Sometimes it’s best to take free-to-play games with a grain of salt. Spartacus Legends is a perfect example. Despite some serious bugs and graphical issues, this title still delivers genuinely fun gladiatorial action.
Spartacus Legends is a free-to-play game that offers players a chance to live out their wildest gladiator fantasies. You are randomly assigned a poor slave warrior who is completely in your control. You clothe him, train him, and exploit him for financial gain. It’s a pretty sweet gig. This is the first console game in this genre to enter the free-to-play arena and it’s definitely got something special to offer.
I found the combat to be incredibly rewarding. Every time I landed a satisfying critical hit to the head or brutal finisher, I felt a surge of adrenaline. I was in the moment, living as Hannibal; the ruthless two-handed swordsmen. Spartacus Legends does a fairly decent job of creating a diverse and balanced combat system. Each gladiator is trained in a specific weapon type and you’re bound to this weapon until death. You must quickly adapt to the fighting styles of your enemy. Each weapon type has different attack speeds, range, counters, and overall play styles. I learned my lesson the hard way, after several crushing defeats.
So far, my weapon of choice is the two-handed sword with an emphasis on lightweight armor. This gives me increased attack speed and mobility. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to help much against the trident or spear.
Each fight ends with your warrior covered in the blood of his enemies, suffering from large, gaping wounds. This is another really nice touch. How well, or not so well, you perform in battle determines the amount of injuries your combatant will obtain. If you completely annihilate your foe, the fans will roar your name from the stands and you must quench their blood thirst with an execution. The same thing can happen to you and if your character is executed, he may be gone forever. You have the option of paying a fee to keep him in the realm of the living, but if you’re broke, he’s gone. These finishers are a little anti-climatic sometimes, but a solid blow to the leg or arm will send them flying in glorious slow motion. Most of the gore is a little outrageous and downright comical at times. One of the finishers involves you cutting your enemy’s face off… kind of like the movie Face-Off. It just seemed a little strange and morbid, even for this type of game.
The game’s unlock system follows the traditional free-to-play model. You are awarded Denarius (money), fame, and sometimes gold coins (used to unlock premium items and characters) at the end of each battle. As your character progresses, you achieve new levels of fame which are used to unlock new areas and arenas. Every time you reach a new area, your enemies become more powerful and better equipped for battle. Before you engage in combat you are given the option to purchase new equipment for your gladiator. This will be critical to your success. Obtaining money, especially the gold coins, can be a serious grind, but don’t worry! You can take the easy way out and just pay for gold coins! This will give you instant access to some of the strongest weapons and armor in the game. Thankfully, the items are locked to your fame level. This keeps new players from immediately buying all the best gear. Earning an awesome, new sword is a very rewarding achievement and it leaves you with a desire to try for that next upgrade. You shouldn’t spoil that by taking the easy road, but you always have the option.
Graphical fortitude is not where Spartacus Legends shines. Character models are average at best and the crowd animations are worse than most PS2 games. Backgrounds and environments seem to be just good enough to fill the space behind the combat. I did enjoy the design of the loading screens and menus. These looked very clean and were very easy to navigate. Everything else could use a little perking up. The game doesn’t look terrible, but you shouldn’t expect AAA quality.
There were a few things that really bothered me about this game. First off, what’s with the load times? I spent several minutes before and after each match just loading game information. Sometimes I felt like my wait time was longer than the actual fight. It wasn’t unbearable, just much longer than it should be. Secondly, why can’t I challenge my friends!? You create a one-on-one fighting game with brutal combat, but don’t give me the option to invite my friends into a lobby? No, instead you want me to queue up in specific arenas, with random fighters that may, or may not, be anywhere close to my skill level. Adding a simple invite system would make the online experience much more enjoyable.
Deep-down, I feel like we all want a really well-done gladiator game. The concept of cut-throat Roman combat in fierce arenas should be a development goldmine, but rarely do we see a studio capitalize on this market. Spartacus Legends is a savage reminder of this. It has moments of pure, bloody bliss, followed closely by mediocrity.
Spartacus Legends might just be the best free-to-play gladiator fighter on the market, but realistically, it’s probably the only one. The combat system gets a lot of things right and the gratuitous amounts of blood and gore add some over-the-top authenticity, but graphical issues and a lack-luster online experience ultimately keep this from being a great game. It’s absolutely worth a try if you’re in the mood for some ancient action.
Spartacus Legends is currently available for free on Xbox Live and PSN.