Slow-moving even by pokey-by-nature strategy-RPG standards, Gladius will devour your life. The battles take forever, since they involve having to scoot your gladiators across the arena floor, waiting for all of your foes to ploddingly make their moves. (Matches take even longer if you must beat a task like busting a team's distant statue.) If that already sounds like a long wait for your entertainment, that's just the start. You have to beat five or six fights before qualifying in each town tournament and then complete eight town tournaments before you can take part in one of the four regional championships. (Take a moment to do the math. @#$%!) If the number of battles in Gladius were cut by at least a third and its combat speed doubled, the game could be on the fast track for star status. It has most of the other important components: immense character depth and a great story. But because its sluggish, repetitive combat takes center stage, it never quite graduates from schlocky dinner theater. Go rent Caligula instead.
I'm surprised it's taken this long to make a good game based on the bloodbaths of Ancient Rome. I love that I get to build my team in Gladius, making sure to balance the heavy, light, and support fighters. And don't listen to these short-attention-span whiners--the battles are awesome. Immense customization and intuitive controls kept me coming back for more, despite its steep difficulty curve. I only wish the developers had spiced it up with lots more blood, stronger crowd reactions, and more epic music.
Gladius takes players back into a fantastical history when warriors damn well waited their turn before maiming and killing. A tactical RPG, Gladius swallows time whole--and in huge chunks. The game's turn-based battles at first meander, then crawl, then seemingly grind on in defiance of the basic laws of the universe themselves. Tremendously deep warrior-customization options and rich strategy elements make Gladius absolutely worthwhile and fun, but prepare to invest serious time.
When you're hacking and slashing your way through the game, remember there's a purpose to your turn-based fracases: There's a load of secrets to unlock, including a variety of hairy beasts to locate and tame for your frivolous enjoyment.
The Hell's Gate Quest
Gladius has one final hidden league for those who have diligently completed the game's various shopkeeper quests. To open Hell's Gate, do the following:
Earn the Signet of the Valkyrie from the first Mordare's Den shopkeeper quest. Earn the Promise Stone from the Mysterious Tablet shopkeeper quest in Saraa Izel by reading the tablet Aziza gives you. Defeat Sarenenutet in the final Saraa Izel shopkeeper quest. Raise at least six characters to level 18 or higher.
When you've completed all of the prerequisites, glowing lights will lead you to the tip of the Southern Expanse, where Usus will locate a hidden portal. When you enter, you'll be automatically enrolled in the Fulfill Your Promise league, a five-round wilderness battle that is perhaps the toughest challenge in the game. You will do battle with four summoners in the first four rounds and take on a reborn Sarenenutet in the final battle.
Surviving characters will each learn the Hell's Fury skill, which Sarenenutet demonstrates in the first round of the battle. This area-damage skill is by far the strongest attack in the game. Battles will be a breeze after you earn it. You'll also earn a few strange pieces of equipment: In Cognito, The Marksman, The Laughmaster, and No. 1 Fan. the Mongrel Butcher badge, talk to the proprietor of the shop (Scotia) and he'll set up the Historian's league for seven days later. Return on that day, make sure you have an open slot in your school, and save the game. If you can beat the league, one of your opponents (chosen at random) will offer to join you. You have a 50/50 shot at getting a minotaur. If you get a satyr instead, just reload your game and try again until a minotaur offers to join your school.
Scarabs and Scorpions: To recruit members of the game's final two beast classes, you need to conquer the Insect Ze league in Qaa Rah. After your victory, you will sometimes see scarabs and scorpions in the Qaa Rah recruiting office. Recruit away.
Summoner: After your battle in Qaa Rah, head toward Akar An to trigger an event scene, then enter the city of Akar An and recruit the game's only summoner in the Palace Iblis recruiting office.
Undead Legionnaire: After completing the first shopkeeper quest in Mordare and attempting the Dead of Night league, return to the Dragonslayer and ask the shopkeeper how he's doing. He'll tell you about a nearby hill where the unalive prowl at night and then ask you to do something about it. Visit that hill after dark and defeat the skeleton-generating tombstones to earn the Talisman of Unlife. Bring that to the gravestones elsewhere in the game (there is one on each continent), and an undead legionnaire will arise and join your school.
Undead Summoner: Recruiting an undead summoner is much easier. Visit Nordagh's Mordare's Den at night, complete the Dead of Night series league, and you'll get a message about a visitor in the recruiting office. Head down there and recruit Taithleach the undead summoner for free!
Yeti: There are two yetis that will fight for you, but only one will join your school permanently. To recruit him, clear the Trial of the Elders league in Vargen and then visit Vargen's recruiting office.