Gladiators is a new Facebook game from Nekki, the team behind the excellent and highly-stylized games Shadow Fight and Vector. The new game is an adaptation of Nekki’s previous Web game of the same name, which the developer claims has enjoyed over 4 million players since 2010.
Unlike Nekki’s previous games, which were very much arcade titles that demanded a high degree of skill from the player, Gladiators is a strategy game in which the player takes a much more “hands-off” approach to the combat side of things, but still finds themselves with plenty of things to do. Cast in the role of a new gladiator trainer in Roman times, it is up to the player to put together a successful team of gladiators, improve their skills and battle their way through a series of tournaments as well as fighting against other players.
The game begins with a brief and fully-voiced tutorial in which some of the game’s basic aspects are introduced — players are shown how to construct new buildings in their residence, which are required to train and heal their gladiators, then shown how to purchase new slaves to use as gladiators and then engage in both “training” and “career” fights.
The combat aspect is the main focus of the game. When beginning a new fight, the player is given the opportunity to deploy their gladiators up to a particular limit depending on what type of fight it is — for example, “duel” fights only allow the player to deploy a single gladiator, while “battle” fights allow larger groups. The player may then set a “strategy” for each of their deployed gladiators, which consists of moving three sliders to determine their behavior in battle — whether they will focus on attack or defense; dodging or blocking; speed or power — and then begin the fight. The battle then unfolds automatically, though the player is able to watch the behavior of their gladiators to determine if there is any area where they are not performing effectively. The battle continues until one side has been completely defeated. If the player wins, their gladiators receive experience points, and the player receives other rewards such as soft currency. If the player is defeated, they often still receive a smaller reward.
Between battles, players may train their gladiators in their gladiator school structure, and restore their health in a bath house. As the player levels up, additional facilities become available, allowing their gladiators to attract new fans and boost their performance, equip themselves with armor, improve their morale and heal their injuries more effectively. In most cases, the buildings have a limit on how much they can be used in a single session — each building’s “staff” has an energy bar that depletes with each action taken, and after this is depleted it must either be left to restore over the course of about 45 minutes or immediately replenished with hard currency.
The game is built for social play. Battles against opponents are always represented as fights against other Facebook members, regardless of whether or not they are currently playing the game. The “training battle” mode allows the player to compete against their friends and send them a taunting Timeline post if they win, inviting the “defeated” player to join the game and get revenge. Meanwhile, the career mode pits the player’s team against others who have been playing the game, tiered according to the levels of their respective gladiators. It works quite well and gives a feeling of actually competing against other players even though there is no real direct interaction. It looks as if Nekki plans to incorporate Guild and other social features into the game in the long term, but these are not currently implemented — the only other competitive feature is a leaderboard tracking players’ fame levels.
The game monetizes through sales of hard currency. This may be expended on refreshing the staff members at the player’s various buildings and on an optional four-tier “VIP” membership option, which confers a number of benefits on the player and generally ensures that there is less sitting around waiting for timers to expire — though none of these options eliminate the wait times altogether. Players may also expend hard currency on the “Hippodrome” — essentially a simple gambling facility, where players may bet on a single chariot and receive rewards if it wins a race. Soft currency may also be purchased with real money, and the player is given a special bonus for making their first payment, regardless of whether they are purchasing soft or hard currency.
Gladiators is off to a good start, but there’s not really enough to the experience at present. The combat is a little too hands-off to be enjoyable right now — especially given Nekki’s history of highly-interactive, skill-based games — and there’s not enough incentive to compete against others. Some of these issues may well be rectified with future updates and at present the game is certainly well-presented and highly-polished — but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that compared to Shadow Fight and Vector, this is one of Nekki’s weaker titles right now.
You can follow Gladiators’ progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
Some good ideas and a pretty polished experience… but there’s not enough “meat” to the game at present.