Free is a good price, right? The rise and rise of free-to-play games has seen companies venturing outside of Facebook and mobile games and taking on the home console market – and it’s this concept that has seen Spartacus Legends born.
Developed by Kung Fu Factory and published by Ubisoft, the game is very loosely inspired by the recent Spartacus TV show that you may have seen on Starz – if not, don’t worry, there’s not any real connection to the plot of the TV series, though a few notable characters do make cameo appearances.
The game itself is one part management sim, three parts 3D fighter – you purchase and equip a group of Gladiators before sending them out to do vicious combat in arenas ranging from the training grounds to the Colosseum itself.
In terms of its overall aesthetic, Spartacus Legends feels somewhat like a throwback to the sort of games you might have seen in the late 90s/early 00s that were trying a bit too hard to be cool. From the savage, bloody executions to the repetitive, impossibly deep-voiced announcer who spews profanity-laden nonsense, it’s the sort of ‘mature’ game that feels like it was dreamt up by teenagers.
Even the loading screen text seems a bit try-hard, and the title screen welcomes you with the message “There is but one course. KILL THEM ALL!” It could be argued that the game’s graphics date from roughly the same era, and while that might be a little harsh, there are definite shortcomings in the game’s appearance. Crowd models repeat all too obviously and even the fighters themselves are nothing to write home about.
All of this suggests a game that wants to be something bigger than it actually is, but where Spartacus Legends truly reveals its delusions of grandeur is in its free-to-play model. On the surface, it’s in the vein of many similar games – while you can purchase most things with silver coins earned from fights, it essentially allows you to spend money to save time by buying gold coins that will unlock characters and upgrades early.
It’s plausible that someone might be tempted to drop a few quid on 50 coins for the odd upgrade – but in this case, the game also offers a bundle of 3000 gold coins for £119.99. Yes that’s right, one-hundred-and-nineteen-pounds-ninety-nine-pence. If you’re that keen to blow £100 or more on a gladiator-themed game then you might as well go for a gladiator slots machine game – at least that way you might actually make some return on your investment, instead of having little more to show for your money than some slightly fancier virtual swords.
The management aspect of the game also flatters to deceive, with upgrades being rolled out slowly over 50 levels of ‘fame’ (read: experience). You soon end up paying thousands of silver coins for the most incremental upgrades, making the whole thing seem very much like a grind. Another annoying aspect is to do with the perks system – each fighter can have a limited number of perks that are earned by defeating certain opponents, which is fine in and of itself.
The problem arises when you want to replace an existing perk with a new one – because guess what it costs? That’s right, gold coins. Granted, you get a few gold coins each time you level up, but there’s still the inescapable feeling that the game is trying to squeeze money out of you wherever it can.
All of this might be forgivable if the game was actually any fun to play – and it kinda is, for a little while, as you get to grips with each of the combat styles the game offers you. From sword-and-shield to dual daggers and even massive hammers, each fighter has their own unique specialty.
Unfortunately, it’s not too long before the rot sets in, and you begin to discover which of each fighter’s moves provides the most easily spammable route to victory. After that, fighting becomes more of a chore than anything – occasionally a particularly challenging AI opponent will appear (seemingly at random) to catch you off guard, but many more of them will fall to the same moves spammed over and over. Why anyone would want to see the tedious grind all the way through to level 50 is beyond me.
Ultimately, Spartacus Legends feels like an attempt to make you decide whether your time or your money is more valuable – but it’s not really worthy of either.