In my day it was called Rome: Total War, and I poured hours into it. My favourite moment was toppling the Pope, obviously, but also the time I hid a tiny Celt army in the woods and baited a much larger Romano-British army there, then sprung a trap to break their morale so I could chop them up. For a moment, it was very Braveheart, until their reinforcements arrived and trampled me, but we don’t talk about that. It was the height of my war-mongering hubris, the sort of outrageous odds one attempts after spending many a happy weekend waging war across Europe in pleated Roman skirts. I really loved that game.
And now it’s back! Back as Total War: Rome – Remastered, and smartened up for 2021 , with some new graphical effects, higher definition this and that, bigger resolutions, gameplay improvements, and (probably most importantly) more factions than ever to try and win as. But it’s still unmistakably what it once was, that game I remember, and there’s something so unbelievably comforting in going back.
It’s really nice not to have to figure out the winning formula again. These kinds of games seem much more complicated today. They’ve had years to get their audiences used to more features, more nuance, more depth. And whenever I’m confronted with one of them, I wither. But Rome Remastered: it even has a warning when you begin, saying sorry but it does some things differently to what you’re used to now. How I clucked with excitement when I read that! “Oh this is the proper stuff!” I snorted. They don’t make them like this any more!”
Poor old Bertie. It’s much more likely Creative Assembly is apologising for Rome being a bit dumber than a modern Total War game. But you know what? I like dumb. It’s nice not having to think too hard. I like already knowing what I’m doing. It makes playing Rome Remastered feel like sliding a familiar board game out from under a cupboard and being giddy with rediscovery for a weekend or two. “Oh, yes, and this does this – I remember!” Lots of that. “I’ve still got it!” It’s a gentle and warm memory to spend time in again.
But the more I remember, the more I realise I know where it’s all going, and the sunny sepia tone starts to fade. There aren’t many surprises left here for me; there weren’t that many to begin with, to be frank. I could try hiding those Celts in the trees again but will the thrill be as strong a second time?
More to the point, I remember how laborious managing an empire in this game can be, individually fiddling with taxes and build-queues, turn after turn. However, the Remaster does make some improvements in this area. Among them are new overview menus for seeing everything at a glance: your empire, your agents, your armies. And there’s a new tier of zoom you can scroll out to, which shows the campaign map in a simplified and much more readable colour-coded view, and the battle map in a simplified armies-are-icons view. They’re helpful, and welcome.
But it’s still quite slow, the game. There’s still a noticeable wait while other factions take their turns, and still a noticeable wait looking at loading screens before battles. I’d hoped the intervening 20 years might have whittled these right down, but they haven’t. And dreams of a quick campaign across Europe quickly fade, and a weariness creeps in. I begin wishing for some of that modern complexity after all.
But perhaps I’m overthinking it – overthinking a game that doesn’t require too much thinking in the first place, and in which an undeniable pleasure lies. Taken as a sunny jaunt along a mediterranean peninsula (or on the colder British Isles as I spread paganism as the Celts in the Barbarian Invasion expansion, also included), Rome: Total War is as relaxing as it sounds, and there’s never been a better time to experience it.