Of all historical strategy games, Rome: Total War holds a special place in genre-fans hearts. While the real-time and turn-based sides of the historical strategy coin have seen a number of entries since Rome: Total War hoved into view in 2004, players can trace elements of their DNA that go straight back to Creative Assembly’s first 3D-modelled Total War.
This game was so eye-catching and its details so impressive that it was used for footage on The History Channel. Rome: Total War has retained a cult of dedicated players over the years, but the 2004 game has been due an overhaul for quite some time. If any game deserved the Remaster treatment, it was this one. Now we have one with Total War: Rome Remastered.
The task for renovating Rome: Total War fell to London-based developer, Feral Interactive, in collaboration with Creative Assembly. Design Director at Feral, Edwin Smith, said the plans for the Remaster came about 3 years ago. It was pretty much the perfect time to get started on it.
“Rome: Total War is a very loved game, but it had started to show its age,” says Smith. “It wasn’t quite playable on newer machines or newer OS’s, so it was the perfect juncture to bring it up to speed and modern standards so people can play it on modern hardware.”
“We also had to look at the User Interface (UI). RTS games have had around 18 years of polish and improvement in this regard, so it was a really good opportunity to take some of the improvements and add them to the Remaster,” he says.
Remastering Rome with a fine brush
However, Smith explains that the team were walking a fine line between improving the game and losing what attracted players to it in the first place. “We wanted the game to play the same as you remembered it in your mind,” he says.
“Rome is one of those games – for me, it’s one of my personal favourites of all time – that you remember when you played it for the first time, it was an awe-inspiring experience. Then you play it years later you see its flaws – the controls are bit clunky for a start.”
“What we wanted to do with the Remaster is have players sit down and think that this was the experience they remembered,” says Smith. This naturally meant some improvements. Graphics and user interface for example. It also meant leaving a lot of the original game intact, such as the iconic soundtrack.
One of the game’s main draws has always been how it dovetails with its historical context. While Creative Assembly had done the groundwork for its original release, Feral was still able to contribute to the game’s sense of authenticity.
“A lot of the heavy lifting on the historical aspects had already been done by the original creators of Rome: Total War,” he says. “We did, however, do some filling in of the blanks due to the graphics upgrade, because the first game was a lot less detailed.”
“The little things we did were along the lines of adding scabbards if they were required, or adding leather padding to some units underneath their armour. For all those extra little additions, though, we had to go and do some historical checks to make sure it fitted in with the time.”
A lot of research was done for the original game. In the interests of sticking to their aim of making a Remaster rather than a remake, Smith says the team at Feral decided to run with the assets they had, even if some of them were demonstrably historically inaccurate.
“We didn’t want to change too many things because players were comfortable with them and how they work. For example, the Egyptian units in the game are from completely the wrong era, but they’re iconic in the original game so we made the decision just to remaster them as they were,” he says. “That having been said, we did do our due diligence when we had to add something with a bit of historical research.”
Another addition to the Remaster, historically speaking, was the addition of irregular military units, These are soldiers who are distinct from the country they are fighting for, although Smith says this happened without much of a thought to this historical accuracy.
“When you retrain or recruit your units in areas around the world, the make-up of your troops reflects the local populace. So if you’re playing as Britannia and you take over Alexandria and recruit units from there, those units will be Egyptian even though they’re fighting for Britannia. That’s an idea that I don’t think any of the other Total War games have done before,” he says.
“If you have your army that has slowly fought its way across the map, you’ll notice that it’s made up of all the ethnicities of all the areas that it’s made its way through.”
On top of these historical tweaks and tucks, Feral has streamlined a lot of the ‘clunky’ UI and gameplay from the original game that was released 16 years ago. Naturally, the graphics have been updated and polished and texts are a lot easier to read. Feral also took a look at how the Total War series has evolved over time – everything from camera angles, to topography, to mechanics – and borrowed from that. Given how popular the Total War series has remained over the years, it was a smart move.
That having been said, purists always have the option to going back to the old school approach to the game. “We wanted to give people choice, so we put toggles in,” says Smith. “If you really want to, you can play with the original cameras, the original UI, the original keys and so on,” he says. “If you haven’t played any RTS games since the first Rome: Total War, you can go in and have the original experience without having to learn the new controls and the new layout.”
Rome: Total War Remastered does bring a couple of new features to the table. The trade system has been expanded for a start – players have merchants they can move around the map, whereas in the past, they could only trade with neighbouring states.
Merchants can also augment governors in the game; depending on how long their trade lines are, they can pick up new skills and depth of diplomacy. The more trade flowing through a fiefdom, the more skills and culture is brought to the table – as was the case historically speaking.
It would be remiss of History Hit, if we hadn’t asked Smith about whether or not plans are afoot to remaster or remake Total War: Rome II, which players will remember as a game that can stand shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor. “We’re not talking about that right now,” Smith says, when I put the question to him.
Given the phrase “we’re not talking about that right now” that’s bandied about by gaming developers often means ‘there’s something in the pipeline’, it might be worth watching this space.