LucasArts announced Gladius today, an upcoming original game slated for release on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. The game has been in development in-house for a year and a half and marks a change of pace from the company's previous original games. Dubbed a "combat RPG," Gladius is aiming to blend RPG elements, such as a strong narrative, strategic turn-based combat, character building, and party gathering, with engaging but accessible gameplay. While still early, the game is coming together pretty well and shows quite a bit of promise.
Gladius' premise focuses on the lives of the two characters you can play as in the single-player game. The game is set in an original world that is a mix of traditional third-century Earth elements and a hefty dose of creative license. For example, the kingdom of Imperia is loosely based on Rome, while the kingdom of Nordagh is a combination of Celtic barbarians and Germanic tribes. The kingdoms serve as home for the main characters. You'll be able to play as either the prototypical he-man Valens, son of one of Imperia's greatest gladiators, or the less manly but suitably curvaceous and equally deadly Ursula, daughter of a great barbarian king from the northern land of Nordagh. A bloody conflict between their two homelands had unleashed a vengeful dark god, who nearly destroyed all of humankind. Only with the help of the revered Valkyrie was the dark god defeated, but it came at a great cost of many lives. This led to an uneasy peace that has existed for decades between the two lands. The two young heroes must fulfill their destinies to keep the world from heading into another disastrous war. Ursula and Valens join forces and travel across many lands, competing in gladiator tournaments where they recruit a variety of warriors. The initial drive of the game's plot is for you to build and train a school of gladiators in the hopes of reaching the gladiatorial big leagues and getting the chance to compete in front of the emperor himself. But, as you'd expect from most any RPG-like game, you should brace yourself for some plot twists that are likely to drive you to see each character's storyline through to the end.
The game's actual structure looks as though it will be fairly linear. You'll take your motley troop to 20 different combat arenas throughout the world and duel your way up the gladiatorial ladder. In between battles you'll be treated to story sequences that will drive the plot forward, and you'll be given the opportunity to upgrade your crew. On your road to glory you'll build up your gladiators' skills, teach them new combat tactics, buy new equipment for them, and generally try to make them as badass as you can.
When managing your crew of warriors, you'll find there's quite a bit of depth to them. The game will offer 16 basic gladiator classes with a host of physical variations in their character models to reflect their class and the region they're from. The differences between the fighters will run deeper than their appearance though. Gladiators will basically have two skill trees that factor into their evolution as you play. One tree will focus on the development of a warrior's combos, while the other will be specific to a gladiator's type and will factor in such stats as his or her leadership skills and personality. You'll also find quite a bit of variety among the classes, such as the witches of the Galdr class, who can sing magical songs and chants, and the javelin-throwing Peltast class.
The need to fine-tune your killing machines will become obvious as you take your team into battle in the various arenas. The bouts are turn-based and will involve quite a bit of strategy. You'll usually bring roughly six fighters into the arena, which will require you to carefully balance your classes to ensure your team will be able to deal with whatever is thrown at you in a battle. A crowd meter will fill as your group battles and pulls off cool moves. As the bar fills, various aspects of your group's performance, such as accuracy, will improve.
Graphically, Gladius is looking pretty sharp even in its early state. The game's robust engine was developed in-house and has had the benefit of more than a year of development and the foreknowledge that the game would be going multiplatform. While the base graphics engine was developed on the PC, the intention was to make it portable to other systems. To that end, the team has dedicated programmers working to ensure that the engine is optimized for the PS2, GC, and Xbox and that it takes advantage of what each platform has to offer and maintains the constant 60-frames-per-second frame rate the team is aiming for.
The game itself moves an impressive number of polygons, which results in very clean, detailed graphics. Each gladiator model is composed of 3,000 to 6,000 polygons, while each arena is modeled out of a robust 80,000 to 100,000 polygons. Each gladiator type sports a host of cool bits of detail, from armor to tattoos. One of the coolest aspects of the gladiator types is that, thanks to the magic of creative license, some classes aren't even human. Fans of wolves and simians will be pleased to see some representatives of their favorite animal kingdom on hand to mix it up with regular humans. One of the slickest aspects of Gladius' look so far is the character animation, which is smooth and gives the gladiators a great deal of personality. The various special effects share the same sensibilities, thanks to impressive use of lighting and particle effects. The impressive detail in the game extends beyond the graphics to include as much variety as possible. You'll find hundreds of skills and more than 400 unique weapons, helmets, shields, and other accessories to equip warriors, and all are modeled in the game.
So far Gladius is looking to be a very cool offering from LucasArts. The game appears to have a lot to offer and certainly looks impressive. Gladius is slated to ship for the PS2, GC, and Xbox in spring 2003. Look for more on the game from E3 later this month.