even without making a single error. So plan carefully.

Cavalry are not as useful as previous games, but still amazing.


Whilst playing normal you can avoid any kind of Diplomacy, and you won't suffer for it. But trust me, it's more important than you think. Gathering a strong ally or two will save you more than once, not only because it stops them attacking you- but also because you can use an alliance to block enemy incursions where you don't want them. If you're expanding south, ally with the north so they won't blindside you.

If you're at war with someone you can't handle, you can negotiate peace with a hostage or after destroying some of their armies. Remember they will still be gunning for you though! So be ready when the truce ends. Weigh up your options and see which is the most logical path. Asking for peace isn't a strategy I use often. It's a temporary solution nothing more- designed to buy you a little more time if you need it.

When you take the last province from a faction, you have the option to turn them into a vassal, essentially turning them into your ally with benefits. I hate this option, I want the province for myself. But the strategical advantage of vassals is just too important to pass up. It can be used to protect your borders more reliably than anything else. Every campaign I end up using a couple of vassals early on- it's really useful to have a clan in your pocket.

Finally, you can offer military access to people near you to gain money. This is a very easy way to get obscene amounts of cash early on, I've banked 5k in the opening turns by offering military access. Make sure not to offer more than 5 or 10 turns of access because sometimes the AI will use it to backstab you. It's not pleasant when the computer strolls into your provinces and positions armies next to your empty cities, only to cap them before you can bring reinforcements. It's good money so don't pass up the opportunity.

Forest combat is really interesting.

Winning battles

Battles are the fun part of Shogun 2. If you stick to auto-resolve instead of personally commanding your victory- then you're going to have an incredibly challenging time on hard. With good tactics and careful management of your troops, you can win against impossible odds. You can defeat armies twice your size. Remember to build a balanced force, comprised of infantry and ranged units- with some cavalry if possible. Test out new compositions until you find one that works for you.

So it's important to fight all the battles that you could potentially lose your units. The exception is automatic resolution can sometimes attack forts and castles better than you. Since assaulting enemy cities is very difficult to accomplish successfully- you may want to try auto. I prefer to besiege a province if they have an army defending the castle, they will attack you within a few turns and then you can win easily outside the walls.

My best advice for winning a siege is either take a lot of archers to whittle them down then retreat, or mount the walls on multiple avenues and go for the flag. If you can engage them away from the main keep and then get a couple of good units to sneak in and hold the base for a minute you can win with minimal casualties. Don't try to win by eradicating their army unless you absolutely have to. You will lose so many soldiers it's not worth it a lot of the time. Remember that if you capture the flag all of their troops die anyway. 

Land battles are my favorite. There is nothing more satisfying than having an epic war with 2000+ men on each side. The most important skill here is micromanagement. Some of you may have to pause a lot if you aren't good at quickly adjusting your formations.

When cavalry charges spears it makes a mess.

In the deployment phase, take your time to observe the entire map. Look for all the strategical vantage points. Hills, forests, plains can all be taken advantage of. Guess which area the computer is going to take and adjust your strategy because of it. If they are attacking they will always come at you- so just take up the best position you can and wait. If you are attacking it's the same process, just reversed. When you attack the opponent will always take up a hill or forest if they can. It's your job to either attack them from a better position, or to force them out of theirs.

It's always a good idea to keep some units ready to flank the enemy- engaging them from behind is an easy way to kill off archers or even the general if you're lucky. And remember to keep a unit or two of your own to protect your flanks, I always keep a unit or two of spearmen ready to prevent them catching out my ranged units.

Forests are useful for hiding your flanking units, but not just that. You can use them to slow down cavalry, which is a good way to lure them into an ambush. Archers positioned in the woods are also very frustrating to fight against, since they keep disappearing and reappearing.

Hills are pretty straightforward. Attacking uphill is bad mmkay? And attacking downhill is awesome. Archers on a hill works too, it somewhat reduces the obstacle interference that stops them firing when your own troops are in the way. 

Morale is probably the most important thing you need to know about. If a unit runs out of morale, they will stop fighting and run away. Squads near them will also suffer a massive blow to morale if they see their friends running away. Battles can be won by demoralization alone. This is done by shocking your opponents morale heavily as soon as possible. A good method to do this is fire arrows followed by a few cavalry charges on some Ashigaru. Once they begin fleeing, continue to deliver blows to their morale by hitting up the less courageous men on the battlefield. The best way to win through morale is to decimate the enemy general. Once he's dead it is child's play to break the rest of the soldiers. But remember, before you try to win by making the enemy run away- do you want them to run away? Or is your goal here to kill them down to the last man? I've actually caused a frontline rout within seconds of engaging before- quickly ending the battle only to realize that over half the army got away. Next turn I found out that half army ran back to combine with another army and I had to start a new campaign. So use it wisely.

The best thing to do when in doubt is to pause the battle and use your head. If you lose, reload a save and try again- I've lost many battles only to learn from my mistakes and crush them the second time around.

Deployment phase is important to gather your surroundings and prepare your formation.


Archers are amazing and absolutely devastating if you keep them firing. Try to put them in a position where they won't have to relocate because you don't want them to stop shooting especially at crucial points in the battle. Keep them protected, because if they get engaged in melee they will rout and become a liability. If you can get them on the sides of the enemy army they will continue to fire instead of stopping when your units are in melee.

Spearmen are like a jack of all trades unit. While they excel at smashing cavalry- you can use them to defend an area using the wall formation, and they can even engage fairly well against the more devastating swordsmen. They take heavy losses from archers but still work well to soak up arrows.

Swordsmen are what you use to kill stuff dead. They can beat almost everything else in melee, so you always need some in your army. I keep these guys in reserve in a lot of battles, just until both sides have taken some casualties. Sending a couple of fresh sword units into the fray against weakened and tired opponents will very quickly turn the tide in your favor.

Fire arrows work wonders against Ashigaru morale.

I use cavalry very sparingly. With the vast amount of easy access spears in the game- I only use horsemen to hit exposed archers and flank. Their only use other than that is speed. You can charge a unit and withdraw which is very effective. Don't keep them in for a long time, or you'll end up losing them. They are a skirmish unit, designed to shock morale and quickly reach vulnerable points in the enemy formation.

Cavalry archers I find amazingly useful. Not everyone does, but I like to use them at the beginning of the battle to disrupt the enemy ranks. You can send them in to fire, and withdraw before any arrows hit you. Thus reducing your enemies ammo, and causing damage in the process. Sometimes you can even get them to chase you. To use this unit successfully you have to really be proactive about it. You have to use them at every opportunity, and be really cheeky about it. But when well used, you can cause a decent amount of casualties without taking any.

Matchlock and firearm units are only useful if you put them in an amazing position and keep monitoring their progress. They can cause lethal casualties against anything, but with short range and long reload times I find them largely situational. Still, if you can keep them on a hill or flank with them they will tear entire units into pieces.

Trebuchet and other siege squads are really only useful when sieging. Big surprise. They are inaccurate and fire slow. Good for wearing down the gates and walls and killing a few men. However, I personally find them quite unreliable. They are also very good at destroying your own units. Do not let them fire near friendly targets, especially fire bomb throwers.

General units are vital. If you don't outnumber the enemy 3:1, you need a general to win. They boost the morale of your entire army and have two useful abilities. Rally will save your army from routing but use it early. Inspire should be used every battle, usually 2-3 times. It can be used on any unit and it makes them far more lethal. Generals aren't a very powerful unit but they do pack a punch. I see a lot of people leaving their general at the back for the entire battle, which is fine. However, they can be far more useful if you see an opportunity. The general himself is very hard to kill- You won't see him die until half the unit is dead at the least. I've had him as the last man standing on many occasions. Don't be afraid to use him. He can cause heavy casualties on archers, and you can use him to shock morale with hit and runs.

I won this campaign.

Realm divide

If you ever get the the realm divide stage on hard or higher, well done. I am proud of you. Now bend over and take it like a man. If you thought the opening turns were a struggle, be prepared to get frustrated. 

Don't start the realm divide until you are more than prepared. You need huge armies to defend against the onslaught and counterattack. You need a good position to prevent being jumped on too many fronts. You need lots of money and income so cash doesn't become an issue. Your allies will desert you. Your vassals will betray you. Everyone on the map wants to put you down, so be ready.

Taking the Shogunate will trigger realm divide, or taking a huge chunk of the map. My plan is to get close to the divide and then spend as many turns as it takes to be ready. Use diplomacy as much as you can because it becomes pretty useless as soon as you trigger the divide. Try and make other clans go to war with each other, it can help.

As soon as the onslaught begins, you want to focus on individual factions and shut them down completely. Don't worry about upgrading their provinces too much- worry about building an army to take the next one. Eventually if you persevere you will get past the struggle and become untouchable.

More fire arrows. Fire arrows are cool.


If you use this guide and manage to become ruler of Japan, congratulations! I hope my advice helped you on your journey. By no means should this guide be the sole purpose of your victory- you have to obtain it yourself. It will take nobodies skill and time but your own. I just hope my 350+ hours on Shogun have yielded some use to help you on your quest. It's a massive undertaking on anything higher than hard- I have yet to finish a legendary campaign myself.

Anyway, good luck on Shogun folks- please post a comment if I managed to teach you anything. If this guide is received well I shall continue to update it with more detail.

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