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Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War Review

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War Review


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Only one of the Xs in 4X gets much love in a world where There Is Only War.

A wise man once said, “In the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium, there is only war.” Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War attempts to create a Civilization-like 4X game against that backdrop, but can’t seem to get away from the fact that war is really all there is to do in the 40K universe. Luckily, it does war pretty well.

Gladius puts you in command of one of four distinct factions: the elite Space Marines, the savage Orks, the creepy Necrons, and the dutiful troopers I’m told I’m supposed to call the Astra Militarum now, even though to me they’ll always be the Imperial Guard. Each has a unique and expansive unit roster that covers a lot of the bases from the tabletop, with everything from Space Marine Dreadnoughts to Necron Doomsday Arks. Almost every unit has a clear, straightforward combat role that can be played off of others to create potent combos.

Gladius really is a terrific wargame.

Turn by turn, marching a column of Space Marines supported by deadly heroes and tough-as-nails tanks feels great. It’s a shining refinement of the one-unit-per-tile combat introduced to the two most recent Civ games, and it fits 40K really well. Deciding how to prioritize targets, flex my line to keep wounded units out of the line of fire, and set up vicious artillery barrages and flanking maneuvers almost always satisfied my appetite for precisely-orchestrated obliteration. Gladius really is a terrific wargame.

EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE, & EXTERMINATE

The caveat here is that it’s not necessarily a terrific 4X. As your armies march out to claim victory you’ll also be claiming tiles for your cities, filling them with resource- and unit-generating buildings, and researching technologies from a semi-linear list to unlock bonuses and new units. It’s all competent and functional, but I usually found that it boiled down to seeing which resource I was running low on, claiming a tile with a bonus to that resource, and building a production building there so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a while. It’s very reactive, as opposed to encouraging long-term planning.

Each faction also has a variety of unique mechanics that sometimes felt thematic and fun, but other times fell a little bit flat. Space Marines, for instance, can only ever build one city and must secure strategic resources around the map by placing smaller, less defensible outposts that can’t produce units or other structures. The Necrons can only found cities on buried Necron Tombs scattered sparsely across Gladius Prime and use ore instead of food as their upkeep resource. Some work better than others, though. The Orks’ WAAAGH, for instance, gives up to a 25% damage bonus when your Influence resource is high. But since Orks generate Influence every time they do damage and don’t have much to spend it on, I found that I pretty much kept it maxed out with no challenge or difficult decision-making from the midgame onward.

Units look great, though I couldn’t customize the color scheme of my Space Marines.

The units look great, though I was a bit disappointed I couldn’t fully customize the color scheme of my Space Marines to match a specific chapter. It’s also very satisfying to see a gothic imperial fortress or sprawling Ork scrapyard sprawl across the map as you acquire new tiles and fill them with structures to fuel the war machine. The terrain isn’t as fun to look at, though. Even though a new sector of Gladius Prime is generated for each campaign, they all seemed a bit samey in terms of their color palette and general topography. It’s also hard to tell sometimes, even if you zoom way in, where high ground areas start and end, which can be frustrating when a movement order ends up sending a unit on a long detour to skirt a cliff, or a ranged attacker can’t get line of sight to the target and it’s not entirely clear why.

LESS TALKA, MORE DAKKA

There’s also no diplomacy to speak of – which, again, is kind of a given with the theme. You can set specific factions to locked teams in custom games if you want to fight a united front of Imperial Guard and Space Marines, but there is no trade or negotiation of any kind once you hit Go. Ultimately, I didn’t find that this bothered me much. The constant state of conflict between all factions actually led to some of my favorite, most intense encounters, like when I spotted a Space Marine army coming from the north and pulled my Orks back so the oncoming force would smash into the Necron front I’d been chipping away at, letting my enemies do my work for me. Glorious three- or four-way bloodbaths the likes of which you’d rarely see in other 4X games aren’t uncommon.

When the shells aren’t flying, you can pursue victory through a quest system that gives each faction a unique storyline to pursue on Gladius Prime. For the most part, they’re well-written and held my attention with the promise of answers to the mysteries surrounding the harsh world. Actually completing the quests often boiled down to sending a specific hero to stand on a certain tile or defeating an event-spawned neutral army, which wasn’t always terribly interesting. But the final battles that cap off each questline were some of the most fun I had as I was forced to defend against many waves of powerful attackers with my by then grizzled, veteran army.

The Verdict

While it didn’t wow me as a competitor to Endless Legend or Civ 6 in the 4X race, there’s a lot of action-saturated, tactically-driven fun to be had when you look at Gladius – Relics of war for what it truly is: a really well-done, turn-based 40K wargame. It’s one of the best turn-based 40K games I’ve played through that lens. All the other mechanics exist purely as adequate supports for throwing another wave of Boyz into the meat grinder for the glory of Gork and/or Mork. Maybe that’s thematically appropriate in the grim darkness of the far future, but if Gladius wants to call itself 4X and not just cut straight to the chase, it could have made those elements more interesting to justify the label.

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