Review: Warhammer 40,000 Gladius - Relics of War12 Jul 2018 0
Review: Warhammer 40,000 Gladius - Relics of War
Released 12 Jul 2018
4X campaigns all have similar beginnings: all of the nations of the world (or universe) start in suspiciously similar humble circumstances. Later on, they expand from their one world - or one city - to become true empires. That doesn't really work in Warhammer 40K, since the Imperium of Man is, famously, an empire of a million worlds. So how does Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War do it?
The game is set on Gladius, a prosperous imperial world. Well, it used to be prosperous: a warp storm cut the planet off, crushed most of the space-based assets and seriously wrecked the surface, with the survivorspicking up the pieces. The Imperial Guard forces sent to defend the planet, the Orks that the planet needed defending from, and the Space Marine chapter that called Gladius their home now live amongst ruins. The Necrons who were awoken by this cataclysm are even more surprised.
On the surface, Gladius offers some pretty standard 4X gameplay. You start with your first settlement and a few troops. You explore the map, grab resources, build new cities (or expand your existing one, depending on faction), meet exciting new people and then quickly kill them. The cities expand with new buildings, and new stuff – structures, units, unit abilities - is unlocked via research. There is no diplomacy.
As strange as it is for a 4X title to have absolutely no diplomacy, It's not a big loss. Few games aside from Space Empires V seem to have put any thought into it. However, it makes total sense in 40K. The Imperials almost never negotiate, be it with aliens, rebels or traitors. If one of your own turns on you, then it's a fight to the bitter end. Warhammer is a setting that deals in such absolutes. Fear the Alien, Burn the Heretic, Purge the Unclean.
Thus, you have only war and a 4X engine more suited to conflict than, say, Civilization. Each unit has health, armor, morale, armaments and various abilities. The weapons and abilities have their own traits, too. For example, Rapid Fire means that while you can fire at a target that's a hex away, you'll be dealing a lot more damage if you got closer. That's why Tactical Marines play so aggressively. Many melee units have two weapons - usually something to chop the enemy and pistols to barely inconvenience flying units.
The number of dudes appearing in the hex is more than just a visual representation of the health bar. The unit description lists the number of weapons that a unit has, and it's adjusted as HP goes down and soldiers fall. This means that infantry units start losing effectiveness a lot faster than vehicles or heroes. This might also be the reason why Gladius doesn't give Tactical Marines or Imperial Guardsmen – known for throwing a plasma gun or two in the mix - any of their iconic special weapons. Maybe it was a little hard to balance it all.
Still, the usefulness of early game units is maintained via the upgrades they receive. The slight increases in armor and firepower are almost universal, and then extra abilities are layered on top. For example, Tactical Marines gain frag and krak grenades, as well as melta bombs. These let them threaten vehicles even into the late game. Melee units like Assault Marines and Bullgryns get increased saves, which lets them stay in the action longer. Eventually, you'll be researching Baneblades and the like!
Back to combat: there's more to it than throwing your biggest units at theirs (though that helps). Location matters a whole lot - infantry units in cover (forests or Imperial ruin tiles) are a lot more resilient than those in the open. And with the few engineering units able to clean away annoying tiles like wire weed (it stops unit movement and damages them next turn), you can actually transform the battlefield into something more fitting to your plans. Imperial Guard are even more adept at that: not only do their city tiles provide the usual benefits of cover and faster healing, one of their city edicts (city abilities, a unique IG mechanic) increases their armor. Now you start positioning the cities offensively!
But the city game differs a lot from other 4X titles, which encourage you to sprawl. For one, each city is more expensive than the previous one to found. Space Marines don't even get build new ones – they have their central citadel, and they drop down Fortresses of Redemption to lock down resources away within their walls. Meanwhile, Necrons can raise theirs only in specified spots - meaning that their war plans can be influenced by the need to unlock new settlement locations. On top of that, cities gain new hexes a lot easier than in other games. Hexes usually have 2 building spots by default and some minor resource extraction bonus. You can very easily clear the hex to get an additional spot, but the bonus will be lost. And since cities need research to be able to expand much further, you can be faced with some early game dilemmas.
The late game dilemmas... well, you'd need to do some editing to make the game a tad easier. Each faction has a 5 part campaign, and completing the last part brings you victory even if you haven't crushed the enemy settlements. It's a nice enough way to give some structure and story to a normally grindy 4X experience. However, while many of the missions are quite easy the last one is usually insane; spawning either a horrible blob of high end units or spawning waves of powerful foes to defeat. Can't do what's asked of you within the turn limit? Well, you lost the game, and all that time you spent on it.
This kind of balancing upset can come as a shock, especially when most of your military is probably scattered throughout the map as you beat down the other factions. Luckily, it's easy for you to fix without even waiting for the devs to patch it. All the information about in-game abilities and what not is kept in XML files, which you can easily edit. That's how you can bring the challenge of the last mission down to bearable. It's also one of the ways to add more armor to woefully under-armored dreadnoughts. You can even use it to increase the variety of unit titles and barks in the game.
Now that we're going about the technical stuff, I can say that I deem the visuals to be 'good enough'. The UI is really well handled, and graphics are commendable. One of the most interesting choices comes from replacing audible unit barks with lines of text floating above their heads. It's an amazing way to save on resources and a cheap way to avoid your units being silent pawns. The rest of the audio bits are OK, and I think the sound of regular bolters is the best we've had since Dawn of War.
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War is further proof that we shouldn't look at AAA studios to deliver a good 40K strategy experience. Sanctus Reach scratched the hell out of that TBS itch and Relics of War is doing that for 4X. With the treatment that other Slitherine-made 40K titles are getting, I'm sure we will have other races joining the fray sooner rather than later.