STAFF REVIEW of Gladius (Xbox)

Friday, November 14, 2003.
by Tony Ingrassia

Gladius Box art Gladius propels you into the ancient games of a history long gone, the quest to develop your school into an elite fighting force on the path to the championships. Follow the saga of Ursala the daughter of a Barbarian King from the land of Nordagh; or Valens, the son of Imperia?s greatest gladiator. Become one of these heroes and embark on an exciting and brutal journey to fulfill their destinies and keep an ancient Dark God from destroying all mankind. Gladius opens up new doors and adds an element of control and excitement to a tried and true genre. RPG fans will find familiar ground within Gladius, as well as a few surprises. Not without flaws, Gladius does deliver a solid gaming experience.

I have to admit that when I heard this game was turn-based I was a little put off, but the more I found out about it the more I really wanted to play it for myself. Gladius plays out in one of two stories, both progress in the same basic fashion. You are to develop you school and progress through tournaments to reach the championships. You do need to finish basic training, and when you arrive in one of the 4 regions of Gladius you do need to earn the right to fight in their leagues. Each region has its own leagues and tournaments, each needing you to have certain criteria to compete. Some need you to win ?Badges? from other events while others need you to field a team of gladiators.

You move about Gladius via a world map, and at times you may need to travel great distances to obtain the ?Badges? you seek to enter certain events. While traveling on the world map you may come across chance encounters with non-player-characters that may offer information or a side quest to embark on. Unfortunately unlike in arena battles where your character will be available to fight another day even if defeated in battle, these side battles can result in the permanent death of a character. The bulk of Gladius is spent in battle in various arenas developing character skills and recruiting others to your school. The arenas range from ?The Pit?, which is exactly that, a large hole in the ground without a lot of room to move, to large ornate structures right out of ancient Rome. Player development just like in most RPG?s is gained by experience, weaponry, and in the case of Gladius, ?Affinity?. As your character levels up he is given ?Job Points? that can be spent on learning other skills and affinity attacks. Affinity attacks are basically the ?Magic? powers in Gladius. Combined with the right weapons affinity powers can help overcome stronger advisories throughout the games. Each village you visit has a shop were weapons can be bought and sold, some shops may cater to certain types of items that may be better suited for a particular adversary, so it would be wise to keep this in mind as you learn who you will be battling.

Recruiting warriors to your school is fairly simple, although some of the more advanced characters you come across may not want to be affiliated with a fledgling school at first. You can pay ?Full Cost? to recruit someone to your school permanently, or pay a lesser amount to have them fight with you for a given battle. Battle ?Objectives? vary in Gladius, the basic battle would be a 2 on 2 fight to the death, while other battles consist of a ?King of the Hill? type strategy. Gladius does a good job of making each battle experience a little different from one another. That being said, the basic battles can get a little challenging when more than 2 teams are present, meaning a total of 8 gladiators at once?4 teams of 2. This, by the way, is a blast.

Ok, back to the turn-based battle system. The best way I can describe it, is a Chess match come to life. Your characters can move around the arena and quite a bit of strategy is needed if you want to succeed. Yes it?s turn based, but you can have one member of your team start to move while other turns are being played out, so the game ?Flows? more and looses that ?Toe-to-Toe? stagnant my turn, your turn annoyance. Gladius also adds structures that can be climbed on, chests with goodies to be collected, and you can even pick up weapons left from your conquered foes. The attack method is just as good, no more just push a button and wait to see what the damage is, no, no, no. Gladius utilizes a ?Slide? method with critical points on it. When you engage an attack the slide will count down and then start to move, the better you time your ?Hit? (A) in the red critical zone, the more damage you can do, conversely, being perched on a rock attacking down on an enemy will do far more damage than attacking up at one. The strategy involved in this game is pretty cool, again, utilizing the fact you can move around, you can have a team member attack the same enemy as you from the side or rear inflicting greater damage, but as you employ this strategy, the other team may do the same so beware. Again, coming from someone who is not a fan of turn-based fighters, Lucas Arts has given me a great alternative.

All in all Gladius has a ton of game play to offer, although it does get a little slow, dull and repetitive at times. The traveling back and forth may get to some gamers, and although you are dealing with large areas, some RPG fans may not feel Gladius is as ?Open? as they like. Then again, Gladius may be just what some gamers new to the RPG genre are looking for. I think Gladius deserves a shot from not only RPG fans but adventure fans as well and if you were one of the turn-base haters such as me, do yourself a favor and give it a try just to see how turn based should be done. Again, Lucas Arts gets a big ?thumbs up? on the originality of the fighting system, and the story lines are actually pretty good.

Graphically Gladius is above average, nothing earth shattering here. Nice landscapes, descent character models and physics. The battles are lack luster visually, no real ?Violence? or gruesome attacks, but this game is more about strategy anyway. The cut scenes are ok, but again, nothing spectacular. It seems almost like a combination of normal ?Textures? and cell shading at times, no real time lighting effects or even elaborate magic effects. But, please don?t think this takes much away from the game itself, it does the job it needs to do.

The Soundtrack in Gladius is lovely, but monotonous. What little dialogue there is during battle will become repetitive after the first 4 or 5 hours, and the ambient sounds are nothing special. Yes the crowd cheers on critical hits, and boos when you do something stupid, but their really isn?t any emotion behind it, it?s just there. The attack strikes and shield clanks are nicely done, but overall the sound department is average at best. I would have loved to hear a heckler or two during a battle.

Guys there is a trully graeat game here, just need to "Polish" up the graphics and add a little originality to the sounds of the game. Do that and the Gladius sequel should be a perfect game.

Overall: 8.6 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.4 / 10


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