Spartacus Legends Review
Ubisoft’s Spartacus Legends is a bit rough around the edges, but it possesses an addictive quality and brutal, engaging gameplay.
Ubisoft and Kung Fu Factory’s Spartacus Legends is based on the hit Starz TV show, starring Liam McIntyre. Being a big fan of the series (I reviewed every episode of the final season, War of the Damned), I was excited to get my hands on the game and jump headfirst into some bloody gladiatorial mayhem. After spending a solid amount of time with Spartacus Legends, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the game may be repetitive and a bit of a grind, it’s also fairly addictive and entertaining.
Spartacus Legends was originally set to be a regular retail release, but it was decided to transition the game into the free-to-play model. Upon starting the game, you’ll be introduced to the Ludus, where you can buy slaves and train them for battle in the arena. This factors heavily into the game, as especially in the later, more difficult arenas, your gladiators will be dying left and right. It’s best not to get too attached to your warriors, because sooner or later they will meet an unfortunate end. If you’ve put hours upon hours into leveling them up, this can be particularly disheartening. Thankfully, the game allows you to revive a fallen slave once for free, but every time after that it will cost you- increasingly more silver coins. Silver coins are earned by winning matches, and you will be using them to purchase slaves, weapons, and armor, as well as extra slots to hold more slaves.
Every match has a Deadliness rating, which essentially shows how unlikely it is that your fighter will make it out of the match alive. If your opponent bests you with a high Crowd Favor, they’ll be able to use a Mortal Kombat-style finisher on you, ending your reign for good (or until you pay to revive him). Luckily, the same applies to you – if you have a finisher equipped (purchased with silver), and manage to keep a high Crowd Favor rating throughout a match, you’ll be treated to a gruesome dismemberment or impalement animation. The finality of each match gives every fight an intense feeling, as this feature carries over to the online battles as well. You never know who your opponent will be in an online match, and they could easily have a rating far exceeding yours, in which case you can kiss your leveled-up warrior goodbye. Unfortunately, there was also a very noticeable amount of lag in almost every match I played, and in some cases the game glitched out and I was forced to reset my console. Not only that, but upon returning to the game, I was given a warning that the next time I exited a match mid-battle I would be penalized!
As you progress through the game, you’ll find that sometimes it is best to dump your warrior and send him to the mines, freeing a slot for a new slave. If you want a slave with decent stats, you’re going to have to pony up a hefty amount of silver. If you want the absolute best, you’ll have to fork over gold, which is bought with real-world money (the game does dole these out when you level up, but it’s a really small amount). You’ll likely think that your fighter is a bit of a badass after winning a few matches, only to be in for a serious reality check when you have to go up against a Legend or a tough Primus fight.
Spartacus Legends can be quite fun, but the difficulty is unfairly ratcheted up at times to block progression in the name of forcing players to either grind or spend some cash. The first time you go up against Oenomaus (and the second and tenth) is a great example. I was excited to go into battle against such an awesome character from the show, but as soon as I saw his rating of 250 my heart sank a little. And he’s just the Legend for the first and easiest arena. I finally bested him after recruiting a slave with dual daggers and spamming the hell out of him before he could strike back. Fighting games should reward skill, not hours spent grinding, cheating the game, or pulling out your wallet. To put Oenomaus’s 250 rating in perspective, I’ve been playing Spartacus Legends for over a week and none of my fighters are above 160. I can only imagine what Spartacus’ rating is in the game. One last thought about the Legends – when you defeat them they are dead, and you can never battle them again or unlock them for your own use. That seems like a huge oversight, as while fighting with the generic slaves is entertaining, it would give much more incentive to grind knowing that Crixus and Spartacus himself could be recruited to fight for your house.
You can’t focus all of your efforts on leveling one character up, because as I mentioned before their lives are fragile, and also you’ll need a well-rounded roster to move forward in the game. Some matches can only be fought with a character who uses a shield and spear, for instance, or a trident. You might have a warrior leveled up who uses dual swords, but he’s unable to compete in such a match. And so you’ll need to grind and purchase gear for another slave, as well as familiarize yourself with that fighting style before progressing. This feels like a way to artificially pad out the game’s length as well.
While I feel that Spartacus Legends would have been better suited to a simple retail release, it’s still a fun game in its free-to-play form. Besting Oenomaus and Crixus feels as epic as it should, the show’s tone and gore are well preserved, and technically you don’t need to spend a penny on this game. Fans of the show will at least get a few hours of enjoyment out of it, and some will be pulled in by Spartacus Legends’ addictive gameplay enough to spend some of their hard-earned cash. The rough language and dismemberment feel true to the franchise, but some low-budget visuals and server lag hold the experience back a bit. Still, I found myself enjoying Spartacus Legends more than I thought I would, and I know I’ll keep grinding until I’ve bested the Bringer of Rain himself.