Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War killed off all the diplomats

gladius

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War is an unconventional 4X game that doubles down on the perpetually gloomy universe’s penchant for conflict by cutting out diplomacy entirely. The Space Marines, Astra Militarum, Orks and Necron are all at each other’s throats, leaving them no time to work things out at the negotiating table. War, then, is Gladius’ raison d’être, with Dreadnoughts, Tankbustas and Necron Warriors spilling out onto the hexy map, looking for a fight.

Taking diplomacy out of the equation is a gamble. It’s a system that’s inextricably linked to the genre, but that’s also because the fundamentals of 4X haven’t been shaken up all that often. We’ve seen Endless Space 2 and Stellaris put more of a focus on narrative, and Civ changes with every incarnation, but there’s still a long list of things that every game does and is expected to do.

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Diplomacy, though, has always been the one system that almost every 4X game has struggled with. It’s not that there haven’t been successes — my preference is the personality-led diplomacy of Alpha Centauri — but it often ends up feeling overlooked and perfunctory. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Total War. Regardless, it’s typically woven into the fabric of the game, connecting all the other systems, from warfare to trade. So when you remove diplomacy, you’re getting rid of a lot more than a single system.

By taking an axe to the negotiating table, Gladius cuts out all interactions that aren’t done at the end of a power sword. There’s no trading — with the exception of buying stuff from a neutral shop — or treaties or communication of any kind. Everyone, including the two Imperial factions, is at war with everyone else, duking it out over control of a rather unpleasant place.

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Like so many of the worlds that are unfortunate enough to become battlefields for Space Marines and their multitude of foes to fight on, the titular planet is not the sort of place you’d want to own. Marked by chaos and marred by catastrophe, it’s one giant tomb full of fallen cities and hostile wildernesses. So when you’re not fighting one of the other factions, you’re probably going to be shooting at horrible alien beasties, intent on cracking your armour and snacking on your insides. Unless they’re the ones that can take over the feeble minds of your units, turning them against you.

Gladius doesn’t feel entirely unlike Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon — think Panzer Corps with Space Marines — echoing it’s hex-hased battles across a hostile world. Being a wargame, however, Armageddon’s scraps are much larger and visually more abstract than Gladius’ brawls, which typically involve a handful of squads on each side. Where they really feel similar, however, is in importance they place on the weapons each squad carries. Their guns, melee weapons and grenades all come with different stats, ranges and mechanics, making smart positioning and building mixed armies vitally important.

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This is a holdover from the tabletop game, of course. Few Warhammer games — Sanctus Reach being a rare exception — really follow the original game, and Gladius certainly doesn’t, but when it comes to violent confrontations, it does a surprisingly convincing impression of its tabletop progenitor.

Four factions is an unusually small number for a 4X affair, but none play alike. Take the Space Marines, for instance. The burly, armoured space fascists aren’t in the city-building racket, instead focusing on one huge base and then expanding with small outposts. I’m a sucker for a good single-city faction like Civilization V’s Venice of Endless Legend’s Cultists, and I’m always happy to cut out some of the superfluous faffing that comes with managing a large empire.

Even among the other factions, however, empire management isn’t a massive concern. There’s a simple economy with a few easy-to-generate resources to gather by plonking down more buildings, and the citizens living inside the cities can be ignored as long as their loyalty remains high. There’s also hint of Endless Legend and Civ VI, with settlements physically expanding as they swallow up tiles for their precious resources and sprout new districts.

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All the diplomats may have been killed off, but it looks like all the science boffins survived. Each army gets a unique tech tree, and they really benefit from this 4X romp’s uncharacteristic focus. There are 10 research tiers, but you only have to research two techs before moving onto the next one, and almost all of them give you a new toy to play with, whether it’s a weapon, like a frag grenade; new units, from huge Dreadnoughts to new bands of Ork Boyz; or special abilities, including orbital strikes and temporary buffs. There are mercifully few incremental stat changes or minor economy improvements.

There are a few tech niggles that I hope are sorted come launch, though, specifically relating to the unlocking of new units. Every unit is connected to a specific building, which isn’t unusual, but here they’re separate technologies. To get the Space Marine’s first aerial unit, you need to first research launch pads, and then you’ve got to research the unit itself. It would make more sense for the buildings to come with at least one recruitable unit, so when you research them you can actually put them to use.

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Instead of filling the gap left by diplomacy, Gladius keeps the focus on action and conquest. Even the only other victory condition, finishing your faction’s quest, will send you all over map to get into lots of fights. The broad range of units and their diverse characteristics means that the combat does have a lot of staying power, however, especially if you’ve already got a deep obsession with these angry soldiers and their massive war machines.

As someone who tends not to be an aggressive 4X player, I did start to crave different kinds of interactions and for there to be any kind of structure to the wars. I missed the surprise of an ally’s betrayal or the moment when a cold war becomes a very, very hot one — things you don’t get when it’s all war, all the time. I didn’t miss the incessant pestering from chatty AI opponents, though, nor constantly trying to placate them with deals and bribes. Just stomping around a planet smashing everything is, admittedly, a cathartic experience.

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War is coming out soon.

26 Comments

  1. fuggles says:

    It’s a shame that there is literally no way to interact other than war. Wh40k fluff was never that reductive. Orks can be talked to/bribed, imperial guard should have dialogue with marines as whilst I get it’s hard for them to find cause to fight that could be an interesting issue. You know at a certain point that what you are going to do is going to piss off the marines and will cause you real issues. There could be movement around that until the point there isn’t (help me kill the Xenos or whatnot).

    Heck, even Tyranids had diplomats once

    Anyway, I would love this to be able to generate random scenarios – we must evacuate from orks, but marines may/may not come. Whilst exploring necrons may come up. Unite the orks whilst necrons and marines Duke it out.

    There’s a lot that could be done.

    • Kinsky says:

      IN THE GRIMDARK FUTURE THERE IS ONLY WAR

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        phuzz says:

        eh, close enough.

      • Smaug says:

        Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned.
        Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.
        There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

    • shde2e says:

      Orks could be talked to?
      I mean, some Freeboota’s maybe, but most Ork tribes are not exactly diplomatically inclined.

    • Imperialist says:

      What?
      Ork Diplomacy is not a thing. Maybe Ork manipulation by Eldar and Imperial forces, but in the lore Orks dont even remotely speak Gothic.
      The only factions that would have any kind of diplomacy would be any of the Imperial factions, and maybe the Eldar. The Eldar usually seek to manipulate or gain an advantage through talks, but they were instrumental in the resurrection of Guilliman, and certain chapters put them on a low-priority target list compared to other things…but they are by no means on talking terms. Guilliman isnt voxing in to get some late night phone sex with Yvraine or anything.
      40k is definitely not a playground for words. Only deeds. How those deeds of glory and conquest are varied in ways to stand out amongst legions of 4X games will be the deciding factor here.

      • fuggles says:

        Wow you are literal – what is diplomacy if not manipulating people to do stuff? The Praetorians hired orc mercenaries so they must talk, must reason – orcs aren’t stupid (sometimes) and they often talk. I’m not suggesting endless trade of goods, but there is room to allow passage or assistance for mutual benefit – or not- depends on who you are dealing with. Heck, maybe he just likes your hat.

        Eldar equally talk in the stories all the freaking time, normally to say ‘monkeigh stop doing that..oh lord they’ve done it again’. They would all have their boiling point for tolerating whatever you were doing, or maybe not depending on the scenario.

        Either way, it could have been interesting, now it’s just war. War is easy. Seriously, dynamic campaign guys, there is only a dozen story lines to make a full campaign simulator.

        • Asurmen says:

          It happens, it’s very incredibly rare, and you won’t see it happen outside of the books. It just isn’t how people view the setting. Sorry, but diplomacy would just be utterly weird in 40K.

    • frightlever says:

      Surely this particular conflict is just one speck on an enormous war map. Any diplomatic decisions would be far above the pay grades of those involved.

    • beleester says:

      I think the issue is that even when 40K does have diplomacy, it basically just means “pausing hostilities until we see a good opportunity to backstab you.”

      Granted, that’s the only kind of diplomacy that exists in a winner-take-all 4X match anyway, but still. I can’t think of any game-mechanical effect from signing a peace treaty between two 40K forces. It can’t be “you’re forced to not attack,” because there’s no penalty that can enforce such a treaty. It can’t be a reputation system because nobody cares what the foul xenos think of them. It can’t be open borders or a trade agreement, because even the most liberal imperial subject isn’t going to give the foul xenos a chance to infiltrate like that.

      About the only thing I can think of is removing zones of control (if this game has those), to represent that you’re not interfering with the others’ troop movements.

      But really, I don’t think there’s enough mechanical crunch to support a peace treaty. If you want to take a break from killing each other so you can go kill someone else, that’s probably best represented by simply moving your troops somewhere else.

  2. bambusek says:

    Space Marines does not talk with xenos. They just kill them.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      Sometimes they have too many targets for the available firepower and have to decide which xenos need to be purged first or most vigorously.

      That’s pretty much diplomacy.

    • shde2e says:

      That’s just picking targets. And nothing is stopping the unpurged xenos from counterpurging the purgers.

    • Werthead says:

      They talk to the Tau (a bit). They generally don’t talk to the Eldar unless it’s a Dawn of War game, in which case they’ll team up with the Eldar for a few missions to take on whatever mutual threat from Chaos they’re facing and then will go back to killing each other.

      • fuggles says:

        Yeah this, or the elder agree then kill your commander and leave without helping. There’s scope for relatively low level involvement.

  3. Aetylus says:

    I’m looking forward to a diplomacy free 4X game. When Civ came out in the early 90’s there was another series called Warlords that gave a more war focused version of 4X. Civ went on to define the genre and Warlords had a couple of nice sequels before being subsumed by the RTS tide. The diplomacy-included approach became mandatory for 4X games.

    Since then, diplomacy has been poorly implemented in any number of games. In many 4X games it means the most defining moments (a great betrayal etc) feel more like the result of a random event generator.

    When the deletion of a feature feels fresh, that is a good sign that feature has been over-used.

    • kud13 says:

      I was just thinking back on Warlords 4 last week, actually.

      It tried doing the Warlords: Battlecry 3-like dynamic campaign, but I never got far into it, because having to conquer maps of 50+ cities each became exhausting.

      Still, it’s an odd one. One of the few series that Ubisoft allowed to just die quietly, which is pretty unlike them, giving ongoing existence of things like the Anno series and HOMM

  4. wcq says:

    So they have Space Marines and IG as separate factions again? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to have just an Imperium faction and have spessmrns as elite units? Then you could reserve the final faction slot for some other army that’s not in all of the other WH40k games.

    • Riaktion says:

      Makes sense to me :)

    • Tiger Teeth says:

      Be glad they haven’t given each individual chapter its own faction.

    • shde2e says:

      Probably because both groups are pretty much organized separately, and have more than enough depth to support a faction on their own.

      They also tend to play very differently, so turning the marines into glorified Stormtroopers would be a bit of a shame.

      Also, Marines are the posterboys for 40K. Which probably helped.

      • Galdred says:

        Out of the turn based 40K games, here are the factions represented:

        Space Hulk : SM
        Deathwatch : SM
        Armageddon: SM, IG, Orks
        Sanctus Reach: SM, IG, Orks,
        Betrayal At Calth: SM, CSM
        BFG (android TB, not the RTS): SM, IG, Tyranids
        Necromunda: IG Junior division? :D

        upcoming:
        Mecahnicus: AM (!!!)
        Gladius: SM, IG, Orks, Necrons

        Old ones:
        Chaos Gate: SM, Chaos (only in skirmish)
        Final Liberation: IG + SM support, Orks (only in skirmish)
        Rites of War : Eldars + SM/IG support (!)

        so out of these 11 games, 2 don’t feature Space Marines, and zero don’t feature any Imperial factions (I suppose Necromunda could qualify, though, as gangsters are not really an Imperial faction, but it doesn’t feature any Xeno faction).

        Eldars only appear in Rites of War, which is a real shame.
        I was a Space Marines/Imperial Guard epic player, so I am an Imperium fanboy, but they are pushing things a bit too far in the Imperium direction IMO.

  5. Riaktion says:

    Sounds great. Looking forward to it :)

  6. frightlever says:

    No 4X game has realistic diplomacy and most of them have plain bad diplomacy that makes absolutely no sense.

  7. DanMan says:

    It has Linux system req. on Steam, so it’s apparently coming to Linux. Yay!

    Edit: Yup

    …we are huge fans and are even developing on Linux!

  8. Leb says:

    I’ve dusted off my old account just to comment on how painful of a read this was.

    Nearly every paragraph opened up with some variation of “diplomacy is gone – but…” Think of some more interesting ways to structure your paragraphs!