Game name: Total War: Rome Remastered
Release date: April 29, 2021
Available on: Steam
Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
Rome: Total War is the title that cemented Creative Assembly as one of my favorite developers in the history of the gaming medium, so it’s nice to see that they’ve gone back and remastered it so new generations of strategy fans can see what all the fuss was about without having to deal with rough graphics and an obsolete interface. But of course, a remaster of a beloved classic will always engender some doubts (especially after last year’s Warcraft 3: Reforged debacle) so here I am with a review to let you know whether I enjoyed it or not.
If you haven’t played a Total War game before, the basic idea is simple: your gaming sessions will be divided in two distinct phases, a turn based campaign map where you’ll engage in diplomacy, move armies, upgrade your faction’s holdings, construct new buildings to unlock more troop types, and send agents to do your bidding (interestingly, this remaster adds a new agent that wasn’t present in the original, the Merchant) and a real time tactical battle component where you command your armies in the field, going against AI controlled troops. It’s a rather unique system that tactfully merges parts of Civilization with a more action packed combat system, and the end result is incredibly addictive. However, since this is a review of a remaster, I won’t be talking much about this part of the game, as I feel it’s pretty much excellent and it has carried over to all entries in the franchise.
Creative Assembly/Feral chose to package the original Rome campaign alongside with the Alexander and Barbarian Invasion expansions, so the amount of content you will get here is quite frankly staggering. Another change from the original release is that now all factions can be selected for the campaign from the start, instead of the old mechanic where players had to defeat them in battle or complete the campaign with the initial starting factions. This isn’t necessarily a good thing though, as not all factions are completely fleshed out, so if you start the game with the Thracians, for instance, you will get a far less engaging experience than you would if you’d just chosen the Julii, Brutii or Scipii. Still, good for replayability, though I feel that an extra tutorial pop up telling new players to perhaps consider selecting one of the original base factions for their first go at the game would be better (and while we are on the subject of tutorials, the development team did a great job here, with the exception of a few mechanics that seem to be lacking in-depth explanations).
Total War: Rome Remastered is mostly a graphical/UI update, so we’ll find noticeably improved unit textures and models (gone are the clone armies of the past, which could have given the Grand Army of the Republic a run for its money, replaced with varied regiments where it’s hard to find two identical soldiers, even after selecting the larger unit sizes that are exclusive to this version of the game). The campaign map benefits immensely, as players can now zoom further out, and get easy access to all manner of information that was previously harder to parse (there’s heat maps and new icons that make quick decision making an actual thing now, as opposed to the old “oh shit, I need to check everything twice because I know I’m about to make a huge strategic blunder”). New textures also mean that provinces and rivers no longer look as plain and dull as they did before when we are dealing with strategic level troop movements or setting up trade networks, and the UI is closer to modern day Total War menus, something that newcomers to this classic title will probably immensely appreciate.
As I’ve said before, the tactical battle map also gets noticeable improvements, such as increased unit sizes (though this is a double edged sword as I’ll explain later) and a far more varied roster for our troops (the Parthians are still very pink, and they still wear pajamas, though). The texture work isn’t exactly on the level of something like Total War: Warhammer 2, but compared to the original it’s a night and day difference that makes frantic melee fights far more readable. I don’t particularly enjoy the new rain particles (the developers were clearly going for a very accurate update to the old ones, so rain effects are as annoying as they were in the original game) but it’s undeniable that everything has received a noticeable graphical update. Buildings and ground textures are also completely redone. Continuing with the quality of life improvements we saw on the strategic map, real time battles also offer new visual options to help the player make better decisions during combat, such as customizable unit displays so we can just use unit banners instead of extra useless data that clutters the screen. The camera is also far more useful, and the battle controls are pretty much straight up ported from the new Total War titles (something I’m incredibly grateful for).
But enough with graphics/UI talk. Does this remaster introduce any gameplay changes? The answer to that would be yes, but sadly, I feel that the developers were a bit too conservative with some of these, and went on a weird tangent with others. I’ve mentioned the merchant agent before, but I’ll bring it up again, as it’s a genuine improvement brought over from Medieval 2, and it makes the act of generating wealth a lot more streamlined and easy to deal with… that is if you can get your hands on the agents. The enemy AI seems to have a weird knack for getting their hands on your merchants, and will pretty much obliterate your trading networks in the blink of an eye (this seems to be related to the AI’s penchant for sending agents everywhere, but I can’t prove it). Another weird thing related to AI is the fact that the auto resolve system for battles is now completely useless, as laughably stacked battles in favor of the player will magically turn into defeats. This is something that’s very easy to reproduce, and its end result for me was that I pretty much had to manually control all my battles (an unnecessary waste of time that leads to downtime and lulls in gameplay). I remember that the original game already had issues with the auto resolve mechanic, but they were derived from strange balance choices, and once you knew how it worked, it was relatively easy to get around it. Here though? No chance, as things don’t seem to make any sense, and I’d just recommend doing what I did, and fight all battles manually until a patch hits. And before I forget, another option that seems somewhat borked currently is the larger unit sizes feature that comes as part of this remaster, which increases the number of soldiers per unit, but can also play weird tricks with the AI’s mind, leading to horrifying slaughters at chokepoints, as soldiers attempt to get through a fortified city’s broken door but get stuck in the middle, getting absolutely ravaged by the defenders (or, in some situations, this plays out in the opposite way, and the defenders decide to do a sortie and get trapped in their own walls, helplessly waiting for the player to mop up and take the position).
If all of that seemed like a wall of negativity, it’s because I love the original game and would like to see this remaster soar to new heights. As it stands today, Total War: Rome Remastered is a great graphical upgrade of an excellent game, but it suffers from poor AI and annoying bugs. Does that mean that I don’t recommend it? Not at all. Even with the new issues, this is still the same great title that I enjoyed all these years ago, and I feel that new players will find themselves enraptured by its multiple campaigns.
7.5/10 (Very good)