# of Players:
marks the first foray of developer LucasArts, the house that Star
Wars built, into unfamiliar territory for them - the niche genre
of tactical RPGs. Set in a mythical land that closely mirrors the
Roman-era (in case you couldn’t tell from the name), this title
handles it’s main draw well but doesn’t offer much in the way of
If you’re expecting a typical RPG experience from Gladius,
don’t. Exploration is almost non-existent, the only point of the
world map is to follow the roads, walk from town to town and
(rarely) deal with a random encounter. There are no hidden
wildernesses to explore, just cities. Even those are not to be seen,
rather when you “enter” a city you’re taken to a menu, allowing you
to select from the wares available in that city, the arena battles
available, your own stats and settings or back to the world map.
Those are your choices. This game is focused on moving from battle
to battle. Everything else is just window dressing.
The combat system itself is thankfully worthwhile, encompassing
enough strategic elements to be entertaining. Different classes of
gladiators duke it out in arenas, with dozens of different
advantages to be considered, from terrain height to attack
direction. There are quite a large variety of offensive and
defensive techniques to keep one interested. There’s even a “Low
Kick” that can only be used on male opponents. Your imagination is
correct; it’s low in every sense of the word. Technique
effectiveness is determined by a variety of means, like stopping a
meter or sequenced button mashing. Different magic affinities affect
the potency of attacks. Even the crowd’s reaction to your
performance plays a part. With all this detail, you might think the
mechanics are difficult to master, however the beginning tutorial
battles do a good job of explaining things, and while you still
might not understand it all at first, it comes quickly once you try
it in action.
Don’t get me wrong; there are a few things that could have been done
better. For one thing, the camera in combat mode is pretty annoying.
Zoom functions and better control would make things so much easier.
I also noticed some very rare slowdown during some of the more
particle-effect heavy portions of battle, but it wasn’t much of a
bother. Finally, I was a bit miffed that the game never let me trot
out more than five warriors at a time, even though it seemed to
indicate I could use ten. But I guess with the aforementioned
slowdown, that wouldn’t have been feasible. Finally, toward the end
of the game you go up against some large bosses. They look awesome
but go down easy, ending up as nothing more than bigger targets.
Between battles is a less sure thing. Oh, it all looks promising.
You can recruit new gladiators into your “school”, customize their
skills as they level up, equip them with new, more powerful weapons
and armor and even change the colors of their hair, skin and
clothing. Things start out pretty slow, because you’ll have a lot of
battles and equipment immediately available to you but your
characters and your wallet are not ready for 90% of them. But with a
little persistence, you make it through your first few battles and
pretty soon you have a dizzying number of options in building your
school. Still, all you’ll be doing after a battle is re-equipping
your warriors, maybe recruiting a new one or two, and then throwing
your team right back into the arena.
The music is unremarkable and repetitive. It fits the mood well
enough, and it’s not annoying enough to grate on you, but don’t
expect to remember most of it. Some of the triumphant gladiatorial
fanfares do manage to get the blood pumping now and then… Sound
effects are about what they should be, sword clangs and magic blasts
and such. The voice work is quite good, done by some talented actors
including Michael “Lex Luthor” Rosenbaum as Valens. Sadly, only
about half the dialogue in the game is spoken, and you really miss
it when it’s not there.
does its job when it comes to graphics. The arenas in particular are
beautiful. The world map is a little less so, but as I said you
won’t be spending much time there. Over the course of the game you
traverse four countries, each with its own distinct look and feel.
There’s even a day/night system running throughout, though for
little more than novelty. The only major complaint I have is the
lackluster textures on trees, particularly those seen in the
background at several arenas. I’m sorry, but the “two flat
intersecting polygons” trees went out with the last console
generation. Maybe they didn’t get the memo? On the other hand, the
main character models look great, with nicely detailed facial
expressions. This doesn’t carry over to the audiences surrounding
the arenas, who look rather sloppy. But they’re in the distance and
rarely seen. One other thing I must mention are a few storytelling
sequences using 3D effects like rain or mist over painting-like
images. Very pretty.
I couldn’t call Gladius an RPG, strategic or otherwise,
without giving pause to mention the story. When it’s present, it’s
good. The characters are charming and interact well with each other,
with compelling dialogue and emotion. The overall plot is
intriguing, revolving around Ursula’s strange powers and their
connection to a prophecy regarding the Dark God, and the mystery
surrounding the murder of Valens’ father, respectively for each of
the two campaigns. Sadly, with the immense amount of battles, all of
this is few and far between, and often in short but sweet doses.
There isn’t much beyond the main plot either, a precious few
side-quests usually involving just another fight. In addition, each
town and arena has a detailed history that you can hear by
“gossiping” with the shopkeeper in said location. The question is
“Will you care?”, and the game doesn’t give you much incentive to.
There’s nothing else story-wise, no interesting NPCs to interact
with. Even the additional gladiators you recruit into your school
are completely generic. The point being, you’ll spend most of your
time looking forward to the next cutscene.
There’s a good deal of short load times, in the 1-5 second range.
But honestly, if you’re the type to get annoyed by that, you may
want to look for a different title, one requiring less patience.
Simply put, the game is long. War & Peace long! I’ve been
averaging a good 12 hours of gameplay per day since I got it, and it
took me three days to beat the first country, and that was on the
easier of the two distinct campaigns. There’s 200 hours in
this game, easily, if you try and complete everything. If that
sounds daunting, the game is fully co-op capable for up to four
gamers, so share the burden. Then see who’s the best, as beating
your first regional tournament unlocks head-to-head tactical RPG
More hours of game time than you have left in your life
Nice graphics on the arenas and character models
Intriguing main story and characters
Deep, enjoyable combat system with many possible strategies
Severe lack of exploration, subplots and minigames to distract from
all the battles
Shoddy camera work
Rare slowdown with multiple special effects on screen
Some easy fights in the final chapter
is a strategy RPG that’s heavy on the “strategy”. The game revolves
around an intricate and clever combat system, with only a good but
thinly spread story to keep you going in-between the hundreds of
battles. If you’re a patient, meticulous gamer who’s not afraid to
mix a bit of monotony with their fun (and if you’ve ever stayed up
till 4 AM playing Civilization, that means you), you might
just enjoy Gladius. And it will keep you occupied for a long,