Review: Total War: Rome Remastered (PC)

6 mins read

Review by Matt S.

I’m not much of a PC gamer. I prefer the console experience, and always have, but there are some games that just wouldn’t work anywhere on console. The Total War series is one such example. The combination of tense real-time (if pausable) combat and grand strategy machinations between battles simply demands that classic mouse and keyboard input. Despite playing it on a platform that is less-than-preferred for me, I love this series with a fiery passion, and I never miss one. I’ve loved having the opportunity to play Total War: Rome.

I will say upfront that Rome Remastered works better as nostalgia than a “new” Total War game. Compare this directly to the most recent full Total War title (Three Kingdoms), and Rome looks and feels raw, if not archaic. The development team at Feral Interactive has done a great job in updating the UI so that it’s much more accessible and approachable, and there’s even one new unit to play around with, which does add some new texture to the experience. There’s also a solid effort at updating the visuals so that the experience looks the part of a proper remaster.

The problem is that strategy game experience relies heavily on AI, and you can’t really “remaster” that. AI is so complex and involved that you may as well make a new game. Three Kingdoms had some beautiful AI that made the tactics and strategy feel very organic and challenging. Rome Remastered’s AI is… mundane. Straightforward. As (un)intelligent and lacking in creativity as every effort of AI was back in those days. It’s still a highly playable game and can be very challenging if you want it to be. But just as I’ve gone back to old Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Nobunaga’s Ambition and Civilization games and found that the AI is the one big thing that makes the newer titles stand out as an improvement (indeed, I often prefer the older aesthetics of these titles), so too does Rome Remastered struggle in this critical area. This isn’t the fault of the developer, nor the game itself; it was brilliant then and with the nostalgia glasses firmly on it is brilliant now. It’s just that Rome Remastered highlights a fundamental weakness in any effort to modernise an old strategy game.

What is great about Rome Remastered is the reminder of how “educational” and inspirational it can be. The best strategy games become a launching pad for people to learn things; the names dropped and the way the game depicts the strategy, tactics, and politics of the era work hard to inspire people to go read books and learn more about what happened in the real history. I was never all that interested in Roman history back at school. Not the way it was taught then. But then I played the original Total War Rome while at university, and even though I wasn’t taking courses in history I found myself using the massive university library to read up on something I suddenly found fascinating.

Especially Caligula. That dude was a champ.

That quality hasn’t been lost in Rome Remastered. If anything the modern interface and graphics help enhance it. Of course, people should know something about one of the most important ancient empires, so if you’ve never felt inspired to learn previously, give this a go and see if it tickles your fancy.

You will also get a lot of value out of purchasing this remaster. Rome Remastered has all of the DLC from the base game. In addition, there were a number of factions that were unplayable and locked in the original title, and those have now been unlocked, giving you 16 new ways to play if you’re so inclined. There’s also cross-play for multiplayer with the Linux and macOS versions of the game, so Feral Interactive has done everything right by way of “completing” the game for that modern audience. Feral Interactive’s familiarity with the game should come as no surprise – the company was the one to port it to iPad and Mac, well over a decade ago. That familiarity shows through in the way they’ve managed to push everything this game will ever offer out of it, even if the developer lacks the confidence (or permission) to insert its own creativity into the experience.

Total War: Rome was the really big breakout moment for the series, and as a bona fide classic, the remaster makes sense – even if it is just for the sake of nostalgia. I don’t think the strategy genre necessarily lends itself to modernisation when the thing that needs moderising the most would have taken Rome Remastered and turned it into Total War: Rome 3, but if you remember what it’s like to enjoy older strategy games like Rome, the remaster is going to be quite the rush.

– Matt S.

Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

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