Praetorians HD Remaster Review03 Feb 2020 0
Praetorians HD Remaster Review
Released 24 Jan 2020
I remember lusting after Praetorians. As a kid with no money, it was the one that got away – troops on walls? Units of troops marching around rather than just the one? Sign me up! Then Medieval II Total War hove into view (I didn’t follow releases back then) and interest waned. Fast forward far longer than I care to admit and here I am with my hands on Praetorians at last – the HD Remaster to be exact. To be frank, I think my 12-year-old self-made the right choice moving along.
Normally, I avoid other people’s reviews of a game at all costs. You don’t want to get your review muddled. I broke that rule this time. I had to see what people thought of Praetorians back when it was originally released. By all accounts Praetorians was a pretty good game. In 2003.
Time, unfortunately, has not been kind to this particular piece of RTS history.
Here’s the thing: Real Time Strategy as a whole might be in a bad way, but in the time since Praetorians’ release there’s a strong case for the most innovative sub-genre of RTS being unit-based RTSs (i.e. where you order groups around rather than individuals). Total War is the elephant in the room of course, but classics such as Company of Heroes, Dawn of War and more recently, Ancestors Legacy have all brought a wealth of improvements. You see shades of the future in Praetorians - the emphasis on combat rather than base building and the importance of territory over economy. Yet that’s a double-edged sword, because, these days, everything Praetorians does something else has already done better.
To be clear, the game that I wanted way-back-when is all there. The developers of Praetorians thought of almost everything. You can group and sub-divide units. They have different stances (offensive, stationary), there’s a single resource and you have to go out into the map and fight and capture stuff to have a chance at getting stronger late game units. Gameplay begets better gameplay. Combat is simple and the unit types are self-explanatory. It might be an old game, but the fundamentals have stood the test of time, at least.
Fundamentals, however, aren’t enough, and it was all the little things that, as they added up, made the experience decidedly vanilla for me. I’ll admit I’ve been spoiled. Of late RTSs have been tripping over themselves to give me information. Ancestors Legacy and Company of Heroes 2 spring to mind as examples of games which at a glance gives you the situation of every single unit under your control. Not so Praetorians. Despite the remaster touting that the UI has been improved, if it has, it’s not been enough.
But it’s not just UI. The inability to rotate the camera, along with the game apparently flipping a coin to decide whether it’ll highlight obscured units or not, makes organising units a chore. Matters aren’t helped by unit icons not giving clear indication of what the unit is and enemy units having to be moused over individually to identify them. Given that units can’t retreat once in combat, and the game follows a rock-paper-scissors balance system, much of the tactics the game promises you go out the window. By the time you know what you’re dealing with, it’s too late. You’re fighting the game as much as the enemy to find out what’s happening.
I shan’t deny that I’m too used to the smoothness of Praetorians’ descendants. Praetorians’ units are clunky things. They put me in mind of a worse kind of miniature wargames, where wheeling and pivoting are more important than the action itself. Manoeuvring units pause unnaturally every time they complete a movement. It’s possible for a unit to be formed up perfectly, only right in the middle of that formation are two other units fighting it out. It takes a direct order to remind them there’s an enemy they’re meant to be fighting.
Now, there are a few things that can keep people coming back to even the most antiquated game. A good story campaign is one, good skirmishes are another. It pains me to say this, because I do love a good RTS campaign, but Praetorians’ single campaign serves only to highlight other problems that only hurt it more. Scenarios for the most part consist of: “fight one easily defeated detachment after another - repeat”. Compared to RTS campaigns before and since – it’s hardly inspired stuff. It doesn’t help that marching down cramped lanes worthy of a MOBA only highlight the game’s quite inadequate pathfinding. Units often end up going completely the wrong way in order to reach some position across a river or gully that I’d not directed them to.
The third scenario – defending a fort – might’ve brought welcome relief. Instead it was the last straw. Lackadaisical waves of enemies marched in to be slaughtered like it’s World War One in 57 BC. I was counting down the minutes by the end. The game crashed right after I’d won and all my progress went with it.
When you know you’re going to be writing a review for a game – you start searching for good stuff so your review doesn’t look like a hack job. I don’t have it in me to go full Yahtzee Croshaw on a HD Remaster (or in fact any game that someone’s spent effort on). It pains me to say this, but I’ve struggled with Praetorians. I can’t even say it’s stable, what with the crash I mentioned above. At least it runs on Windows 10 & 7 now. You don’t need to run it in compatibility mode where you’re limited to 1024p resolution. That’s a plus? I guess?
If you’re a fan of Praetorians from the old days, nothing I can say will put you off it. It does seem to have a loyal following and I have a suspicion what it offered in 2003 means it deserves said following. The HD Remaster does what it says on the tin but be warned that it’s still a 2003 game under the hood. If you’re new to Praetorians, you’re not missing out if you give this a miss. It’s not a bad game, but every minute I spent playing it made me think of how some other more recent game did some feature better. I rather think that’s the cruellest thing to say of all.