Nostalgia bait is an odd concept. To bait someone implies luring them into some sort of horrible trap, except that with so-called nostalgia bait, the trap is just a kindly, wizened grandpa reminiscing about a thing that was good. “Oh no”, you shout, “I’ve been tricked into having a great time, those devious bastards!” Total War: Rome Remastered is unabashedly aimed at folks for whom the phrase “I hate Gauls” holds an almost spiritual significance, but it does so in such a generous, pro-consumer package that it’s hard to see it as anything more than a love letter. Not to the Gauls though, obviously.
Obviously this supposed trap is a financial one, but the game launches at half price for anyone who owns the original, which is probably most of the people it’s aimed at. Some players have even been able to activate their ancient physical copies of the original on Steam in order to get the discount. If we’re serious about putting pressure on scuzzy industry practises, we should probably highlight the nice ones too, and I have to say, this is a very nice move. More of this sort of thing, please.
So, what’s in the package? Total War: Rome Remastered features the content of the original game, alongside both the Barbarian Invasion and Alexander DLCs. There’s polished visuals, including support for 4K, ultra-widescreen and other such touches that my aging monitor shudders at the mention of. There’s an updated camera and a few UI tweaks as well, and there’s even sixteen additional factions that weren’t playable in the original, alongside the option to play as anyone straight away – the original required you to beat a faction before starting a campaign as them, so this is a tasty option for returning players.
The OST also sounds like it’s had some TLC, and it stands out as one of the finest in the Total War series, especially the in-battle themes. There’s even an ‘arcade mode’ to make battles less reliant on vigour. Unhappy about literally any aspect of this? There’s also full mod support day one. The whole thing is like a big Roman charcuterie board, replete with options and choices, and possibly also parma ham, depending on whether that’s historically accurate or not.
The most significant creative liberty that Feral Interactive has taken with the original is adding in a new agent. The merchant can be recruited from any settlement with a market, and sent out to establish trade links with certain areas, bolstering trade deals. You can also use them to monopolise certain trade resources, cutting other factions off from marble or olive oil, for example. Keeping with the theme of player choice, though, you can choose whether or not to include merchants in your games. Reverence and innovation both have their upsides with remasters, and this offers the best of both worlds. I can’t praise this approach enough.
I have run into a few AI quirks which messed with the flow of battles enough to be worth mentioning. After I’d battered down the gate in my first siege battle, the Gaul defenders ran up and down the same street like headless chickens while I peppered them with flaming arrows, making no real attempt to either get out of range or attack my forces. This sort of inaction happened a few times, actually. On another occasion a besieging force seemed happy to wait out the clock while I positioned my reinforcements, rather than capitalising on the clear advantage they had at the start of the battle. I can see these issues getting patched, but it did mean combat had less bite than it should have. I was also playing on Normal battle difficulty, so this may have been a case of the AI deliberately hamstringing itself.
At this point, I’d like to make clear that this has absolutely been a review of the remaster, and not of Total War: Rome itself. I’m not entirely sure how useful it is to critique a seventeen year old game in a series that has seen constant iteration since, and Rome Remastered is, despite the wealth of QOL changes, still a seventeen year old game.
That said, if, like me, you only got really into Total War with the Warhammer series, Rome can feel flat at best and excruciating at worse. It absolutely provides a fascinating perspective on the growth of the series, but despite what some long term fans might tell you, there is a reason that so many aspects of Total War have changed. There’s a pervasive stiffness and slowness that gums up the wheels of just about every action, and it builds up my thankfulness for modern Total War and its advancements.
I find the suggestion that Creative Assembly has somehow stagnated as they’ve gained more experience a tad ridiculous, and while I agree that modern Total War battles are a touch too fast and that battle speeches absolutely need to make a comeback, Total War: Rome Remastered is undoubtedly a game of its time, and not some glorious return to the way strategy gaming is supposed to be. Simply put, having fun with Rome was, to me, much harder work than with Three Kingdoms or Warhammer. I still had fun though.