REVIEW: Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Craftworld Aeldari

REVIEW: Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Craftworld Aeldari

The spirits have finally guided the Aeldari to Gladius

Released: Steam,GOG
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Genre: Strategy, 4X
Developer: Proxy Studios
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd.
Release date: 12 Nov, 2020

The Eldar, sorry, Aeldari, are an ancient race. Long before humans had mastered even the most crude tools the Aeldari ruled a vast empire. But they were arrogant, and that would ultimately be their downfall.

Aeldari has probably been the most highly requested race for Gladius out of all the races in 40k, and now they’re finally here, and ready to join the fray. Much like their tabletop counterparts the Aeldari in Gladius is a mobile but fragile force that hits hard, but need to use their superior mobility and underhanded tactics in order to survive.

Some of the Aeldari infantry and characters. Fire dragons (right), Guardians (center), Rangers (behind the guardians), Autarch (left) and Spiritseer (in the back)

The Farseers, Aeldari with immense psychic powers, have seen that Gladius Prime might hold the key to the survival of the Aeldari. In response they’ve sent out a small force to the once dormant Webway gates that litters the planet, in order to find what the farseers have foreseen will be there.

Once a mighty empire, the Aeldari are now scattered through the galaxy. Most live on giant ships called Craftworlds, on which they traverse the stars, while trying to avoid being detected by any of their foes. The loss of even a single craftworld would be a huge blow to the Aeldari and when one is threatened it’s not uncommon for others to come to their aid.

The Aeldari are an ancient people, both the 40k universe, and as a faction in 40k itself. They were there from the start, when the game was new, and is quite likely the faction that has changed the least over the decades since they were first introduced. They’ve just lost some of their weird punk-rock aesthetic and new-age mysticism, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on who you ask.

The mighty Avatar is a sight to behold

Aeldari is arguably the most unique playing faction we’ve seen yet in Gladius. Their units tend to be highly agile, being able to attack and then move, but lack much in the way of staying power. Thus they need to hit first and hit hard. There are some later units that break this rule, like the Wraithblades and the Avatar of Khaine but for the most part the Aeldari army is a glass hammers.

Staying out of the way of enemy fire is not made easier by the weapons that the Aeldari chose to use. Their basic infantry, the Guardians, have a 1-range weapon, meaning that they have the same range as Termagaunts, but without being as cheap and disposable. This is of course a problem in the early game, where losses can really sting, and it takes a while before you’ll get any units that can take a beating. But most of the Aeldari units hit hard, a squad of Guardians can bring down a mob of ork boyz in a single round, and the Howling Banshees, an early melee unit, comes equipped with swords capable of slicing through Space Marine armour as if it was butter. Rounding up the early infantry roster there’s of course an anti-tank unit in the form of the fabled Fire Dragons. They hit hard, as you would expect, but there’s still that pesky 1-range issue, in order to get into firing range they need to really get up close and personal.

See all the “discovered” sites on the map? Those are webway portals, and as soon as you have enough influence, you can warp to any of them.

The Aeldari characters are an interesting bunch. As you would expect from the Aeldari they’re fast, hard hitting and fragile, but they also have some interesting trick up their sleeves. Their first psycher, the Spiritseer, has powers that have two different “modes”, one for when you target your own troops, and one for when you target the enemy. So you can chose to improve the morale of your own units or crush the spirit of the enemy, and this synergizes well with their next unit, the Farseer, who can then punish the enemy for having low morale with the ability “Mind war”.

There are no tracked or wheeled vehicles in the Aeldari roster, all of them hover or fly, so water and other difficult terrain is less of an issue for the Aeldari than for most other factions, so it’s not hard to get those foot troops across water if you have to. The later vehicles do have better range, so the front-lines won’t be quite as over-crowded, but their first vehicle, or rather bike unit, is like the infantry at its best up close and personal.

There’s of course a new storyline for those who want to play with that turned on

But why would you use a transport when there’s a far more efficient way of traveling the globe? The Aeldari has a unique mechanic in that they can use the already pre-existing Webway portals that are scattered all over the map to quickly travel from one point to another. It’s not free, first you need to claim a portal and then you need to pay some influence for every unit you transport to it, but it is instantaneous, and all webway portals are already known at the start of the game. It’s in other words entirely possible for you to claim a webway portal you’ve never been to behind enemy lines and warp in your entire army behind the enemy. Using a webway portal uses up a units attack for the turn, so you can’t jump out of a portal and start shooting, but it’s still an immensely powerful ability. Maybe a bit too powerful actually. These portals are also where you build your cities. Instead of sending out builders you transform webway portals to city tiles, and this is done as a global ability. Anyone who’s not too fond of having space elves warping in on their doorsteps can preemptively destroy any portals they find. Destroyed portals can’t be rebuilt, so every one that’s lost will permanently lower the mobility of any Aeldari player. But even moving around the webway portals will give any Aeldari players some information, as they can see what’s going on around them.

There’s a new nasty neutral creature that will be skulking about on Gladius Prime, the Umbra. These are pretty much orbs of shadow that are capable of manipulating other shadows to do their bidding. They’re among the more dangerous neutral creatures you’ll run into and their inclusion in this expansion makes sense, as they’re described as being drawn to the webway portals.


Closing Thoughts

The Aeldari are an interesting faction that really plays like no other, although similarly to Tau, I have to express some concerns about game balance. The ability to warp across the map is incredibly powerful, even if it’s not entirely free, and can be done more freely than similar abilities from other factions, like the Space Marines and their drop pods. Still, Proxy Studios has once more shown that they know how to make factions that feel and play in a unique way, and that still fit the game. The Aeldari of Gladius are not only a fun faction to play, but they represent the source material very well.

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November 2020

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