Your citadel offends my navy, sir!
Unfortunately, one of the most promising benefits of modernization, railroads, is somewhat underwhelming. Admittedly, the ability to quickly ferry armies about is awesome, butrailroads are limited to specific provinces on the main island of Honshu. The central hub of the rail network is Edo (modern-day Tokyo), which just happens to be one of the two cities needed to win the game. So, victory is in your grasp before you can use the railroads to their full potential. Railroads would have been more useful if you could build them anywhere in a method similar to improving road networks in .
The real-time battles haven't changed much from the last game. However, there are some notable improvements. The modern weaponry and the new ability to call in naval fire support during land battles are great additions. You can now take direct control of artillery units from a third-person perspective. This rarely improves the unit's accuracy, but manually controlling a Gatling gun is appropriately cathartic. The navies of the period are now steamships unshackled from the whims of the winds. One particularly outstanding new vessel is the ironclad, which has the devastating ability to ram enemy ships. Unfortunately, the AI hasn't adapted to the changes and has a difficult time storming fortresses and a habit of throwing katana-wielding samurai at Gatling guns. To be fair, this occasionally works if there are enough samurai, but it usually doesn't.
When it comes to multiplayer, one of the coolest things about Fall of the Samurai is that you can play with people who only have Shogun 2. Furthermore, the expansion (and a massive Shogun 2 patch) has added 20 new maps and the ability for each side in a battle to field massive armies of up to 40 units. Additionally, the Avatar Conquest mode has been revamped so that avatars gain skills, units, and retainers appropriate to the more modern setting. The old ways of wooden practice spears and wizened monks have been replaced by modern supply corps and British naval engineers.
Fall of the Samurai looks as great as its predecessor and is full of interesting visual details. For example, experienced British military advisors grow larger mustaches, and master shinobi don masks that give them an almost demonic appearance. Trains travel across provinces that were undeveloped backwaters just a few years before. Furthermore, when you take direct control of an artillery unit, the camera follows the cannonball as it flies through the air toward your target. In addition to interesting details, Fall of the Samurai sports visuals as impressive as any of the other Total War games. In fact, Fall of the Samurai is beautiful whether you are watching moody nighttime battles barely illuminated by units' lanterns, the fiery naval battles, or Republican Guard infantry mowing down spear cavalry with their muzzle-loading rifles. The sound effects are likewise excellent, in keeping with the high standards of the series.
Overall, Fall of the Samurai is an exceptional stand-alone expansion that adds some welcome improvements while retaining everything that made the original game great. In fact, the only major drawback to Fall of the Samurai over Shogun 2 is that the load times are quite long. Fans of the series who want to play with ironclads, railroads, and Gatling guns shouldn't hesitate to pick it up. If, however, you haven't enjoyed the modern thrust of the series from Empire onward, then you should pass on this one.