The free to play model has taken the video game world by storm over the past few years, namely due to the influx of smartphones and tablets in the hands of gamers. Developers and publishers alike have found that they can obtain masses of loyal gamers for their titles if they make them free to download and play. The model is common sense when you think about it. Offer a game for free, build a huge audience, and then hope that a sector of that audience ponies up for some in-app purchases. Ultimately, everybody wins, but sometimes developers make it nearly impossible to fully enjoy a free game without the need to dump some cash into it, or invest an obscene amount of time to circumvent the need to pay for in-app items.
Ubisoft’s Spartacus Legends is the latest video game release to employ the free to play model, and this time around it’s an actual console title, and not some wimpy sized mobile app. Both XBL Gold members and PSN users can now download this fighting game based on the recently ended gory Starz series for $0, which is fantastic, but not as awesome as you may think it’d be to download a free console title.
The overall Spartacus Legends package is noticeably deficient when compared to current console video games. The graphics are lacking and reminiscent of games from the early years of this current generation. The backgrounds are generic, and most of the gladiator models get recycled over and over. The actual characters in the game that were also on the TV show look fairly authentic, but most of the fighters that you can obtain without spending real life money are as generic as it gets.
Herein lies the main problem with Spartacus Legends. Sure it’s free to play, and it does offer some tight fighting gameplay with a few homages to the TV shows infamous violence. Unfortunately, if you truly want to take advantage of all of the character customizations, you have to grind for hours on end just to get some gold coins for use in the store, or you’d have to dig into your wallet to buy a fat stack of coins to use.
Any major upgrade requires gold coins, and gold coins are only awarded for leveling up your character, or through spending real life moola. If you want a new weapon that you unlocked you’ll have to part ways with some precious gold coins. If you want to recruit a new gladiator that features a different weapon style (8 styles in total), you have to use gold coins to get the better fighters. Hell, you even have to spend in-game currency just to try out different executions! All of the buff-laden items require gold coins to buy, so in the end you could easily spend more real cash in this game than a $60 title.
These restrictions take a majority of the fun out of the game after the first few hours, which is when it becomes clear that you can’t use silver coins (much more obtainable through playing matches) to buy killer upgrades anymore. These bonuses are key to winning more difficult matches, so it’s almost mandatory to spend some gold to progress to the highest levels of Capua’s gladiator scene.
Complaining about a game being free is a little pretentious on my part, but there are other issues with Spartacus Legends outside of the in-app purchase gimmick. Balance is almost non-existent when it comes to your fighter’s rating and his opponent. Multiple occurrences popped up where I’d beat the living hell out of a higher ranked AI opponent, and then would go on to lose the next match to an opponent 30 levels less than the one that was just embarrassed. It made no sense, and essentially turned fighter ranks into a guessing game.
In the end free is still free, and Spartacus Legends is a great little companion to the Starz show that fans of the series can get behind. Unfortunately, the video game industry has turned free to play games into games that truly can’t be enjoyed unless actual money gets dumped into them, and Legends falls into this category. If you have nothing but time you could eventually unlock some of the items that require gold coins, but the hours wasted on sitting through long load screens, and repeating fights, will make most gamers wish they were in the arena facing Spartacus without a weapon.
*This is a free to play title and the author downloaded it for the Xbox 360
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