Gladius is a tactical role-playing video game developed and published by LucasArts and Activision. It was released in 2003 for the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 video game consoles.
The game allows the player to build a school of gladiators and take them into battle against opposing schools in a quest for fame and glory. The plot focuses on several of the main characters and slowly affects the decisions of the group, eventually leading to a final large battle that tests the skills of all members of the school. Upon starting the game, the player can choose between a school in Imperia, home to a strong military mentality and soldiers who consider their northern neighbors uncivilized and bullish, or a school in Nordagh, where witches and woodland beasts dwell, and who in turn detest the Imperials for their desire for greater conquest.
The gladiators have the opportunity to travel through four distinctly different regions on their road to the ultimate championship. Depending on the player's school choice, they begin in either the Northern lands of Nordagh (Barbarian school), which has a culture similar to that of 'Nordic' lands, or Imperia (Gladiator school), an Imperial Roman land. Upon completion of these two stages of play one proceeds onto the Windward Steppes, a grasslands region dominated by archers and beasts, reminiscent of the steppes of Asia, followed by the Southern Expanse, a desert region filled with spellcasters, nomadic warriors, and insects. The latter is an area reminiscent of Ancient Egypt; the main insects of this region are beetles, which held a high importance in Egyptian mythology, and scorpions, a staple arachnid in any desert region. The conclusion of the game takes place in and around the large central arena of Caltha in the Imperial Region.
As in many role-playing video games, players outfit their characters with gear to increase their abilities, and as they win fights, they gain experience which allows them to don new equipment and undertake new quests. Additionally, winning certain hidden or difficult contests allows the players to recruit unique character classes such as yetis, minotaurs, and the undead.
Fighting in Gladius uses a turn-based mechanism, but with a twist. There are "swing meters" - like those found in many golf games - that determine the accuracy and effectiveness of strikes. The meters can be disabled in the options menu.
The storyline focuses on one of two heroes, although both storylines merge for a significant portion of the game. Ursula, voiced by Linda Cardellini, is associated with the "beginner" path, although the main difference is in which land the player first competes in. Valens, voiced by Michael Rosenbaum, has an additional hero as a part of his school for the first half of the game.
The main characters of these storylines are automatically made members of the school. There are six heroes total, but players will never have more than five in their school at any one time, and eventually two will drop out, leaving 16 remaining slots to fill by the end of the game. The other main characters are generally of the recruitable categories, although they frequently have special abilities of their own. Their participation in battles is, on occasion, mandatory. These other heroes include Urlan (Ursula's older twin brother), Ludo (Valens' best friend), Eiji (an archer), and Gwazi (a secutor). Both of the main heroes, as well as Ludo and Urlan, are considered medium gladiators.
Gladius employs a rigid rock-paper-scissors approach to character classes and combat. There are three main classes of characters: heavy, medium, and light. In the same pattern as rock-paper-scissors, heavy beats medium, medium beats light, and light beats heavy. Barring a large level gap or terrain advantage, this pattern will almost always hold true in any one-on-one battle. There are also the support and arcane classes, which are neutral in the class relationship. Finally, there are several affinity classes, such as the Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Dark, and Light.
To determine the effectiveness of an attack, the game employs two types of swing meters. Most swing meters consist of three segments: blue, yellow, and red. Blue denotes a "miss", resulting in an attack that either misses completely or causes very little damage. Yellow results in a standard damage attack that may still be avoided, depending on the chance to hit given. Red results in a critical hit, which cannot be avoided or blocked and does much more damage. The secondary form of the swing meter is a yellow bar with a small green insert, used for mainly for status-affecting skills. Here, the goal is simply to aim for the green, which will make the skill function properly.
Depending on the swing meter, the player will either be required to press a specific key once to stop the meter on a color, press two buttons in rapid succession to move the meter to a color, or press a specific series of buttons before the meter runs out. Combo meters act in the same manner as the former, but are lined up next to one-another, thus requiring the player to repeat the process up to five times.
As the player purchases higher-level skills, using the meters becomes progressively more difficult. While scoring a critical hit using a standard attack is fairly simple, the strongest skills have swing meters which can be quite difficult to use, thus making the points spent to gain them a gamble. Another point to consider is the state of alertness of the player. Given the reflexes necessary to consistently and accurately use the swing meters, and the consequences of missed hits, a tired player will inevitably fare poorer than an alert one.
The game has an option which will run the swing meters for the player with the most common outcome a normal strike. This can make combat much easier or more difficult depending on the skill of the player and the abilities of their school. A player skilled with swing meters can often defeat higher-leveled opponents by capitalizing on critical hits, while a player not using them must rely more on strategy since their fighters will be less effective in battle.
Two game modes are offered here: co-op which allows up to four players to play in the story mode and complete the game side by side. The first player controls the movement throughout the world map and also the menu screens. Once player one engages in battle, the other players can enter and control the gladiators of their choice from the school. The other mode offered is the Versus mode. Here, up to four players can compete in an exhibition battle. The Playstation 2 version of the game only supports up to 2 players at once.
The game was rated as one of the "best Xbox games most people never played" by Official Xbox Magazine.
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