As a long time fan of the various Warhammer tabletop games from Games Workshop, I have always wondered what a 4X title set in that universe would be like. Yes, there are more than a few to choose from, but that 40,000 Grimdark variant was always my favorite. Well, Slitherine’s announcement of Warhammer 40K Gladius: Relics of War by Proxy Studios was a very pleasant surprise to say the least. Their Pandora games were pretty solid wargames, and their engine should make an awesome backbone for this upcoming title. It was fun to put together this Q&A and discuss the lore with Ben “Tilted Axis” Sloniker for his Five Questions and Five More Questions eXpositions, but I want more.
So, until I’m able to play the full version of the game (we have a preview build), I will continue to wait and wonder what it will all look like. In the meantime, here are Matt and Dallin to add their thoughts to mine.
Impressions of Gladius by Matt “nonsense” Gittleson
Have you ever daydreamed about using a chainsword to rip a ragged, fleshy line between the cartoonish art style of Civilization V and VI and its hex-based city and combat mechanics? When playing Stellaris, do you refuse to play as anything but fanatical purifiers? When playing Panzercorps, have you ever wished you could have a procedurally generated world map to build infrastructure and units in cities? If the answer to any of the above is yes, you’ll soon be in for a treat. Slitherine’s upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Gladius: Relics of War (Gladius) does away with diplomacy, trade, and every other system we see in 4X games these days except one: combat.
As a 4X fan, I have to confess that sometimes I get bored of all the interactive features that get thrown in. When they’re done well, we get an interwoven system that produces interesting narratives and fun challenges. When they’re done poorly, they simply get in the way. Sure, when you play Civ you can always just ignore your opponents’ whiny cries of “Warmonger!” but you still have to click all those “go away” dialogue choices and sometimes I don’t want to bother.
I think that’s what attracts me to games like Panzercorps. You’d think that would mean I have tons of experience playing Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, since it was literally Panzercorps with a 40K skin, but no, I missed that title. It’s good to know that Slitherine has publishing experience with this sort of game, however. Gladius adds to that Panzercorps-style formula and makes an interesting marriage of 4X style city management and hex-based combat. Even if you love diplomacy in 4X games, I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s nice to just simplify things with some explosions.
I haven’t exactly had extensive time with the game, but it definitely provides that “one more turn” feeling. My first play session was just supposed to be making sure the game ran well. Three hours later, I cursed myself when I realized what time it was. My early impression is that this simplified, no-diplomacy gameplay is what leads to faster decisions than your average 4X. Turns are lightning quick in more than one way. My computer runs the game well, and while the number of decisions made each turn is low, each one is meaningful. In my opinion, achieving such a design is rare and underrated in today’s 4X industry, so it is most welcome here.
Much like the recently released BattleTech, the game offers a “good enough” recreation of the tabletop experience. While you won’t find a faithful reconstruction of all the tabletop movement and attack/defense values, what you do get is a workable version that plays well and feels close to what I remember. As usual, pragmatists and purists can have their own meta-battle on forums and in comment chains.
The press preview of the game offers just one choice of faction, the inevitable Space Marines. I say inevitable because though the Warhammer 40K universe is packed with many species and factions, the Space Marines always seem to be featured in most Games Workshop titles. Some jaded fans will no doubt lament their inclusion, but they’re understandably a safe and familiar choice for developers. Also surprising is the inclusion of the Necrons without their age old enemies, the Eldar. Alongside the Space Marines and Necrons, we also find the Orks and the Astra Militarum (more commonly known as the Imperial Guard). In addition, there are plans for the addition of more factions as DLC but as far as I’m aware there’s no hint of when that might be.
Each faction promises its own unique gameplay when it comes to tactics and city management, and I’m looking forward to trying them out. In the press build, the Space Marines can build only one city, and must harvest from hex tiles by expanding the single city locally (think boroughs in Endless Legend) and by dropping outposts from orbit onto more distant resources. This screams Space Marine flavor, so I’m hoping the other factions have similar offerings.
The Space Marines also have an RTS style build in that they need a ground vehicle building before they can build ground vehicles, an air building before they can build air vehicles, a hero building, and so on. These buildings are unlocked with a tech tree that runs on research points. The tech tree is one bit I didn’t understand in my brief time with the game, since you have to research a building and then also research units to build with that building.
I suppose it’s nice to be able to start constructing the research facility so that when your unit research is finished you can start making a unit right away, but it seems strange to have a building with no default unit to build from it. Regardless, the tech tree and building system provides a set of choices designed to do one thing: give you tactical options on the battlefield. I suppose it’s fitting since the 40K tagline says there is only war in the grim dark future. You won’t get any safe borders in this game. It’s all out war on all sides.
In addition to your main opponent factions, you’ll also find a pile of alien life forms. Similar to Total War: Warhammer II, the game will throw quests at you to encourage combat over far-flung areas of the map while also adding some narrative to make the game world feel alive. When I consider everything I’ve seen, I have to say I’m impressed, especially for a pre-release version.
Impressions by Dallin “Kearon” Holden
Gladius – Relics of War aims to bring the darkness, grit, and death of the Warhammer 40K universe to a 4X game for the first time. The game provides a more streamlined approach to 4X landing it somewhere in the neighborhood of Warlock 2 although stronger than that title in just about every regard. Now I understand some people may be disappointed by this, but I would rather a game focus on a few solid gameplay points as opposed to trying to do everything and achieving only mediocrity.
I have only had the chance to play as Space Marines so far. However, at launch players will also have the chance to play as Necron, Orks, and Imperial Guard. Information from the in-game guide points toward some very unique gameplay for the remaining three races. I am dying to get the chance to try them myself! I always appreciate when factions in a 4X game truly feel and play differently. In this regard I think Gladius will knock it out of the park.
Aside from the four playable races, there are neutral units running around the map that range from terrifying to a legitimate tactical threat (like losing four squads of space marines to some mind controlling bugger). The turn-to-turn gameplay lure players to venture out of their city to find tiles with special boosts to production, treasures, and future locations for expansions. Yet even as the world lures you outside, it constantly punishes you for expanding. Everything in the world seems hellbent on erasing you from existence. This even includes the many tiles covered in dangerous troop-killing wire weed. As frustrating as it may be if you slip up and make an error, having such an unwelcoming world epitomizes 40K perfectly.
Gladius provides just enough city and resource management to offer players meaningful strategic choices without over complicating the process or requiring micromanagement. You will focus on growing a population to work your buildings, resources to support upkeep, and various buildings to train units or boost your settlement in general. All this is built around a tile yield system that isn’t the most complex around, but requires players to balance tile yields against the number of slots for city buildings. The game provides enough complexity to legitimize city management (unlike titles such as Age of Wonders 3) but it never takes you too far away from the true focus of any 40K game: BATTLE!
As good as these other streamlined systems or features may be, what holds everything together is the combat. The Space Marines alone have access to every main unit outside of, perhaps, the rhino tank. Different kinds of Marines squads, dreadnaughts, terminators, various tanks, and gunships – name a unit and it’s basically here. But these aren’t just units with different attack and health values, they have a wide array of characteristics that you will need to mix and match to achieve success on the battlefield.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has played Sanctus Reach (which is also published by Slitherine), as they have demonstrated they know how to bring the tabletop game to PC. Between playing a handful of games and doing some good ol’ fashion poking around (console commands anyone?) I’m personally more excited for some of the other races’ units than anything the Space Marines bring to the table. No spoilers but there are some insane units available!
So how is Gladius shaping up overall? I will cautiously say there is more to like at this point than there is to critique. It’s looking like a solid, streamlined 4X game that will bring players to a new setting than we have seen before in the 4X genre. Now this game may not appeal to everyone. If you are looking for diplomacy, trade routes, or really anything beyond city-management and combat you might watch some Let’s Play videos or read other previews/reviews before pulling out your wallet. Some of those things just wouldn’t fit in the 40K universe (who needs diplomacy when you have a Baneblade!?), and some of these systems just won’t be present. That being said, the last few years of 4X games have demonstrated to me that just because a game checks the box of every standard 4X “feature” doesn’t mean it won’t quickly become a forgettable experience. I’m excited to see where the game is at launch, and hope it has a long, bright (or rather dark) road ahead.
On to the Q&A
We also had a chance to pose some of our usual questions to the developers. Here are some questions directed to and answered by Proxy Studios and Slitherine.
Could you start by telling us about your team?
Proxy Studios is an independent game developer founded in 2009 by Lorenz Ruhmann and Rok Breulj. Our staff is distributed all over Europe, working remotely together across country borders. We have a small core team of four people from Germany, Slovenia, Sweden, and Great Britain who focus on the design, programming, graphics, and story.
Are you contracting anyone outside your company for art and/or music?
For elements like additional graphical assets, music, sound, voice overs, and translation we outsource the work to freelancers and studios from around the world. In a digital age of globalization this gives us access to a very wide talent pool, while at the same time preserving our agility and efficiency.
What was the inspiration for your game?
With our team being big fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and our experience in more combat-focused 4X gameplay, we felt this was an excellent opportunity and something that hasn’t really been done before. Apart from that, we drew inspiration from a variety of popular turn-based and real-time strategy games that were released over the last two decades.
Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
There are four playable factions in the base game (Necrons, Space Marines, Astra Militarum & Orks). Each of them plays very differently. The Space Marines deploy Fortresses of Redemption from space and cannot found new cities. The Necrons regenerate, consume ore instead of food, and can only found cities on Necron Tomb sites located around the map. The Orks generate influence every time they fight a combat and this resource is used to maintain their troops, though they need food and ore to construct new units. The Astra Militarum have edicts that consume influence to add a variety of bonuses. This is just a very brief look at the differences, but the gameplay is dramatically different depending on which faction you play as, giving huge replay value. We also plan to add more factions later, but I can’t tell you much about that yet.
What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?
There’s obviously the ‘conquer everyone’ option but each faction also has its own specific quest path. If you complete all stages of your quest you can win and each faction’s quests are completely different.
Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?
Combat is very detailed and a very important part of the game. While this is a 4X game the emphasis is on exterminate! There are many strengths and weaknesses all modeled on how units interact on the tabletop. If you’re unfamiliar with the lore it takes a little while to get to grips with all the intricacies, but while you do you’ll have a lot of fun blowing stuff up.
Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?
The map is littered with special locations. Some give bonus rewards to the first to discover them. Others bestow powerful bonuses to units or combat while they are controlled. Others provide resource bonuses per turn while controlled. All are defended by the extremely dangerous wildlife that is more than just an annoyance.
What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize city/planet spam?
Cities have a loyalty rating which drops as the city grows and as you found more cities. The game is balanced so that you won’t get much benefit for having more than 5-7 cities. In this game, you will not be covering every square inch of the map with cities. They’ll be in strategic locations and a lot of the fighting will be for control of artifacts and bonuses resources between the cities.
Outside of cities, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?
That depends on the faction. Space Marines can call down fortresses from orbit to control resources and offer support to the front line. Orks can spread Ork fungus around which has healing benefits for them. Astra Militarum can build huge Bastions, so it’s all very faction specific.
Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game? Or is all diplomacy administered at the end of a gun?
In the grim darkness of the future there is only war.
What role does randomness play in your game?
The world is completely procedurally generated. There are a host of controls the player can adjust to determine the landscape, frequency of things like wildlife, bonus resources, artifacts etc.
Where does development of the game stand as of now?
We’re in final beta stages at the moment. We are polishing the game and adding cool new gameplay elements in response to player feedback and the press previews. We’re really excited about the changes and hope the previewers get the chance to review the game and see how much of their feedback we’ve addressed for the final version. It’s drastically improved the game.
What was it like working with Games Workshop to acquire the Gladius license?
Games Workshop are great to work with. They help guide us on any tricky lore questions and respond really quickly so overall it’s a great experience.
On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing your game?
The game is releasing on PC and Linux.
Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game or your company that we haven’t mentioned yet?
We’ve been working for years on this game and have put everything we have in to it, and we just hope people like it!
Finally, we have an idea about what Proxy Studios has in store for us. My anticipation is only growing with each passing day. Stay tuned for the full review and additional video coverage on our YouTube channel.