Fifty Turns with Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War

By Joe Robinson 02 Apr 2018 0

They say that the first 100 turns of a game of Civilization are the most important – you've got to explore your local area, discover who and what is around you, but also start making those first steps towards your chosen playstyle. Ideally, you'll have at least another city or two down by this point as well.

The first 100 turns are important for another reason as well – they are a player’s first encounter with what typically will be a long-running exercise. These early turns need to capture what a Civ-like game is about, teach the player the basics, but also have clear paths of advancement and change to keep everyone interested. I am not so sure Slitherine’s upcoming game Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War quite has that down yet.

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Gladius is a turn-based 4X strategy game in a similar vein as a Civilization, although it’s a more focused experience – there’s no diplomacy, no ‘culture’ or anything like that, and the tech tree seems to serve as a way to pace progress. There are four factions you can play as: Space Marine, Astra Militarum, Orks & Necrons. Each faction has unique playstyles (which are quite thematic) and unique victory conditions. At a recent event, we were able to go hands on with Gladius. We didn’t get a chance to do the first 100 turns, but we managed to do a clean 50.

Here’s what happened as I tested out the Necron faction:

  • Explored the local area, not finding much other than a ruin and a trader out-post.
  • My city expanded as I acquired more tiles and built more infrastructure.
  • Encountered several hostile alien NPCs, all of which I slaughtered because I'm Necron.
  • Encountered a Catachan Devil, which proceeded to hunt down and kill all my units, including the hero I recruited.
  • I did not make it past the first quest Chapter.

One thing cannot be denied, Gladius is a beautiful game. The developers at Proxy have put a lot of work into making the planet of Gladius Prime come alive with sweeping forests, ruins, areas of decay and desolation, and mystery. There's also a sense of 'height' that I think rivals even Civilization itself. Exploring the local area was slow, slower perhaps than it would be in a Civ game. There's no scout unit in this game, and terrain can reduce a unit's pace to a crawl. Indeed, the game world is probably comparable to a game of Civ on average settings, but it feels like you're probably not meant to be able to get around too quickly, too early.

Gladius also has one of the most clean, functional and useful UI's I think I've ever encountered in a game of this nature. Everything is explained in succinct detail, you're never left wondering what anything does. The UI itself is quite minimalist, leaving the game world to speak for itself. It's an odd thing to highlight in a preview, but so many games these days struggle to explain themselves or clutter up the user interface that when you comes across something of this quality, it just stands out.

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Founding your first city is typically the first thing you want to do in your first turn. There’s some scope to scout around for the optimum tile placement, but you don’t want to be doing it any later than the first couple of turns. Tiles in general are quite flexible in terms of what they can offer your city, and since acquiring new real estate is a matter of time, not cost, you can always reach those lucrative tiles a bit later. After founding, your population will grow at a steady rate. Each tile has a certain amount of building slots it can contain (and natural resources to exploit), so you need to keep acquiring the tiles around you to expand your city limits and build more stuff. There's no zone of control like Civilization has.

The world of Gladius Prime is incredibly hostile – NPCs roam the space between player/AI factions, and will attack you on sight. The lower-tier ones offer some great XP for your early army units and can be fodder for early quest objectives as well depending on faction. The larger ones will require a larger force to bring down. I had the unfortunate pleasure of running into a Catachan Devil, and it wasn’t until the end of our 50 turn-run that I final managed to bring it down (at the cost of a hero and several infantry units).

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These quests we mentioned are what will provide most of the drive for a Gladius game prior to you meeting the other AI empires. These will include things like “build this thing”, “recruit this unit”  “kill x amount of these things” and so on. They escalate in difficulty as you progress through the Chapters, with each chapter containing several sequential tasks. The first chapter typically starts off with you needing to build some things and/or recruit some units, and then go out and hunt down some NPCs. There is now a map cursor that appears that will show you where what you’re looking for is located. I did not make that far into the first chapter within 50 turns, mainly because the last kill quest target was the other side of the Catachan Devil.

These first 50 turns were honestly a bit of a mixed bag, mainly because Gladius is an awfully slow game. Cities can take a while to get going, the units you can recruit to found more cities (apart from Space Marines who work differently) don't appear until later tech tiers, and researching tech itself is a bit of an odd experience. The tech tree is split into ten tiers, but there appears to be a lot of redundancy. You have to research the right building to build a unit, and THEN research the unit itself, not to mention actually getting one of the required production buildings built, which may need more pop, which may need extra tiles, which takes time to acquire. 

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The thing is, we're not sure the next 50 turns will be any more interesting, or even the 50 turns after that. The environment does push back a little, but only so much and given that expanding your empire can be quite a bland endeavour, we worry that Gladius will struggle to hold player interest long enough to make it when you encounter the other factions. Even this could be a dubious prospect – the lack of diplomacy or any other meaningful interaction won’t be missed in a game set in the Grimdark, but their absence might be sorely noticed in a 4X. But then Proxy’s last project – Pandora: First Contact – was also more wargame than it was a true Civ-like, so they'll have that experience at least.

When it was announced, Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War raised eyebrows; some at the ambitiousness of this never-before-seen combination, others because they were wondering whether this marriage would even work in the first place. We’re honestly not sure which side will ultimately prove right.

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