My laptop specs:
Chassis: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Series (7567) w/ 15.6″ 1920×1080 LED display
Processor: 7th Generation Intel Quad Core i7-7700HQ at 2.8GHz
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti w/ 4gb GDDR5
RAM: 16gb, DDR4, 2400MHz
Hard Drive: 1TB 5400 rpm + 128gb SSD
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
This week I’ve had the chance to play the July release Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War on my trusty laptop. From this point on, I’ll be referring to it simply as Gladius for short. So, Gladius is just the third game developed by Proxy Studios, who previously gave us 2014’s Pandora: First Contact and 2010’s Conquest: Divide and Conquer. Of course there are a lot of Warhammer games out there (and a lot of Warhammer 40k games out there) so it can be hard to keep up. Even the Warhammer 40k-based spin-off tabletop games have spawned video games that span multiple genres. For example, Space Hulk has branched out into an Aliens-like turn-based tactical strategy series, Space Hulk; as well as as a first-person shooter, Space Hulk: Deathwing. So let’s untangle this web and get to fragging jerks.
Gladius is a 4x strategy game, meaning you start up a civilization/colony and rise to power over others by eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting and eXterminating. Of course they’re trying to do the same thing at the same time so you have to play smarter and more patiently in order to win. So you’ve got your home base (a city, in Gladius) and limited resources to begin. You can make a couple modest buildings and some basic infantry units, but if you claim additional tiles (hexagrams ftw!) and balance your construction properly, you’ll find yourself ramping up resource production and upgrading your existing troops, building different kinds of troops with varying strengths and weaknesses, opening up factories to make scout bikes and tanks and so on. All your troops and vehicles will be heading out around the world map during this time (which is pretty big) and encountering other factions’ infantry units to fight, outposts to conquer, cities to decimate and so on. In a lot of 4x games there’s a component of diplomacy as well – you can make deals with other nations to demand or supply resources in exchange for peace, etc. In Gladius, Proxy Studios decided to chuck the diplomacy aspect to liven things up a bit and to be honest I’m thrilled that they did.
So your first order of business is to pick a faction. You can play as the ever-popular Space Marines, the primitive and trigger-happy Orks, the undead skeleton/robot Necrons or the Astra Militarum (the tech-reliant Imperial Guard). Obviously each faction has its own advantages and disadvantages – the Space Marines can deploy autonomous resource-gathering fortresses at certain points around the map, the Astra Militarum have the edge on long-range combat, etc. You can play solo against AI factions or multiplayer, decide a number of components in the world to change your experience (map size, difficulty, resource advantages/disadvantages and much more), fix up all your video and graphics options and all that jazz, then it’s time to get into the world map and annihilate those foreign factions and even a rogue sector of your own people.
I had all the graphics options up pretty high in Gladius and it looked as well as it ran, which is great (see my specs up top). You can zoom out to see dozens of tiles or you can get up close and personal with a single unit and the detail is great. The dozen or so types of terrain come to life and pop from the screen, from the poisonous glowing Wire Weed to the heavy forest. If you zoom up all the way, you could argue that the infantry units look a little blocky, and the occasional environmental object that you thought was 3-D was actually 2-D, but compared to the rest of the visuals, that’s really nitpicking. I was also impressed by the way the snow only fell over arctic regions and that little embers float upwards from volcanic floors. Even more than the varying heights and 3-D terrain blocks, it was this attention to detail – the weather, the detailed hex blocks, etc. – that really brought me into the experience of the living, breathing planet and made me disregard my thoughts of flat 2-D tabletop action that usually accompany world domination or large-scale strategy games.
So then there’s the sound. I really dug all the foley/sound effects. Laser cannons pew-pew, rocket launchers fire and their ordnance explodes, enemy capitols crumble in on themselves and bipedal mechs stomp through the world. And in each faction’s introduction cutscene is a very convincing voice actor narrating the lead-in to the battle, and they’re good! Even the music, while not my personal favorite, is engaging for a while. But there are two hiccups. One, your units regularly have words appear over their heads that are individualized for your faction. They threaten enemies, make idle chatter, talk about their odds of survival…but the vast majority seems to be just text, no voice acting. Maybe I was just zoomed out too far – the sound effects dim when you go all the way out – but it seems like a missed opportunity. I’ve played and seen other isometric strategy RPG’s with complete voice work, line for line, and in Gladius it felt really sparse. The other is that sometimes the soundtrack would change songs in the middle of a song – just cut right out and start somewhere else – but it never seemed to be contextual. It wasn’t due to a heightened or lowered threat, nor to my units crossing into a new area or making a discovery or conquering an enemy. Odd.
The gameplay is great. It’s engrossing and understandable. Even as a complete 4x rookie, I had a good feel for how to play thanks to its helpful and intuitive “as-you-go” tutorial. It’s not that it’s a “completely different game” with each faction, but they truly do have different feels, different play styles, different ways to balance your four x’es and different requirements to do the same thing. Playing as the Necrons, I built three different cities in as many hours spanning the map – the creatures you use to build your new cities even become tanks in their own right as you take them from Point A to Point B. With the Space Marines and the Astra Militarum, I had just one ever-expanding city for most of each game. You can also make “Hero Characters” who have heightened stats and varying focuses like the commanders they are. One can boost armor-piercing stats and morale in his neighboring soldiers, another is a close combat master, another heals, another uses psychic attacks. Even better? Gladius – if you’ll excuse my language – has a real set of balls to offer the battle lengths that it does. I played a medium-sized world on medium difficulty as the Space Marines and took out one of the three opposing factions before getting blown to Hell by the second…and it took me almost eight full hours to get there. I reduced it to easy difficulty and a small world, played as the Necrons against just two other factions and it still took me something like four hours to make it all the way through. But things move along so quickly you never want to give it up just yet. “I’ll save after this turn” becomes five more turns. I just loaded up a new game to check something for this review and it took me almost two hours to tear myself away from it.
Overall, Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War is a silky smooth and addicting strategy title. Proxy Studios’ first two titles have mixed reviews, but they have absolutely hit their stride with Gladius. To be completely honest, I just want them to do a sequel where you can play as four other races of 40k. Give me another game just like this but let me play as the Death Guard, T’au Empire, Adepta Sororitas and Adeptus Mechanicus (or Tyranids) and I’m in. The only noticeable speedbumps are what I mentioned with the audio, but since the REST of the audio is all good and the rest of the game itself is fantastic, I’m calling this at a 9 out of 10. See you out there, Greenskins!
Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment was provided a free review copy of Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War by publisher Slitherine Ltd.