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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

LucasArts

 

Developer

LucasArts

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

- Complex and deep combat system
- The segmented tournament format makes it more digestible
- Consistently challenging throughout
- Comprehensive manual

 

 

- The broad range of combat variables can make this a very difficult title for anyone unfamiliar with strategy RPGs
- The hand-painted cut-scenes are beautiful, but fans of plot-driven RPGs might find there's a bit of distance between the story and the gameplay

 

 

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Gladius

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

gladius xbox review          gladius xbox review

 

After slogging through Gladius for more than three months of off-and-on gameplay, I'm still a bit torn about what to say. The game alternates between addictive and interminable. To be fair, this is the first strategy RPG I've ever played, so I was more than a little overwhelmed with the depth and breadth of the game's combat system. It's impressive -- not only in terms of the range of equipment, special attacks and abilities available to grow individual characters, but also in the way it forces players to make difficult decisions about developing their team as a whole.

Gladius takes place in a world that, only decades earlier, was torn apart by war so exceptionally bloody that it gave rise to a dark god that would destroy mankind. The threat of mutual annihilation now maintains an uneasy peace between the rival lands of Nordagh and Imperia, who now hash out their differences in the controlled

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environment of the arena. You begin a quest to build a gladiator school and win the world's championship as either Valens, a man from Imperia who must solve the mystery of his father's death, or Ursula, the princess of Nordagh and subject of a mysterious prophecy. The story provides a great backdrop, and hand-painted artwork gives many of the cut-scenes a unique, beautiful tone, but turn-based fighting is the real

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core of the game. Since, barring a few side-quests and the rare random encounter between towns, all scores are settled in the arena, it sometimes feels like there's distance between the story and the action. Even the game's different towns are really just menu interfaces that give you the options of buying equipment, recruiting local gladiators for your team and entering tournaments.

I played as Ursula, because I like to watch animated hot-chicks swordfight in skimpy outfits. If you, too, should choose this path, the game begins as she, along with her brother Urlan, fight in several regional tournaments in your homeland of Nordagh. The first dozen-or-so fights are fairly basic. Ursula has a sword; Urlan has an axe; you walk up to your opponents and slug it out until someone wins. But, after falsely building my confidence for a couple of hours, Gladius took me to school, ate my lunch and handed me my ass at recess.

Combat mechanics are initially simple, but quickly become more complex. With melee attacks, the "swing meter" is very similar to those in games like golf simulations. Instead of hitting a perfect drive straight down the fairway, during your turn, a well-timed button mash will deal maximum damage to your opponent. Later, in order to enter many of the other tournaments, you'll have to hire and train other types of fighters who are more proficient at things like casting spells or throwing spears. Similar to all good RPGs, these characters' close-combat vulnerabilities are offset by the power of their long-range attacks, which in this case are doled out by pressing timed sequences of buttons -- more similar to games like PaRappa the Rapper.

Terrain modifiers, such as boxes and boulders, affect both the likelihood and effectiveness of an attack, and even the crowds, cheering at each arena, will affect your competence in each battle. If the crowd loves you, your team can gain momentum throughout the fight, earning improved speed and accuracy. Some character classes, such as the saytr, can even use their turns to win crowd approval. (The guy dances jigs, spews flame from his mouth like a circus freak and can attack enemies with his horrible breath. What's not to love?) Even the unaccustomed will quickly get the hang of the timed button mashing and grasp how to handle the terrain in different types of fights. But when my opponents began morphing into wolves and bears, casting spells and infusing their weapons with the powers of the gods, I quickly lost what groove I had. The game really does require players to become well-versed in the variety of attacks, spells and equipment at their disposal and to develop a team that's well balanced in all of these aspects.

 

gladius xbox review         gladius xbox review


"Affinity attacks" are a good example of the combat system's complexity. Of the game's broad array of weapons, armor and accessories, available for purchase or by winning tournaments, many are infused with powers of earth, water, fire, wind, light and dark. Successful strikes with these weapons accrue affinity points, which ultimately allow your character to launch special attacks with that weapon. Defensive items, such as armor, earn affinity points whenever you are attacked, but, if someone attempts to strike you with a weapon of the same affinity as your armor, each point of your defensive charge will cancel out one point of their weapon's offensive charge. If several successful affinity attacks are launched at your ill-equipped team in quick succession, players will proceed to their respective kitchens, grab several beers from the fridge, and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force re-runs until it's time to go to bed.

Ok, you know, I've really got to quit whining. The fact is, Gladius is a challenging game, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with being tough. At its best, the game plays a lot like a series of great chess matches with tons of new variables to learn. You've got to have a good sense of which gladiators can go toe to toe with specific opponents (based not only on their general toughness, but often on their weapons, armor, accessories, etc.), and which need to hang out on the fringes, waiting for the right opportunities to strike. Since your team's competition is almost always equally matched to your abilities, you'll almost always need to sacrifice a few of your fighters to win the objective. (Although, as the game explains, "healers" are on the sidelines in every arena, so characters can't die in arena combat, they're just eliminated from a battle after taking a certain amount of damage).

For example, in many of the matches, such as the timed King of the Hill fights, you'll need to dominate not only the "hill," but also strategic surrounding areas. You've got to have someone who can tough out the close combat and be ready to step in when your King of the Hill, almost invariably, gets offed. But, you'll also need some heavy hitters on the sidelines to distract or chip away at opponents so that they can be dealt with quickly should they gain the top spot. In other matches, such as those that deploy several small teams against one another in a last-man-standing brawl, you have to pick your fights carefully, or try to avoid conflict altogether until absolutely necessary. The game has a broad array of other battle scenarios, and many require a distinct strategy.

For me, that often meant a whole lot of heading back to the drawing board to figure out what worked best. Fortunately, the way the tournaments are segmented allows players to fight most battles within 10 or 15 minutes, or four times or five times within an hour, which is generally enough to win most of the tougher fights. And, if one tournament becomes too frustrating, the game's open format allows you to visit another town's tournament or even backtrack and build your team up a little more before trying again.

I recommend Gladius as a rental for hardcore strategy-RPG players (before purchasing) -- there's just so much going on that casual players might easily be overwhelmed during a weekend. But, for anyone who's a fan of strategy games, Gladius offers a compelling, in-depth experience, and it's worth a buy. If you're the type of gamer that only has an hour or two at a time to spend in front of the tube, the segmented style of the game will keep you entertained for weeks.

- M. Enis
(May 23, 2004)

 

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