Ahh, finally back in my comfort zone: turn-based warfare. Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War is the very first 4X, turn-based strategy ever set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Gladius doesn’t piddle around with diplomacy. It’s killing and war from start to finish. You better eat your grox before entering into this fray.
While very approachable and easy to learn the basics, each race has its own units, tech trees, and thus, playstyles. You’ll need to pay attention to all of the differences, descriptions and nuances if you even want the most remote chance of ending up victorious. Gladius comes equipped with an in-depth Compendium (encyclopedia) of every aspect of the game. Additionally, hover-over tooltips are complete, available for everything and just as informative. Somebody did their 40K research for this game — the Warhammer lore is remarkable and deep. I often used the Compendium trying to eke out even the slightest advantage I could use against my enemies.
Rarely have I commented on the graphics this early in a review-style article, but it is appropriate here. Although there will be plenty of screenshots within, they don’t quite do justice to the masterful beauty of Gladius. Considering this is a war-torn, bleak, multi-biomed planet — with pieces of cities lying in ruins and Wire Weed creeping about, the attention to detail is beyond incredible. Even when you’re simply scrolling around, almost everything is moving. Groups of soldiers individually look around, Kroot Hounds take turns shaking their heads, machine units change stances… even the trees, Recaf leaves and the little flags on the outposts sway and flutter in the breeze. Gladius is breathtaking.
On to the gameplay. Luckily, as a reviewer, I am used to having multiple games going simultaneously. Once in a blue moon are they all within the same game. Four factions equaled four different games. The idea was to start a game, play twenty turns (for each faction), take the requisite notes, then return to each game later to delve further into each species’ strengths and eccentric details that make them unique. That was the plan anyway. Gladius – Relics of War is the most ‘one-more-turn’ entertainment I have run across in quite some time. Just. Can’t. Stop. Have to see what happens next.
After twenty-eight turns of the tutorial, playing as the Space Marines, I was ready to play a ‘real’ game. Since they were the only people I was familiar with, I decided to start with them. For each game, I chose my race and one of each of the others. As they all have different names even for their levels, I just set everyone to what I called ‘four’. You can choose each level for every faction separately, as well as the overall difficulty level for the game.
As the Space Marines, the novelty of having only one city was very different for me and my 4X experiences. No, I never did a ‘one-city challenge’ in Civ, Stellaris, or any other game with that option or goal. The coolest part of settling their city is that it falls from the sky — as some other Space Marine things do as well. Once I picked a spot I thought was good, I settled in, knowing I’d be working from there for the long-haul.
Be forewarned, the Kroot Hounds (feral, nasty dogs) are beyond plentiful. They must breed like rabbits because they are everywhere, seemingly all the time. They also have a lot of movement points, so they like to appear and attack out of the darkness/fog of war.
My little town was slowly growing, as was my army. I even managed to get an early Captain. We were expanding as quickly as possible, grabbing all of the outpost places we could. There are many places to ‘capture’ and once you do, an outpost is built with your team color. You reap the rewards of it as long as you control it. They range from Grox Pastures and Ruins of Vaul to Jokaero Trade Encampments. There’s a lot of different places giving varying bonuses.
Then, we ran into the Orks. “But I don’t wanna be an Ork fighter!” – whined like Jerry Seinfeld would. We weren’t really ready for them yet. Luckily, they had been fighting… something. Their first army was beaten pretty badly (only four of a complement of eighteen) so we managed to kill them quickly. The second one was tougher (12/18). After a small skirmish, they shockingly retreated. I found out a couple of turns later, by following them, that they had retreated to one of their towns — that proceeded to shoot the hell out us when we approached. No way, with basically starting troops, were we going to even attempt a takeover. We pulled back to the west.
Thought we were mostly (still) dealing with those damn dogs when we ran across a Full Spectrum Analyzer — a device when claimed, reveals the area around it. Hiding in the dark were two more Ork armies, of course a lot more hounds and, as a bonus — two Enslavers (evil jellyfish-type things that take command, by mind control, of your troops). “Oh, that’s just Great!” – said in a perfect Elaine Benes voice. Add all this to the fact that I had already shut down my Reclusiam (a building that makes heroes and generates influence and loyalty) because of a population shortage in my city. The very next turn, I ran into my first army from the Astra Militarum too.
So now, do we deal with the Enslavers to the west or the Orks to the east? Remember how I said I was going to do twenty turns of each race? Well, that was at the end of twenty-five — which will become the new norm. It was all I could do to stop at twenty-five. The Space Marines seemed relatively tough. They didn’t heal very quickly though. Unfortunately, they also seemed easily enslaved… at least the starting units did. Which sucks the Emperor’s Bowels! They were quite fun. Every ten turns, you can have a Fortress of Redemption — which is a fortification that drops from the sky down by special resources. They’re tough and help with defenses. Early research will also give you Orbital Scan, which will unveil fog of war hexes. Very handy as well. The screenshot looks like I was doing pretty well. Unfortunately, it was mostly being taken away from me. I didn’t have nearly enough units to explore and stay to guard the outposts, so they slowly fell into enemy control.
Going by the ‘initial challenge level’ in the game menu (the Space Marines were ‘Easy’), I chose the Necrons next… cron. They are listed as ‘Easy’ as well. Obviously, since the Necrons can only build cities on Necron Tombs, I’m going to have to do a lot of scouting for the next place to build a new city. Thinking far ahead here. This will be strange in itself as now I’m not used to having more than one city. Then, unlike other 4X’s, I know going in they’ll be spaced/spread out — again, because they can only build on their own Tombs. Unless I somehow get extremely lucky, no giant color blobs with these g… err, things.
When you research something, say from Tier 1, you only need to research one more item in that tier to be able to then start researching in the next tier up (Tier 2, in this example). That’s mostly what I did with the Marines. However, after reading the starting techs for the Necrons, I want all of the Tier 1 goodies. They entail faster unit production, vehicle production ability, teleportation ability, hero production and greater loyalty and influence numbers. I’ll only move on to Tier 2 when 1) I find another Necron Tomb and 2) then have the Canoptek Spyder built, which is the founder of new cities.
In turn four, (while all the time constantly fighting the dog-heads) I ran into an Imperial Bastion, an ultra-tough planetary fortification. Sounds good to me, as I can use it to help my defenses. I knew that my next city would be some distance from the original, so I’ll need all the help I can get, defensively. But! — there’s a huge but here. Unfortunately, by being new, I didn’t realize exactly how this Bastion worked. I thought I’d just send a troop up to it and capture it for use like I did with the Full Spectrum Analyzer. Newp, no, no, no, no, no. It’s a ‘planetary’ defense mechanism, so on approach, it shot the hell out of my Warriors, almost killing them. My fault for not carefully reading the description. It plainly says, like I just did above: ‘planetary fortification’. Get within two hexes of it and it will unleash its wrath upon you. Oops.
Now I have a badly injured troop when a planetary Kastelan Robot starts chasing it. I say ‘chasing’ because, in non-Necron style, I ran away like a scared Welsh rarebit. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s really food, but I couldn’t resist the punniness.
Being Irish, I can say, ‘by the luck of the Irish’ that the hex I ran away to? — was two hexes away from two Enslavers. Son of a… well, this will be interesting. Fortunately next turn, they moved away, but now I was running away from them too Let’s call it ‘exploring away from harm’ — it sounds better than my chicken-headedness. My new direction of ‘exploring’ led me straight into a Catachan Devil Lair. There seems to be an unlucky, unfortunate theme here. Obviously, on the Catachan Devil’s turn (he’s a huge, rage-induced, poisonous, literally frightening, scorpion-like beast), he attacked and killed (actually consumed) by poor, battered, unlucky-as-hell squad.
By now (a few turns down the road), three more of my Warriors had been built and were all headed to this area, from slightly different approach routes, but still coming to try and get some revenge. When they arrived, only the Kastelan Robot was still visible, so they attacked him.
Even at three-to-one- odds, it took them a few turns to finally defeat the heavily-armored, metal monstrosity. After a few more turns that had been spent resting for repair, I sent the three as a group to look for a Necron Tomb. My headquarters was doing well, I had a few squads out fighting the putrid puppies (Kroot Hounds) and had already researched the Spyder so I was ready to found a new town.
The group of three finally spied a Necron Tomb. Of course, it was surrounded by four Kastelan Robots, two groups of dog-heads and an Enslaver, for good measure I guess. Crap!
Besides waiting for repair/rejuvenation, Necrons also have the ability to self-repair… by using (spending) Influence. So, between the three and a couple of others doing that, my Influence was down to almost nothing. Meanwhile, at home, I had built a Cryptek. Gladius has special hero units for each faction that can be built instead of a ‘plain ole’ Captain. Like all of its peers, my Cryptek started with the ability to instantly level up. You get three choices of what power you want each hero to start with. Begrudgingly, I made this one into a healer. The other two non-spoiler choices were way cooler, but you have to go with what is needed.
Also, I had been building the first vehicles in the Necron tree: Tomb Blades. They are fast, motorcycle-like vehicles used mainly for recon, but they do have the ability to fight — and fairly well when they’re in the right position/terrain. The coolest part is they sound great. It’s like a shearing metal and scream-ey sound combined.
Due to luck and/or playstyle, I didn’t fare nearly as well as I did with the Marines. Even though the Warriors have that self-healing ability, they didn’t seem quite as tough in the early game. I can see from their tech tree that this will improve. I saw some pretty scary stuff in the Necron research possibilities! Not having to rely on food was a huge benefit — as well as the ability to ‘rush’ something that’s in production at home if need be (called Rapid Rise). Again, they were quite fun to play, but by turn twenty-five, I hadn’t cleared the area for my second city. Grrr. They also have the two-hex Overwatch range which I failed to mention the Space Marines do as well. Sorry! It’s handy for any enemy wandering within two hexes, but especially useful on those hound-toothed pukes.
The Orks were next in line (rated at ‘Medium’). I had really been wanting to play them, as I love the whole brute-force mentality in games. Their Mek unit is the guy that’s going to found their first base. On the map I got, the Orks were mostly surrounded by volcanic tiles. Lots of negatives, especially with food. That meant, for the first time, I was going to have to move the city-founder and not have a town on the first turn — which also means zero research as well.
As I sent the troops away from the volcanic ground for a few turns even, it actually got worse. The whole area we uncovered was arctic, desert or volcanic. Then, I did something I never do: I actually restarted the game — new map, new seed. Almost made me sick just typing that. The second start wasn’t a ton better, just a little. I still had to move the Mek on the first turn. Plus, of course my favorite puppies were there in force to greet us.
After all of the shooting of the Marines and Warriors, it was very cool and refreshing watching the Ork Boyz march right into a hex to attack — pistol shooting from one hand, slashing blade from the other.
Even playing as the Orks, very early game we ran into Enslavers, first thing. Even as the Orks, we ran away. When a unit gets enslaved, obviously you have no control over it… the Enslaver does. So, you either have to fight your own units or kill the unit that enslaved them. I hate fighting against my own guys. Unfortunately, a lot of times the Enslaver runs off. Plus, they’re just tough to fight. Probably stupid, but I’d rather hunt down and kill the Enslaver than kill my own troops. If you kill the unit that has power over your army, you get the unit back. He’s usually shaken and hurt, but he comes around after a bit and, most importantly, he’s back under your control.
On top of the slashing into the enemy’s hexes, I had to get used to not having the two hex Overwatch. Orks still have the ability in Gladius, but the bad guys have to move adjacent to you (unlike the first two factions). At the top of the screen, an addition to the Orks is the WAAAGH! Level. Basically, it increases or decreases the Orks’ attack ability. It does so in five percent increments with a max of +/- 25%. Once mine hit 4.4 (20%), I attacked some Kroot Hounds and noticed a perceivable and appreciated difference.
While they don’t have the ability to self-heal like the Necron’s Warriors, they do have ‘Ere We Go! — which lets them move an extra hex for one turn, with a five turn cooldown. I found myself using this a lot more often than I thought I would. One hex can mean quite a bit in Gladius, and at a large number of different times and circumstances.
I played them pretty close to how I played the Space Marines. Expand out and take as many outposts as possible. But, by turn twenty, we’re up in the north trying to reclaim all the outposts the hounds have taken from us. In the south, we just ran into a Level Three Kastelan Robot and two groups of Level Five Kroot Hounds to the southwest, which are close enough to attack. There’s something about history and fighting a two-front war now isn’t there? Plus, more joy — the Robot has a Level Two Robot friend.
As the battle rages in the south, I finally produced a Mek Blitz Yard so I’ll be able to produce a Mek so I can found a new town. Unfortunately, this is turn twenty-two and it’ll take three turns to produce him. Great, we won’t even get to see it.
Now, in the southeast, it looks like the Imperial Guard is getting ready to make a city of their own. It just keeps getting better. First of all, it kind of ticks me off because they’re in ‘my area’, but second, I wonder if that means their headquarters are close? Plus, I’m still worried about a Necron Tomb that’s only three hexes from my city. Guess we’ll never know if they plop a town of their own down there — it’s the end of turn twenty-five.
On to my final Gladius faction: the Astra Militarum, generally just called the Imperial Guard. At first read-through, it looks like I’m going to need some heavy armor and long-range artillery as quickly as possible. They seem to have the weakest starting units, Guardsmen. Not that their slouches, but they do better in groups than alone and on their own.
The biggest change will be the Bureaucracy Of War. This means I’ll eventually be able to issue edicts to help my cities out. Again, it’ll be strange starting with weaker units as well.
Of course by turn three, there are already five groups of canines sniffing around… well, and attacking… the one unit I had off by himself. They’re also not afraid to walk right up to the city! This is a first for me as I haven’t seen any unit get that close before. Of course, the town’s guns take them out, but still. What happens when it’s leveled-up units and not the dog-heads?
The plan is to keep multiple units close together. Although Guardsmen are prone to morale loss, they have better rifles than I was led to believe. In the Imperial Guard’s tech tree, I can already see I want everything in Tier 2: anti-armor grenades, medi-pads (for self-healing), another Hero unit and my first possible edict — which will help the vehicle plant I’ve already built.
Instead of my wild, let’s-go-explore-everything approach, while worrying about my more fragile and shaky-moraled troops, I’m playing it a lot closer to the vest, as it were. Already had one troop completely destroyed, just by the Kroots. Before I move any units, I check the surrounding ones to make sure they can all still end up adjacent after moving.
When we needed that Recaf Leaf for another outpost, we had to move the whole army to claim it — which was already down to three guys. Then, we couldn’t even make it there in one turn. Finally, at least I got a Scout Sentinel (an armored walker) built to help out. It’s not like it’s a Leman Russ Battle Tank or anything, but so far, it’s not as frail as the Guardsmen seem to be. I said that right before the next turn, when a single Ambull (a tough, ape-like fighter that regenerates hit points) walked up and pounded the crap out of a Guardsman.
As we were about to move further north, we used the Scout Sentinel’s very practical ability to reveal three tiles in every direction. Unveiling a Psychneuein (an evil, wasp-like killer that can infest your troops) halted my desire for any more movement in that direction. We were way too puny to take on anything like that. Even though there was a Jokaero Trade Encampment right beside the flying menace, we decided to move south instead.
By turn sixteen, I finally got to start building a Cult Mechanicus which will produce Techpriest Enginseers (for city-founding) now and to make my own Kastelan Robots later. Be nice to actually have some of those on my side for once.
By turn nineteen, a few guys finally leveled up, plus my Captain did as well. I’m also starting to produce our first Heavy Weapons Squad. By the next turn, I’ll have the Cult Mechanicus built, then it’ll be time to start kickin’ some Xeno ass. Right now, I have two groups staying within each other’s reach. I’m ready to start getting some heavier machinery out there.
By turn twenty-five, I’m mostly: Healing a lot of Guardsmen; Going back and picking up some one-turn techs I want; and Trying to produce a tougher, heavier army.
Something I haven’t mentioned up to this time: at some point in your research ‘plans’, you must research a Hab Block, which is what it’s called for the Astra Militarum. Each faction has one. What it does is increase the population limit for your town. It’d be a shame to have buildings that don’t work because they’re unmanned. You have to always watch your pop limit within your towns. If you have too many buildings and not enough workers, everything’s production is penalized. Your options are to keep it that way and slow down everything or shut off a building(s) to only use the available number of workers. Without checking, I’m sure there are probably more down the tech trees as well.
There are also quests for each race. Completing the quest line is a different way to earn you a victory. I was doing them, but obviously didn’t get anywhere near the completion of one.
Obviously, I absolutely love Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War. It was extremely difficult to stop playing each and every game. It’s the epitome of ‘one-more-turn’. There are some QoL issues, both positive and negative. The plus side is that it auto-saves every turn. That’s very handy as sometimes I’m so excited, I forget to save. If you want to delete a game, it doesn’t ask you anything like, “Are you sure?”. I can’t stand it when games do that. It’s the same thing with overwriting a game, it doesn’t treat me like a five-year-old and ask if I’m sure.
The best part is that you can hover or any and everything and get information. The tooltips are simply phenomenal and some of the best I’ve ever seen. Between that and the Compendium, you have access to all of the information for the entire game.
The troops have two little bars on the right side: one for health, one for morale. That’s great, but what’s missing for me is the ability to hover over an army and see an exact count of units, both for my own and nearby enemies. If the enemy full is thirty-six, I want to know if there are four left or seven. My armies as well. Hopefully, they’ll implement that. Then, so far, there’s no way (that I saw) to switch key bindings. It’s a teeny, tiny thing, but I prefer WASD over using the arrows to move the map around.
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War will be on my hard-drive… probably forever. I can’t wait to see further development and/or DLCs. It’s deep, tough and beautiful. Once I turn this article in, I’m going right back to Gladius. I need to get deeper into each tech tree, but mostly, I want to see how all these games turn out! (and slaughter some more of those stupid barking menaces).