Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – An Introduction
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is a stealth-oriented real time tactics game, played in an isometric view. Stealth isn’t just an option in Shadow Tactics, it’s required, as being spotted by enemies almost always results in death. The game’s sole component is a single-player story-driven campaign, that consists of missions.
The game is set in Japan, around the Edo period. A new shogun assigns samurai Mugen, to identity, and eliminate the mysterious Kage-Sama, who threatens the country’s peace. Along the way, Mugen crosses paths with four specialists, and recruits them, in a bid to take on the overwhelming opposition.
Shadow Tactics’ campaign can be broken down into three main elements: levels, playable characters, and enemies. Each mission in the campaign has its own level/setting. Missions are broken down into objectives. Objectives are achieved through having the playable characters traverse the levels, and negotiate their way through enemies, and civilians.
“Hiding?…In the bushes?”
All enemies, and civilians have vision cones, so players have a clear indication of how to avoid being spotted. All is not as easy as it first looks though, as you’ll learn very quickly that enemies’ vision cones often overlap with each other. And it’s not always obvious, since you can only view one enemy’s vision cone at a time. As a result, whether you decide to kill, knockout, or sneak past enemies; careful planning, and fast execution are required, in order to remain undetected.
As a veteran of stealth games, I’ve found that good enemy AI has become key to an enjoyable experience, as it makes it all the more satisfying when you outsmart them. Thankfully, Shadow Tactics achieves this well, for the most part. If the alarm is raised, for what ever reason, not only do more enemies show up, but having your characters hide in the bushes doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be found. On the other hand, however, enemies will never detect you if your characters are on a rooftop, whilst enemies are on the ground.
Depth and Challenge (and you’ll have difficulty avoiding it!)
What makes Shadow Tactics remarkable is how its variations of levels, playable characters, and enemies, all combine together to form a game with depth and challenge. Additionally, there are various other design choices that encourage players to utilise the depth that the game has to offer.
Whilst some missions allow the player to have all five protagonists available to them, most missions only have a varied subset of them available. Which means that players can’t just be content with progressing through the game with just one, or two characters.
The game also has various enemies, which makes it difficult for the player to be complacent with just using a certain character’s unique abilities all the time. For example, when the game introduces Yuki, I found her two unique abilities to be initially very effective. Placing her deadly trap in a hidden area, then using her flute to lure a Soldier into the trap. This strategy, however, will not work on Straw Hats, as they can’t be lured from their posts. So I was forced to think of another strategy to take out Straw Hats. Either by using Yuki’s another abilities, using another character’s unique abilities, or a combination of characters’ abilities.
The levels have verticality, which Hayato, Yuki, and Aiko can especially take advantage of. They can use hook shots to get onto rooftops, climb vines, walk on tightropes, and climb ladders. Enemies can be drop assassinated from these locations, if they’re within range. Mugen and Takuma are restricted to only climbing up ladders however, so you can’t rely on verticality all the time.
Whilst the wide and expansive level designs give you a sense of freedom, it can come at a cost. With missions taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete, missions can often feel long-winded. Thankfully, with good use of the quick save feature, you’ll avoid having to repeat anything, should you quit the game during the middle of a mission, or mess up.
Keeping things interesting
The game introduces new mechanics as you progress through the missions. For example, mission 3 introduces snow, where characters will leave footprints. If enemies see the footprints, they will follow them. Not only does this keep the game’s challenges fresh, but it also adds more realism to the enemy AI.
All missions have a number of achievements, known as Badges, which gives the game replay value. Examples of Badges include “Don’t touch any bushes”, “Don’t kill any civilians”, and “Complete the mission on Hardcore difficulty”, just to name a few.
+ Very competent enemy AI.
+ Character, enemy, and level designs combine to form a deep and challenging experience.
+ Achievement-based Badges add high replay value.
– Missions can often feel too long.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is highly recommended for any fan of stealth games. The game’s combination of likeable characters, competent enemy AI, and expansive level design make it one of best stealth games of the decade.
Disclosure: A Steam key of the game was purchased via the Humble Store.