Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War
First off, I must admit that I’ve become a huge Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K fan over the past few years. Games Workshop has relaxed its rather conservative approach to lending out its IP to third-party game developers as of late. This means that although there have been a few great titles (Total War: Warhammer franchise, the first Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War), there have been a ton of stinkers (Dawn of War 3 being an extreme example).
One thing I’ve often wondered is why there hasn’t even been a 4X game based on either the Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40K universes. We have seen plenty of first and third person shooters, and DOW has covered the RTS field, but what about a slower-paced, deeper, turn-based strategy title?
Fortunately, indie game developer Slitherine has finally figured this out. Their new turn-based 4X strategy title, Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War, fills a much needed-to-be-filled gap that all of us strategy geeks have been waiting for. But does it measure up to other great 4X games in the now hallowed subgenre?
After reading a bunch of the game’s Steam reviews I honestly felt a little apprehensive about trying Gladius out. Many gamers complained about the game’s supposed simplicity, the omission of a diplomacy system, and likewise moaned about there only being one way to win (military conquest). Nevertheless, as an avid WH 40K and 4X strategy fan, I pressed forward.
After watching a brief YouTube video which went over some of the basics of Gladius, I stumbled upon the game’s Steam manual. The manual is quite thorough and explains many of its gameplay systems. After reading through it, I came away thinking that nobody in the complaint demographic even bothered to read the manual because Gladius is indeed a pretty deep game.
Gladius tells the story of a planet rich in resources (Gladius Prime) that was colonized by the Imperium of Man long ago. It has also always been a very dangerous planet with various forms of deadly flora and fauna. In fact, it wasn’t until the Space Marines were called in that the new colonists felt safe enough to expand across its expansive crust.
However, a cataclysmic disaster happened (think: Chaos rifts) and the planet went dark. Even though Gladius Prime was cut off from the rest of civilization, life still goes on there. The Space Marine’s mighty fortress still stands and the Space Marines themselves still cling to survival because of their…well, badass-ness.
Their more numerous Imperial brothers, the Astra Militarum (AKA Imperial Guard) has been sent to Gladius Prime in the hopes of re-settling it. Meanwhile, on the evil side, you have a large force of Orks that have crash landed on the planet, and previously unknown Nekron tombs have opened up all over the place, which is really bad news for everyone concerned.
For my first game, I chose the Imperial – …er, I mean Astra Militarum, which is my favorite faction in the WH 40K universe because of their strong defensive tactics. Since each game creates a (thankfully) completely randomly generated map, I chose three AI opponents representing the other three factions.
I began with three whole divisions of Guardsmen and a single Techpriest Enginseer, and thought to myself: “Whoa, three whole units of Guardsmen to start with? This will be a piece of cake.” Boy, was I about to discover the folly of that initial impression.
Techpriests (the Astra Militarum’s engineers) are used to found new cities, so I quickly located a prime spot and moved towards it with all of my units. On the second turn I was viciously assaulted by roving packs of alien hounds which began ripping away at my minimally armored Guardsmen. By the time I had plopped down my first settlement, I only had two highly damaged Guardsmen units left.
Then a trio of gigantic metal killing machines called Kastelan Robots set upon me and my quaint little fledgling city. It took me the good part of three hours for me to build up my forces—first to ward off the native planetary threats, and then clear them entirely from my neighboring areas. When the devs say that the native denizens are hostile and dangerous, they aren’t exaggerating. Indeed, it took me about another hour to run into my first contact with a competing faction—the loathsome green tide known as the Orks.
The more I played Gladius, the more I realized that it is a game that seems simple on its surface, but underneath its hood, there are plenty of complex systems to come to grips with. For instance, little did I know that I could have several things being produced in each of my cities simultaneously? You can produce some sort of infantry unit, a vehicle, and construct a building all at the same time. You can also construct more than one building in each hexagonal tile within your city, which I discovered later on (I must have skimmed over that part while reading the manual, ooops).
While Gladius focuses on combat and maneuvering your units around on the game’s beautifully-rendered maps, there is quite a bit of city and resource management to oversee as well. There are many different things that you have to keep an eye on—everything from food to loyalty—lest your people go starving or suffer production penalties, respectively.
When it comes to combat, Gladius is a strategy-lovers paradise. There are many types of units that you can build, depending on which faction you choose, and all four factions play very differently. The Orks, for instance, are a rush-y, aggressive bunch of oafs which need to be in a constant state of “WAH!” in order to prosper.
Meanwhile, the undead terminators known as the Nekron can regenerate damage that they’ve taken, which means that they can stay in the fight longer. Each faction also has its own fully fleshed out technology tree, which adds quite a bit of depth to the proceedings with regards to customizing factions to match your playstyle.
Gladius’ battles can become quite drawn out, the larger the armies that are duking it out. This is amplified by the fact that you can retreat damaged units back from the frontlines to heal themselves, and then move them back up once they’re relatively healthy again. There is also another way to win the game besides dominating your enemies militarily—you can accomplish each of your faction’s quest chains to become the undisputed ruler of Gladius Prime as well.
In all, I discovered that not only was Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War a superb 4X strategy game, it’s my new favorite strategy game of 2018. It has excellent writing (and adherence to WH 40K lore), deep and strategic combat, beautiful graphics (with the exception of units fading into the ground upon dying), and a grim soundtrack befitting the WH 40K universe. I can’t wait to see what other factions they introduce in the future.
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War features great graphics that make its strategy 4X gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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