My Favourite Video Game: Brewin of The Dark Horde

My Favourite Video Game is a guest feature from bands and artists where we set them a simple task… tell us about your favourite video game. In this feature, Brewin, lyricist and concept creator behind The Dark Horde’s heavy metal horror concept album The Calling, accepts the challenge. You can read all about his choice below.

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Eight and a bit years ago I did some blog posts about my favourite turn-based games (I’m no good at what I’ll call button-mashers haha and prefer having success because I came up with a superior strategy rather than superior reflexes). And one game I highlighted then as “quite possibly the greatest turn-based computer game I’ve ever played and easily one of the most unique and innovative ideas I’ve seen”, which still holds true for me now. That game is an obscure gem called Gladius, developed and published by LucasArts in 2003 for Gamecube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and available now on the Xbox online store with backwards-compatibility.

There still doesn’t seem to have been another game like this (that I’ve been able to find anyway), and that fans of the game seem to frequently call it the best turn-based game they’ve played. So what is it, and why do I think it’s so special?

In Gladius you manage your own school of gladiators – including spell-casters and beasts – training them in different skills and improving their equipment as you lead them around the fantasy world to compete in different tournaments that each have their own arenas, rules and opponents. The better your school becomes, the bigger the tournaments you can enter. And with each tournament featuring a different arena (each varying in size and layout), different rules (tournaments are often restricted to certain types of gladiators and battle rules might be a battle to the death say, a “capture the flag” scenario, or something else) and a wide variety of fantasy opponents, no two battles are the same.

(There are other gladiator management games, such as BlackThorn Arena which emphasises the management aspect and runs the actual combat automatically via AI, but these don’t have you the player managing the gladiators, finding differing tournaments to enter, and the combats themselves).

(The gameplay screen where gladiatorial battles are fought – the example seen here is one of the simpler arena layouts)

The sheer variety in the gladiators you can acquire, their skills, items and subsequently the differing strategies you can employ is quite staggering… And overwhelming. Having finished the game once (which will take quite a long time!) I still feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface of all the different possibilities here. I could play the same campaign again with a completely different team. It does have a campaign story as well, which is good for what it is, but you won’t be focused on that so much as you’ll be trying to figure out which tournament you should compete in next and which gladiators you’ll use for it. Oh and you can get into battles outside the arena too (but try to avoid these where you can since death is permanent here, unlike in the arena).

(An example of one of the screens where you manage your gladiators, equip them and recruit new ones)

There’s also a less strictly turn-based mode which uses dexterity-based tasks with timer bars to determine the strength of your hit. But I don’t think any “true fan” of turn-based strategy would use this (and in fact it actually undermines the strategy element of the game since you simply need to get good at the timing and use heavy-hitters to cruise through the game in this way). In proper turn-based mode you’ll find this game a great challenge (and some tournaments you may unable to win and need to find easier alternatives). Not to mention quite addictive…

(Another example of one of the screens where you manage your gladiators – here you can change what equipment is being used and also purchase new items)

Gladius also has some other innovations that make for interesting strategies, such as moves that take more than your current turn to complete, meaning that gladiators can be moving on another’s turn if they’re running from one position to another. This is in addition to hundreds of items, skills, enemies, tournaments and places to explore on the world map. Oh and you can play it multiplayer if you want too. It’s just a shame it’s not available on PC and that it didn’t achieve the sales to justify a sequel as there really isn’t another game even remotely like this (that I’m aware of anyway).

(Here’s a view of the world map you’ll be exploring a lot too. It’s hard to find many screen shots of the world map but hopefully this gives you an idea…)

So apart from being an awesome game (that if you’re into turn-based strategy games I definitely think is worth checking out if you can), there was another reason why this game came to mind. And that is that I’m working on board-game that is a tournament-based gladiatorial game like this is. It’s still in development (and has been worked on and off over many versions and years since 1985) but I hope to be in a position to finally release it to the world sometime soon.




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  • Carl Fisher

    Owner/Administrator/Editor/Writer/Interviewer/YouTuber - you name it, I do it. I love gaming, horror movies, and all forms of heavy metal and rock. I'm also a Discworld super-fan and love talking all things Terry Pratchett. Do you wanna party? It's party time!