Creative Assembly's front-man Kieran Brigden describes Shogun 2: Total War as the game they always wanted to make when they began work on the original ten years ago.

Shogun 2, he says, is an art-led project. Each consequence in the game has a personally crafted woodblock print, created by artists at the Creative Assembly who studied the Japanese technique for more than a year to get a handle on the correct use of inks and the proper brush-stroke methods.

The result, the studio hopes, is to be a completely immersive and realistic experience. Set in 1545, during the heyday of Samurai warfare, Shogun 2 includes nine feudal clans, each with the own strengths and particular units.

Shogun 2 features (count ‘em) thirty unit types, less than ten percent of the number included in the studio’s previous title, Napoleon: Total War. Brigden explains: the Creative Assembly wish to “drill down” to an essential “rock, paper, scissors” mechanic.

They believe this will ensure new players aren’t overwhelmed by the array of options. Moreover, many players were confused or disinterested in the nuanced differences between infantry types in Napoleon.

The studio’s approach has been like tending a bonsai tree, says Brigden - never one to pass up a topical metaphor, apparently. He embellished: Shogun 2 is to be the “Zen of the Total War series,” it will trim what’s unnecessary.

The studio believes that the clever combination and interaction of these units will create a kind of intricate simplicity for more advanced players.

Once again, we’re assured that battle AI has been toughened. Although some iterations of the franchise see AI improvements, it’s a perennial issue for the Total War series.

Shogun 2 will have three types of fortress, depending on where they’re built: on flats, on the coast, or on mountainsides. Each type of castle has five tiers of upgrade. Brigden describes them as being maze-like layer cakes: both attackers and defenders will have multiple options and avenues.

Naval battles are radically different to Empire and Napoleon’s wheel-and-fire affairs. In this period, the Japanese had much smaller wooden boats that often served as mobile archery platforms. Ship to ship combat typically followed. Shogun 2’s sea engagements all happen within immediate range of the coast. Players will have to navigate shoals, rocks and islands.

All Daimyo will have individual personalities that will be expressed in their interaction. Importantly, the player can now choose the traits their generals gain from a pool, deciding, for example, whether their attacking commander will get a bonus to leading cavalry, or to leading spearmen.

For the first time in the series, Shogun 2 will include night battles. This was featured in our eyes-on demo.

General’s speeches return. Today, it was in Japanese with English subtitles. The whole game can be played thus, or English voice-overs can be switched on.

Flat battlefields will be extremely uncommon, as they are in Japan. The game also features 80 different tree types – a point mentioned because some unnamed souls have worked painfully in silence on them – but also because it highlights Shogun’s focus on significantly greater detail, something that’s now possible with a smaller land mass.

The battlefields themselves are especially detailed and include parallax mapping – something you’d expect to find in a first-person shooter. Shogun 2’s weather is fully integrated in the one battleground engine, meaning the game is much smarter about how the environment is impacted by the elements. As we watched, a pool of muddy water filled in from rivulets running down the slope of a hill at night. Light refracted from water on the roofs of buildings.

Shogun 2 can currently accommodate 300 sources of light on screen at once. This is the bottom rung of what’s possible, says Brigden, and also what makes night battles possible.

The user interface has been trimmed to essentials. Symbols now hover above units instead out outsized flags. The unit selection panel running along the bottom of the screen is reducible and the unit cards themselves are hand painted.

The battle we watched was dramatic, frenetic and visually spectacular. Of course, as pre-Alpha code, it was also not without its curiosities. What’s important is that the foundation has been laid for something beautiful.