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Among the multitude of Warhammer 40k games that have swarmed across gamers’ PC’s the last couple of years, only a few really stood...

Gladius - Relics of War: Tyranids DLC Gladius - Relics of War: Tyranids DLC

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Proxy Games

Among the multitude of Warhammer 40k games that have swarmed across gamers’ PC’s the last couple of years, only a few really stood out as interesting uses of the license. One of my favorites from last year was Gladius: Relics of War. This 40k take on the 4x genre was a streamlined and fast paced rendition of the classic 4X formula. Diplomacy was completely tossed out the window in favor of a massive roster of units, each with their own distinct tactical uses. If you aren’t familiar with the game at all, check out my review here for all the details. Now we have the first new faction DLC for the game, bringing an alien horde perfectly suited to the battlefields of Gladius: the Tyranids. While the DLC doesn’t change the overall structure of the game much, the Tyranids come with their own set of unique mechanics that are a masterclass in matching theme and gameplay.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably familiar with the Tyranids already. These are the Zerg of the 40k world. Giant, nightmarish swarms of monsters that resemble a varied assortment of giant space bug dinosaur things. They’re all teeth and claws, plasma launchers and acid blood, controlled by a mind hive consciousness and numbering in the trillions. They feel no fear, no remorse, and only desire one thing: to consume all biological life everywhere they go. Sounds like some great new neighbors, right?

While the Tyranids have a number of fearsome and deadly units in their arsenal, they actually begin the game quite weak. The lower tier Tyranid units are cheap and many are fast, but they can’t venture too far by themselves. Remember that part about being controlled by a hive mind? Not all of the Tyranid units have a direct “synaptic link” to the hive. Every turn spent out of direct contact with the hive causes these units to lose health and they can even become feral if detached too long, causing the player to lose control of them. This means that you must keep a more powerful unit around that can act as a relay for the hive mind. I really liked how this forced you to make some tough tactical considerations. Use your big bads to spearhead an offensive, and you risk their destruction. Losing your link to the hive could cause an offensive push to completely disintegrate. Playing as the Tyranids involves a lot of expansion and contraction of your forces. Send some fast scouts out for reconnaissance, quickly pull them back to a synaptic linked unit, then concentrate your forces and move towards whatever goal you have in mind (i.e. consuming everything in your path). This makes playing the Tyranids tactically distinct from other factions. Each group of weaker units needs a synaptic unit as the core of their group, and they must all move together to be fully effective. Compare this with the Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard) who’s lowliest unit of guardsmen can at least be stationed alone in some remote corner of the map to watch over a flank. For the Tyranids, a grouping of units is almost always necessary for any task. The Tyranids do not hold ground very well, they must always be on the move in one direction or the other.

On the strategic level, the Tyranids have some distinct differences as well. Resources have been distilled down to just two things, biomass and influence. Biomass is the organic matter that the Tyranids melt down and turn into all of their fearsome creatures and buildings. You get this by stripping the land bare and building up certain base structures. Unsurprisingly, you always need more, more, more. You can also reclaim some biomass by bringing units back to base to be tossed back into the bubbling goo. While this sounds like a minor gimmick, it’s actually entirely necessary for smoothly switching gears between one tier of units and the next when you are running tight on resources. A situation I found myself in several times.

The other resource important for Tyranid strategy is influence. This is used to power many buildings and some key special abilities. You can burn through a lot of influence in a hurry by scooping up extra biomass anywhere on the map with the Malanthrope unit, or to keep units under control longer when they are away from the hive mind. Having just the two key resources for all of your production and abilities may sound simple, but it actually creates an interesting economic situation where you are constantly balancing one with the other, while trying not to simultaneously run out of both.

A great touch to the game is how the Tyranids actually change the appearance of the map around them as the game progresses. The expansion of your hives and the special ability of the Malanthropes literally strips the planet to the bedrock, removing all vegetation and any trace of life one hex at a time. Gladius isn't all that pretty to begin with, and the Tyranids do their best to make it look even worse.

Like the other factions, the Tyranids have a tech tree mostly focused on unlocking new units and then bigger and badder upgrades for them. You can choose to spread research around to give yourself a lot of options, or focus on upgrading one particular line of units quickly. I really liked the variety of units offered for the Tyranids. You of course have hulking monstrosities that you can load up with tons of weapons, but there are also incredibly fast units for hit-and-run tactics, a stealth unit, and a hero that can allow you to move units around underground. All of these options, with the general mix of units between cannon fodder infantry and the big stuff that could startle a Space Marine, give the Tyranids a great roster to choose your army from.

While the Tyranids may sound like an unstoppable faction ready to swarm over everyone else on Gladius, they are actually rated “Hard” (along with the Imperial Guard faction) and this was no lie. My first run at the game on normal difficulty ended with my being overwhelmed by two enemy factions and some neutral units at the same time. This was mostly my fault for trying to spread out too far, too fast. On my second run I took the difficulty down a notch to Easy. Around turn 200 I’m still alive, but it’s been a struggle most of the way. The enemy AI pulls no punches and the world itself is hostile to your presence.

Look at all that lovely biomass, ready to be consumed.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the updates to Gladius overall since launch in July last year. A long series of small updates and tweaks has really polished what was already a solid experience. The most impressive is the enemy AI, which for me presented a serious challenge. In a big name 4X series which uses the same sort of hex-based combat and rhymes with Bivilaration, it has long been a common sight to see an AI make bone-headed moves with their units and waste them on futile attacks while marching right past much easier targets. Not so in Gladius. Here the enemy forces will swarm out of the fog of war if you venture near their territory, only to immediately pull back if you are able to heavily outnumber them. Enemy units routinely scout the edges of your territory, snapping up undefended strategic resource locations and prodding deeper where they can. The enemy will give battle when they have a large enough force, and then reinforce or retreat as the fight goes one way or the other. It was rare to get an easy kill on an enemy unit without extending your own forces into the no-man’s-land.

The Imperial Guard won't go down as easily as you might imagine.

As you can tell from my review, I really like the Tyranids expansion for Gladius. While the game has a had a couple small DLC since launch, this is the first addition of an entire faction and it has set the bar very high. The matching of theme and gameplay mechanics is top-notch and makes the Tyranids a fresh experience even for veterans of the game. I imagine we are guaranteed to see more factions added over time, and I hope they are all done this well.

-Joe Beard

Gladius: Tyranids is available directly from Slitherine and on Steam/GoG
Developer: Proxy Studios
Publisher: Slitherine

As you may have heard, in the grim dark future, there is only war. So what to do when you create a 4X strategy game in the universe of...

Warhammer 40k: Gladius - Relics of War Warhammer 40k: Gladius - Relics of War

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Proxy Games

As you may have heard, in the grim dark future, there is only war. So what to do when you create a 4X strategy game in the universe of Warhammer 40k? You go all in on that last X, eXterminate. WH40k: Gladius - Relics of War (let's call it Gladius), is the first WH40k game to enter the 4X world of titles like Civilization and Master of Orion. Gladius strips down the classic trappings of the genre to only those elements which make sense in the 40k setting. The most notable feature lacking is any kind of diplomacy. All factions are at war from the start and there are no truces or trade agreements. Other aspects of classic 4X games are here, but streamlined down and serve only to facilitate the production of bigger and better units for the combat which kicks off early and rarely lets up. If I could describe Gladius in the simplest terms possible, I would call it the deathmatch mode of 4X gaming.

Gladius was developed by Proxy Studios and published by Slitherine Games. The same duo previously created the underrated Pandora: First Contact, which was something of a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri. Now the team is trying to do something fresh with the 4X genre; instead of adding layers of mechanics and complexity, they are trimming things down to create a fast paced combat focused strategy game. We'll cover each X in turn, leaving the best for last.

Whether you're playing as the Space Marines, Orks, Necrons, or Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard), the first thing you will need to do at the start of the game is explore your surroundings. You'll start with a handful of units and the option to place your starting base anywhere you choose. Each hex shaped tile in the game world has different resource bonuses and finite spaces for buildings. Finding some easily defensible terrain is worth considering as well. When playing on the default medium sized map setting, your neighbors will come calling before you know it.

The battlefield you will be fighting over is the scarred and ruined remains of Gladius, a planet that was, until recently, a thriving Imperial world covered in cities and loyal followers of the God-Emperor of Mankind. Then a cataclysm of ill fortune hit the world. An Ork invasion, a Necron awakening, and a giant warp storm. All of these events have left the surface of the world an ugly and toxic place. Though there are some surviving patches of green here and there to keep things from getting too bleak.

While scouring the landscape, you will find special resource tiles which can be captured to provide a resource bonus and offer your units a defensible outpost in a world filled with dangerous wildlife. The "wildlife" ranges from packs of kroot hounds up to giant guardian automatons and Enslavers, particularly dangerous enemies which can mind control one of your units. With danger comes rewards, however, since the first faction to fight their way through the baddies will find numerous resource boosts and relics which grant various bonuses like passive healing or extra movement to all of the units of whichever faction controls them.


As you might expect, you won't be building trade networks or art galleries in Gladius. Expansion has only one goal in this game: build bigger deadlier units and more of them. There are several resources to juggle, but the economy is pretty simple. You'll need a bit of everything, so keep an eye on the numbers and build whichever resource building is lacking (in the tile with the highest respective bonus) and you should be golden. Each type of production building you create has its own production queue, so there is little need to create additional cities at the beginning of the game. In fact, the Space Marines can never second city, but instead can occasionally drop down fortresses next to desirable resource nodes.

The tech trees in Gladius, the contents of which are completely unique for each faction, are structurally simple. There are ten tiers of research and about a half dozen options in each tier. Research two techs in one tier and you unlock the next. The vast majority of the techs either unlock a unit, building, or combat upgrade, but there are also some resource bonuses and special powers scattered around. This simplicity creates some stark decisions. Do you focus on providing upgrades for your starting grunts, climb the tree to find more powerful and exotic units, or try to build up your war machine? 


So what are you doing on Gladius anyway, what is the goal here (other than killing and destruction, obviously)? Each faction gets some nice flavor text and "quests" to offer them direction throughout a match. This was one of the best features of Endless Legends, and it works just as well here. Completing these objectives as they come up will give you bonus resources and units. After the first few simple tasks, the story objectives will require you to venture out into the map for one reason or another, inevitably leading to conflict with neutral units and other factions. This gives the game some nice replayability, since each faction has its own story to follow and different goals to achieve. In the end though, only one faction can win, and the others must all perish. This brings us to the final X:


While some other 4X series like Civilization have tried to make combat more of an option than a necessity in recent iterations, Gladius goes all in on warfare.  While research and production is streamlined, combat units have detailed stats and options to consider. Units have health, armor, morale, perks, experience levels, sometimes multiple weapons, and so on. All of the variables can be improved through new technologies. For example, the lowly Imperial Guardsmen begin the game at a disadvantage against literally everything else. However, with some researched upgrades, later in the game they can have decent stats and multiple special abilities.  All of the favorite units from WH40k lore are here. Dreadnoughts, Killa Kans, Baneblades, and many more all take to the battlefield in a surprisingly short period of time. Where in Civilization, by the time you hit turn 50 you've probably said hello to a couple of neighbors and built a second city, in Gladius you will already be skirmishing with multiple opponents, by turn 100 it's a full scale war that doesn't let up. Whether you find that to be a positive or negative will determine if this is a game for you or not.  Combat is very much the meat of the gameplay.

I've only played the game on the default map settings so far, and it makes for a real knife fight compared to other 4X games. Three and even four way battles are common sights. It's fun to watch a battle for one of the special resource tiles swing back and forth between two or three factions, as units are destroyed and reinforcements arrive to counter-attack. As the battle rages your units that survive can gain up to ten experience levels, making a battle hardened veteran from the early game a really potent tool in your arsenal. You can give such units a distinct name if you like, creating a bit of extra attachment with them. 

Hero units in particular can be devastating to lose, since they unlock multiple extra powers and abilities as they level up. Each faction gets three hero types, typically some variations of a warrior, mage, and support. Each hero has three starting abilities to choose from, and a more powerful ability unlocked at level 6. All of these abilities can be upgraded multiple times, allowing you to customize your heroes as you see fit.  

All of these elements taken together make for a simple, but fun 4X game focused on combat and building cool units. The missions given to each faction give some context to all the fighting, though it wouldn't hurt to see some extra variety there. Each faction always gets the same set of goals, which can railroad some of your early build order decisions if you know what is coming. 

The game looks very nice for a 4X, with especially good animations and weapon effects. I saw a lot of comments on my preview video from people saying that the game looked too brown and ugly, but I found that most of the randomly generated maps feature a decent amount of green grass and other colorful areas, in addition to the obligatory ruined cities and wastelands. It certainly feels like a world beset by a warp storm and multiple alien invasions. It's a hostile and dangerous place to be for everyone involved. 

Although the game only features four factions, each is completely distinct and will give you different experiences. Fans of Endless Legends will feel right at home playing factions with radically different mechanics. One really fun mechanic is the Ork "WAAAGH!" meter; keep the fights coming and your units will all get extra attack damage that builds more and more. Each faction has a different starting difficulty rating, and you should pay attention to it. I stubbornly attempted to play as the Imperial Guard several times, despite the HARD difficulty warning, and got my tail kicked on each attempt. Hopefully we'll get to see some more factions added to the game. It would be great to see the Eldar, Tau, and Chaos Space Marines joining the fray, among many others.

WH40k: Gladius - Relics of War succeeds at what it sets out to be. This is the arena shooter of 4X games, where combat is the primary focus of each campaign, and moves at a much faster pace than you might expect. Just when you think you're unstoppable, the enemy will show up with a next tier unit and rain on your parade. This creates an enjoyable back forth with fluid front lines. I didn't get a chance to play multiplayer, but I can only imagine that a group of friends would have a fun afternoon exterminating each other. The fast paced turns and relatively simple gameplay mean that you could potentially play an entire match in one long sitting.

The drawback of this streamlined approach is of course that the game could suffer from a lack of variety after you've tried out each of the four factions. The winning strategy is always war, never diplomacy, science, or culture, they aren't even an option. This may be a relief for some gamers, however, who just want a good fight and not to worry about establishing the most efficient trade routes or converting others to your religion (this is 40k, you purge anyone who isn't your religion with gratuitous violence!). For those players, I can safely recommend this game if they are at all interested in the setting. For myself, I have enjoyed all the time I've spent with the game so far, and haven't managed to win just yet, so I'll be heading back out there shortly to claim Gladius for myself. 

Warhammer 40k: Gladius - Relics of War releases July 12th on Steam and GoG. The regular price is $45, but you can get a 10% discount if you hurry. The GoG version comes with a free copy of WH40k: Rites of War if you pick it up before July 26th!

 - Joe Beard