As I’ve said before, RTS games and consoles don’t often mix that well together. The natural home of a good RTS is on a desktop. It’s where I was first introduced to the likes of Age of Empires and Command & Conquer, and it’s where I have some good gaming memories.
Just as I used to do as a kid, I still sometimes stay up until the early hours of the morning, sat hunched over my desk in the dark with snacks littering the desk, getting far too involved in a war that I know I won’t see through to the end. It’s rare for me to actually finish a skirmish against the A.I in Age of Empires; I just enjoy the long hours spent building up my town and protecting it with a massive army. It’s kind of relaxing.
Praetorians is an RTS, but it’s not like the ones that are best known. Rather than having you collect various resources, build a town, advance your culture and eventually, or in my case – rarely, go and have a big war, Praetorians takes a more streamlined approach.
For one, there are no resources to gather. There are also no individual units – aside from the Scout – as soldiers are bundled into groups. This sounds like a nightmare to every RTS fan who wants minute control over their armies, but it’s fine. You can split your groups into smaller groups, which is essential, and merge them into larger groups if you need to. It means you won’t be moving singular units around, but you can still fine-tune a flank with small groups that can be easily managed.
And easily managed they are, thanks to the intuitive controls.
I’m always a little nervous when I boot up an RTS game on a console for the first time because you never know if the controls are going to be an utter nuisance, or if they’ll be good enough. Rarely are they excellent.
Praetorians isn’t quite excellent with its controls, but it comes very, very close. The opening story missions are your tutorials, and here you’ll learn the basics to help you move your army around, attack enemies and gain new troops. The tutorials are lengthy, though not entirely required if you’re already familiar with the original version of the game. I wasn’t, so I had to do some learning. Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult, even when I wanted to divide a large group and send them on different paths. Of course, it’s likely to control better on PC with a mouse and keyboard setup, but for a console RTS, the controls are far from the worst I’ve seen.
So without resources, how do you even build anything? Well, you don’t really build much at all. You take over towns and build a garrison nearby. Then you move your office within range of the town, and those villager numbers can be turned into new recruits. It’s simple, it’s easy to follow, and it’s actually quite fair. Each map has a number of towns on it, and what you want to do is get your hands on as many as possible. The more you have, the quicker you can build a nice big sexy army. The catch is that your enemies are also trying to do the same, meaning you’ll come into conflict often.
This is where Praetorians takes a turn away from the traditional RTS conventions. In Age of Empires, I’m always comfortable. I quickly get workers collecting resources and stockpile enough to build an army quickly. Then I expand my town. I build walls and other defences to slow down the enemy if relations break down. I chill out a lot of the time and even set up remote bases just for the fun of it. I rarely go looking for a battle, instead, enjoying the peaceful, but well-defended, existence of my town.
Praetorians does not have time for that. None. You’re forced to go out and explore the map. In fact, one currency ‘Honor Points’ – which can be used to build specials – can only be gained through battle, meaning that you’re going to have to go looking for a fight at some point. You’re not allowed to relax and take it easy. You’re commanding an army, and armies fight wars. And, to the game’s credit, it does at least make those wars worth looking for. Not because of sweet, sweet oil, but because it’s actually good fun if you fancy yourself as a tactician.
The game makes use of long grass where your troops can hide in wait. There are also thick forests where you can’t see through the green canopy. Elevation plays a big role, too, with the highland affording the holder a clear advantage. Well, so long as it’s your archers on the highland and not your regular infantry… They don’t even try to throw stones… Pathetic. I’d have flung poo.
There’s a big emphasis on tactical manoeuvres and careful planning. Barging into an enemy town might work in other RTS games, but it’s often a quick way to cheap death here. Using the environment to your advantage, sending a scout ahead to find ambush locations and choke points, and managing the numbers are the way to victory. That, and a bit of luck.
I’m annoyed at myself that this is the first time I’ve played Praetorians. It originally released back in the early 2000s, just around the time when I was nerding out with my very own PC in my bedroom. I loved RTS games and classic action games like Commandos 2 and Robin Hood, so I wonder why I never sought this one out.
It’s got a full campaign as well as multiplayer and skirmish modes. I spent most of my time in skirmish mode – just as I do with every RTS – and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’d have liked to have seen perhaps more detail on maps, but for the most part, it looks quite good, and it runs well, too.
Praetorians won’t blow your mind, but it might give it a bit of work to do. It’s a thinking person’s game and quick decision and tactical prowess are the qualities you need. You’ve either got it, or you don’t. Basically, it’s not a game for idiots. I am the exception to that rule.
Praetorians HD Remaster PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8/108/10
Praetorians HD is an old game dressed up pretty, but in a lot of ways it was ahead of its time, so this modern remaster actually makes more sense than most. A greater emphasis on getting stuck into the action and making the most out of the land, the abilities of soldiers and tactical warfare is a nice change.
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Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.