Fall of the Samurai, the first stand-alone expansion for Total War: Shogun 2, is set during Japan’s Boshin War of the 1860s, a civil war that began as an ideological struggle over the shogunate’s pro-Western policies. Clans opposed to these policies fought to overthrow the shogunate and return power to the emperor, and over the course of the war, both sides were compelled to embrace armaments like Armstrong guns and ironclads. The result is a unique setting: a maelstrom of sword-wielding samurai, Gatling guns, railroads, and ancient Buddhist temples. That setting also adds some new dimensions to the series with naval bombardments, railroads, and the ability to take direct control over artillery units. If you wanted to see the Total War series cover more recent conflicts, then Fall of the Samurai is a major step in the right direction.
While Fall of the Samurai does add plenty of new content, it retains the distinctive traits of the Total War series. For instance, the single-player campaign emulates a handful of real battles from the period, and follows the series’ tradition of combining turn-based strategy and real-time battles. The real-time battles focus on crushing your enemies’ morale before running them down. Factors like terrain and weather play a large role on the strategic map and in tactical battles. The multiplayer options remain essentially identical to those in Shogun 2. You can play the campaign with a friend or play the Avatar Conquest mode where you improve a persistent avatar through online battles. The result is a game that feels instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Total War title.
The turn-based, strategic portion of the campaign receives the bulk of the improvements over Shogun 2. After picking one of the clans allied to either the shogun or the emperor, you must secure victory for your liege (or yourself, if you feel like fighting for a republic) by conquering enough of the new, and staggeringly immense, map of Japan. The map contains 75 provinces, including Hoakkaido Island, which was absent in Shogun 2. Fall of the Samurai’s campaign covers a longer period of time than the Boshin War, but it is still a fairly short era by Total War standards.