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Reviewing a remaster is interesting. Do I review the game as a whole, hitting all the key points that a review of the original game would’ve hit and regurgitating a lot of material that fans of that game already know? Or do I only talk about what’s new – what’s been changed between the original and the remaster? After some deliberation, I’ve decided to do the latter, so this isn’t much of a review of ROME: Total War – look elsewhere for that. This is going to be what happens when you subtract a review of Total War: Rome Remastered from a review of ROME: Total War. A review of ‘Remastered’ in essence.
So what are the key points that Total War: Rome Remastered has improved? Well, it’s prettier now. It’s got nicer textures, new models and it works in 4K. The UI is more user-friendly and transparent (as in understandable not see-through – that would be a lot less user-friendly) and there a few new features, such as the ability to play as any faction from the start, a tutorial (which we’ll get on to later) and an array of new heat-maps and reporting.
But that’s about it. If you’ve played the original game then your experience with Total War: Rome Remastered will be very much the same as your time with it. If you haven’t played the original then there isn’t an awful lot to recommend this version as a jumping-on point. In the last 17 years the strategy genre has moved on and there have been a hell of a lot of Total War games to bridge the gap. As well-loved as ROME: Total War deservedly is nowadays, I suspect a significant portion of that is nostalgia and the game can be seen by outsiders as a relic of a bygone age.
The remaster really leant into this nostalgia. It’s for the people who loved the original game and want to play it again as a modern release. Which is fine – it’s great for them but it doesn’t seem to have targeted a wider appeal to the rest of the gaming community. Feral Interactive have done enough to call it a remaster but they have not done much more. It’s the equivalent of defrosting a month’s old stew and popping it in the microwave. Yes, it’s technically dinner but nobody is as happy to see it as a freshly made meal, or defrosting a pasta sauce and eating it with freshly cooked pasta and garlic bread (which I think are respectively: making a new game and doing a comprehensive remaster like Oddworld: New n Tasty in this metaphor that has got well out of hand).
Arguably, the main garlic bread added by Total War: Rome Remastered is the tutorial, which honestly rubbed me up the wrong way. It’s a nice-to-have, for sure, but in the same vein of the remaster being strongly focused on appealing to the existing player base – I don’t think it was intended to be used that much and that intention shows. The tutorial takes you through one turn of the game. There is a lady in the top left of the screen with a robotic customer service voice from what sounds like a text to speech engine (apologies to the voice actor if there was one in the loop). She talks you through the background of why you’re doing what you’re doing but an awful lot of the tutorial is her saying “Now read the instructions in the top right of the screen” or, most egregiously “Spend some time on this screen and mouse over all of the buttons to get the tooltip of what they do”. It just feels like a lazily tagged on feature that was done in an afternoon so they can write on the steam page that the remaster has added a tutorial.
And looping back to the first thing the remastered changed – after all of that remastering to make the game prettier, I’m not sure the visual aspects of the game are particularly remarkable. By 2004 standards? Sure. But in 2021 they look about how I’d expect a game from 2004 to look thanks to my rose-tinted glasses – ugly and outdated. It’s another example of the remaster doing the bare minimum to be a remaster. Yes, it runs in 4K. Yes, it has new textures. But it still looks old. With a remaster of such a well-loved game, I’d expect more. I’d expect it to look new. Much like the gold standard of remasters, Oddworld: New n Tasty, which rebuilt the game from the ground up to look and play indistinguishably from a modern release.
Feral Interactive knew exactly what they wanted to do when they set about the remaster of ROME: Total War and that is exactly what they’ve done. I can’t fault them for that and from that perspective, you could call Total War: Rome Remastered a 10/10 game. If you loved ROME: Total War, you’re the person the game was remastered for and you’re probably going to love it (and in all honesty, you’ve probably already bought it). If not, if you somehow managed to let ROME: Total War pass you by, then you’re probably going to let this pass you by as well.