Zephon demo | Review in 7 Screenshots!

Cover image: Zephon logo pasted onto the Shattered cover and some Beksinski art

First, they made Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War. Then they decided that the engine and the experience would be better suited for a game with a shorter title. And that’s the Zephon demo experience.

Zephon demo screenshot: a city and three units, demonstrating the Gladius-like unit renaming convention.
Aliens came and burned humanity to crisp. This massive loss of clients made spam bots spontaneously develop sentience and start fighting the invaders. As the survivors emerge from their shelters, they find the surface torn by the conflict between the ZEPHON robots and Acrin survivors. The humans can now try to persevere – but not necessarily on their own. ZEPHON doesn’t care about pieces of its tech getting repurposed while some people can hear the Voice that guided the aliens to Earth – and it is offering them truths from beyond the veil. So the story is Defiance meets Shattered while the gameplay is Gladius with a soupcon of Beyond Earth.
Zephon Demo Screenshot: The Fallen Soldier faction selection.
The Zephon demo offered a few of the possible warlords to play. It’s very much like choosing a country in Civilization: while the basic city buildings are the same for everyone, the warlord will determine starting units, the mixture of offensive technologies, bring in a few of their own research subjects, and offer some wide-ranging changes. For example, the Fallen Soldier gives early access to the Human tech tree, grants all the biological units regeneration while balancing that out with increased upkeep. Meanwhile, the Emulated Mind starts with Cyber tech, is restricted to a single city, and has a big stonking cannon on the roof for harassing neutrals that come close.
Zephon demo screenshot: a unit of Militants palling around with some Cult units.
So, do you remember how Beyond Earth had human, cyborg, and xeno ideologies/tech trees? Zephon has a lesser implementation of that: all the combat technologies belong to one of those branches. However, they’re not at all exclusive: you can run cyborg Ishinm Enforcers next to xeno-riding Abluth Dragoons. The only downside is economical: Algae is the specialty resource required for the Voice monsters, but Cyber units need Chips.
Zephon demo screenshot: diplomacy window for talking toe the Chieftainess, the AI raider leader.
However, the party doesn’t stop there. Zephon has three AI factions duking it out besides the regular players: the Acrin survivors (somewhat pissed at the Voice), ZEPHON’s robots (somewhat pissed at the Acrin) and Chieftainess’ raiders (pissed at everyone). Their leaders have their characters traits and are as diplomatic actors as anyone. They even react to the different warlords: the Acrin respect the Fallen Soldier dying before getting over it, while the Chieftainess despises Emulated Mind’s isolation. Neutral beasts and raiders also roam the landslike in every Civ-like, but they’re not auto-hostile – they don’t even aggro permanently.
Zephon Demo Screenshot: a cyborg lady jumps at alien wolves with her arm blades outstretched
The rest of the gameplay in Zephon demo is very familiar to an old Gladius‘ hand (holy shit, it came out when?!) like me: expand cities, build units, grab outposts, grind the enemy to paste. Not having to worry too much about neutrals is nice, but the rest is very familiar, down to actively painful terrain tiles. But this is a future in which there’s more than war: diplomacy exists! The game also benefits from the same stellar level of writing we saw in Gladius – each warlord has a different manner of speaking, which makes the interactions a little more interesting.
Zephon screenshot: when you discover a new region, its name is briefly replaced by some creepy whisper.
However, the sins of Gladius are the sins of Zephon. Unit level-ups are boring (I miss the Warlock series allowing me to choose level up bonuses as well as buy upgrades based on structures) and transporting units over the map is still a slow slog. Actual unit barks are thing now – and very evocative – but they quickly become repetitive. On a more meta note, the Zephon demo doesn’t seem to acknowledge you mixing technological approaches. The lore for Cyber research will continue on the theme of “are we giving AI too much power???” even if you’re also knee deep in Voice abominations. But maybe I’m asking for too much – even Beyond Earth needed a DLC to crank out hybrid units.
Zephon demo screenshot: research fluff for Ishim armor.
Zephon demo shows us what Gladius would look like if you repmoved Warhammer 40,000 and added diplomacy. Granted, diplomacy was never the strong suit of 4X games – but maybe the writing and voice acting will carry the day? We’ll just have to wait to find out.

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