Presentation - 6
Gameplay - 6
Story/Creativity - 2
Lifespan - 5
Freeness - 8
Overall, I think that Spartacus Legends is a decent game, but nothing spectacular by any means. The basic gameplay is good, at least until you find the perfect spamming attacks, and the graphics and music do a great job of creating the right atmosphere.
Fans of the Spartacus TV series have been begging for a game with the same gritty violence and combat as the show ever since it first debuted. Ubisoft have answered that call with Spartacus Legends. Currently available on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, Spartacus Legends is Ubisoft’s first attempt at free-to-play console gaming. So how did Ubisoft do?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag really. In terms of story, there isn’t one. Players are given a short introduction to what it means to be a gladiator and what’s involved in combat, and then told that they need to try and become the best, but apart from that, there’s nothing at all. Even when players manage to get right to the end of the game and beat the last ‘legendary’ fighter, Spartacus himself, there’s no cut-scene or anything to celebrate the accomplishment. The game just goes back to the usual menu where you can choose your next battle. The game is based on the popular Spartacus TV series, but aside from the concept (gladiators) and a few names, there’s really no link whatsoever between the TV show and the game. With a TV show as inspiration, you’d have thought Ubisoft would have managed to find some aspect of a story to use, but no, there’s nothing at all.
fans of combat games will probably get a good few hours of enjoyment out of Spartacus Legends
The gameplay is slightly more promising. It’s solid, even if it’s nothing particularly revolutionary. The main portion of the game involves the player controlling a gladiator in one-on-one combat against another competitor. The combat features the usual weak attack, strong attack, block and dodge, as well as a grapple button and a block-breaking ‘Pankration’ attack, which can be used to deplete an enemy’s defence and leave them open for attack. So again, there’s nothing particularly new or ground-breaking about the combat, though it does feel very fluid and quite natural to play, with a good focus on rhythm and trying to piece together combos to defeat your enemy.
The game features a range of different combat styles to try out, ranging from fists to tridents and two-handed hammers to dual-wielded daggers. Indeed, players are actively encouraged (and sometimes forced) to change the style that they use, with some battles requiring gladiators of a particular style. I found that this system does do a good job in getting players to try the different styles. Originally, I’d thought I’d stick with dual-wielded swords for my gladiators, but after some of the battles required a trident-wielding gladiator, I actually found that easier, and the same happened again when I tried dual-wielded daggers. The styles are quite a lot different in terms of speed, strength and range, and I found that changing styles gave a very different experience that kept me wanting to play the game, whereas I’d have probably got bored quite quickly if the styles were more similar or restricted.
I found it really easy to get sucked in to the combat and tension of the battles, mainly because every battle comes with the threat of your gladiator being executed. Throughout battles, players, or the opponent, can gain crowd favour by stringing together deadly combos and not letting the opponent get any hits in. If you win the battle with full crowd favour, you get the chance to execute your opponent, claiming extra rewards and special abilities for your gladiator. But if your opponent has a full favour bar when they defeat your gladiator, they get to kill off your gladiator in grizzly fashion.
This is supposedly a permanent death, but there are ways to revive your gladiator. It gets increasingly expensive and difficult to revive a competitor if he dies a few times, but part of me wishes the death was more permanent. It’d be much more tense and exciting during the battles, but I think it’d be incredibly frustrating as well. It just feels like the current system doesn’t contribute as much to the game as it could, and that there could easily be more tension added if it was tweaked just a little.
One of my biggest issues with Spartacus Legends is that it’s far too easy to win battles by repeatedly using one or two key attacks. I’ve found that this technique of spamming certain attacks can defeat almost any enemy in the entire game, including the ‘legendary’ opponents like Spartacus himself. For example, trident-users have a very long-range, powerful attack that can be repeatedly used to stop enemies getting anywhere near the player and can pretty much guarantee victory against any style of gladiator. I tried to play the game properly and mix up my combat a bit, but it’s just so easy to slip back in to the habit of spamming the same button over and over when you get into a bit of a pickle. It’s even more frustrating when the player you’re fighting on the online multiplayer mode is using the tactic against you. It’s a major flaw in an otherwise quite good combat system.
Between battles players can buy new weapons and equipment for their gladiators or hire new gladiators altogether for their roster. Players start out with only two spaces on their roster, but slots for extra gladiators are available for increasing amounts of silver, one of the two in-game currencies. The amount of equipment available is large, and even within one particular style of weapon, there are a lot of variables. For example, some tridents are slower, and more powerful, whereas other tridents are faster and allow for better dodging at the expense of power. This means that there are a lot of ways to customise the experience to how you personally want to play the game. Players can also repeat previous battles in order to gain more silver so it never takes too long to save up for a piece of equipment or a new gladiator.
One of the best features of Spartacus Legends is how much of the content and equipment is free. There are two types of in-game currency: silver, which is gained from competing in battles, and gold, which is the premium currency that players can use real world money to purchase. Purchasing gold gives players access to premium weapons and gladiatorial recruits that are more powerful or quicker than the non-premium items. However, I’m not sure the premium equipment is really necessary or even worth paying for. Personally, I never paid for any gold, and I never felt like I was missing out or at a disadvantage as a result. Even when I played online against other players, I never felt like I needed premium items to defeat other players who had purchased the premium goods. Besides, players are given a small amount of gold for levelling up their ‘Ludus’, or roster of gladiators, and so players have the option to save up for any premium item or gladiator that they particularly want that way. I honestly don’t think there’s really any need to open up your wallet at all.
The graphics of the game were quite a lot better than I’d expected for a free-to-play title. During battles, the gladiators look more realistic than I thought they would, and there are some neat little touches that make the experience more enjoyable, like nicks and cuts that appear on gladiators if they’re hit with certain attacks. I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of blood and gore involved in the game. There’s a little bit, with some of the cuts appearing quite realistic, but the developers have avoided trying to match up with the excessive gore of the TV show, and I think the game benefits for being a bit more restrained. The environments are a lot better than I was expecting, with the atmosphere ranging from dark and dingy, in the smaller arenas, to bright and grand in the more prestigious arenas encountered later on. The crowd also look reasonably realistic, especially in the earlier, smaller arenas. Granted, if you really take a good look at the crowd, they are a bit 2D and repetitive, but they do a brilliant job of creating a good background atmosphere for the battles.
One little issue for me is the excessive amount of swearing. I get that they’re trying to fit with the brutal, vicious atmosphere of gladiator conquests and the TV show, but I feel like there’s just a little bit too much at wholly unnecessary times. It’s almost like every other attack is accompanied by cursing from the commentator. Aside from that, the sound adds a lot to the game. The noises of weapon clashes add a lot of excitement and the music is perfectly suited to the style of gameplay. It’s very rhythmic, to mirror the combat, and there’s a lot of driving drum beats that build a lot of excitement and tension for the battle.
The presentation of the game is therefore very good, until you consider the myriad of bugs and glitches of course. I was playing the Xbox 360 version, and found that the game froze after every 7 or 8 fights, and I’d have to restart and reload the game. I never lost any progress, but it’s very irritating, and I found myself not turning the game back on a few times after it happened. Even when the game was running smoothly, loading times were much longer than you’d hope. There’s also a lot of issues with the online play. Firstly, there’s only a ‘quick match’ option that selects you a random opponent, and there’s no way at all to set up matches online against friends, or even to play locally against a friend on the console. But the issues go even deeper than that. There are a lot of examples of players losing their favourite gladiators when the opponent drops out. I managed to avoid this issue luckily, but I’d have been really annoyed if one of my gladiators had just disappeared after an opponent dropped out on a battle. These glitches and multiplayer failures really take a huge chunk of the enjoyment out the game.
The lifespan of the game is a bit limited as well. Completing all the battles doesn’t take any more than 10 hours if you’re playing the game normally. If you’re spamming certain attacks it can take as little as two or three hours. To be honest, after you’ve beaten all of the opponents, there really isn’t any reason to carry on playing the game. The multiplayer mode has some serious flaws, and the lack of story or extra motivation to play means that once you’ve defeated the hardest competitor, there’s really nothing drawing you back in to the game.
Overall, I think that Spartacus Legends is a decent game, but nothing spectacular by any means. The basic gameplay is good, at least until you find the perfect spamming attacks, and the graphics and music do a great job of creating the right atmosphere. Unfortunately, there are just too many problems to really let this game shine. The bugs are irritating and really detract from the game, the online multiplayer is a massive disappointment, and the complete lack of any sort of storyline means that it’s hard to get invested in the game at all. Nonetheless, fans of combat games will probably get a good few hours of enjoyment out of Spartacus Legends, and it is free-to-play after all, so you can’t grumble at that.
Spartacus Legends is available on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network right now, completely free.