Gladiatus: Hero of Rome Review

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An education in browser games

I generally don’t see the point of reviewing a “free” game; anyone interested in such a game has little reason to read a review when there’s nothing to lose by just playing the game and finding out for himself if it’s any good. I’ve played many free games, and, well, “you get what you pay for” is a cliché for a reason. Single player free games are usually write-offs for me—play for a few minutes, get bored, and move on. On the other hand, multiplayer free games can get interesting, if you can get past the bottom-feeder effect that inevitably pops up wherever the word “free” appears.

One game that caught my attention is Gladiatus, from Gameforge. It’s a very mature game, been around for years, even, but Gameforge has done a fine job of constantly updating the game from very crude beginnings, and I focus on the game as it is now.

Gladiatus has the player take the role of a gladiator in Rome, with many liberties. You can fight in the arena, winning pots and with the goal of becoming champion of your league (each league covers 10 levels, so that higher level gladiators, “glads”, generally don’t fight with those far below their level). It may be a fighting game, but there’s no skill here, you’ll never need to click quickly or on the right spot. Instead, you use strategy to spend gold developing your glads’ abilities, and equipping your glad with various pieces of equipment, enhancing those abilities. Luckily there’s more, far more to the game than simple arena combats.

As you gain levels, the game opens up. Another arena lets you have 5 on 5 gladiator fights, using a stable of mercenaries and an alternate version of your gladiator (equipped separately). In addition, “expeditions” can be taken to fight solo monsters, for bonus gold and equipment, and you can take your team of gladiators into dungeons for more adventure. You also go on quests for the gods, gaining favor that is in turn exchanged for rewards. You can also find treasure chests, which randomly generate unusual loot (it’s possible that all you will get is, strangely enough, another treasure chest, for you to open for loot…). The artwork for the game is extremely good, with many pictures loaded with little details.

The key resource in the game is time, you must wait before doing anything, after which the timer resets; nearly everything is on timers. That leads to the money factor in the game. You can buy rubies with real money, and use those rubies to override the timers, in various ways. You can also get a small amount of rubies for free, either through game play, or by filling out surveys and stuff.

For the most part, this is a fun and entertaining game, but the “bottom feeding” factor does rear its head. Some players are pretty ruthless, and will pound on a helpless gladiator repeatedly, taking his gold and making his game more than a little miserable; there’s a rule that offsets this a bit, but a player using a double account could make 20 attacks a day, enough to seriously hamper the fun.

Double account? Technically, those are illegal, and this leads to perhaps the worst part of the bottom feeding. These types of games don’t really have money to throw around (like, say, World of Warcraft), so the administrators are typically volunteers… volunteers that, naturally, play the game. These guys also naturally “look the other way” from any rule breaking by their friends that also play… and come down hard on others. Names like “A$$hole”, “R4pist”, “xTard” are fine for friends of the mods, but other names, like “Retard” can merit a banning (“too offensive”) for enemies. Similarly, friends of the mods can get away will name calling to the point of accusations of child molestation and sodomy… any response by the targets of such, even “I don’t like being called that” can merit threats and banning (and, of course, outright insults in reply is certainly a banning)… to the victim, not the aggressor, despite rules pretty clearly outlawing insulting behavior.

It’s not just rules enforcement that’s “a bit uneven” at times. The game, despite its age, still has hundreds of players, but the forums are a graveyard, with many sections abandoned for years. The moderators actively chase away posters. Ask a question about banning in a thread on banning? You get warned for “spam” and threatened with banning. Ask a question about a rare item in a thread called “Rare Items”?Again warnings and threats for banning for posting “irrelevant” information and spam. It’s almost comical how bad it is. A suggestion in the suggestion forum to have a kid-friendly server with more restrictive naming/behavior rules? “NOT GONNA HAPPEN. THREAD CLOSED,” responds the mod, along with a warning for yet another obscure rules violation… discussion is clearly not encouraged in the discussion board. Granted, you can’t expect much from an all-volunteer squad, but I’ve sure seen better (and can really only think of one forum run worse, in decades of writing online). There are easily more mods that post than other posters; I can’t help but suspect that scaring posters like this with constant rude treatment is actually a plan—it’s pretty easy to moderate a board with no posters, while racking up free rubies for “volunteering” so much work in the forums.

Yet another bottom feeding aspect to the game is the hacking. What, a browser game is hackable? I know enough about computers to not dare say something is impossible, but it sure seems like it would be really difficult, with no real benefit considering there’s no money anywhere. Nevertheless, type in “Gladiatus Hacks” on YouTube, and you can find dozens of videos… with posters that insist the hacks work. The posters are bogus (just fake accounts set up for the one post; whoever uploads the video can restrict what gets posted, so posters that say the hack is bogus never get their say), and the hack (probably) doesn’t work. Instead, the hack links to a survey site… basically you give the survey site your personal information, and get spammed and quite possibly have your identity stolen. Don’t get me wrong, every game has hacks, and there are scammers everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve seen so much of it for an obscure, free, game. Sophisticated scams for World of Warcraft? Sure, millions of players means even a small percentage of suckers can make the scam profitable. That kind of effort for a marginal bottom feeding game? Surprising, to say the least, and I can only guess that the much higher proportion of bottom feeders makes it worthwhile. I can’t help but wonder if the survey scam hack isn’t run by the same folks that (legitimately) give rubies for the surveys, but it’s hard to tell, and you can only progress so far in surveys before they ask for personal information (at which point I stop), so I’ve no idea if you ever get anything for actually completing a survey.

Part of the success of Battlenet is the legitimacy; I know when I play there, I’m generally not going to deal with cheaters, and the administrators running the site are professionals. I’ve had problems with Battlenet, but every time the staff there has been able to help me eventually, and I never got the feeling I was just pounding my head against a wall. My worst experience in years of Battlenet? I tried to set up a home LAN game of Diablo 2, but couldn’t do it. So, I e-mailed Battlenet to see if they could help. In the interim, I figured it out. Tech support e-mailed me back a few days later, told me it couldn’t be done; when I let them know that it obviously was possible since we played past Act 2, he admitted it was possible, but was not something they were supposed to explain how to do. Still, he was polite and professional about it, and knew what he was doing. I can’t help but bet that such legitimacy and professionalism is a huge part of Battlenet’s success.

On the other hand, dealing with Gameforge support is a nightmare; even asking how to set up a signature on an account only gets rude, insulting, unprofessional treatment from the folks that, in normal games, are supposed to encourage people to participate. I’m hardly alone:

Auto 3 day ban, no explanation no nothing. I’m guessing I’ve accidentally broke the rule somehow. But 3 days is excessive, and the following 2-3 days asking support what happened, has lead me nowhere. With the mantra “read the rules” thrown in my face after telling them I’ve read the rules.

the game is fairly good, the customer service is awful now

The people who run this game are cheats and they ban you so their game operators have a better chance of stealing your gold and creating players.

–three posts in response to a review of the game, from a few years ago. Nothing’s changed.

Granted, the above are just guys complaining on a message board, but a Google of “GameForge” “Customer” “Service” “Sucks” gets more hits than “Blizzard” “Customer” “Service” “Sucks”, a stunning achievement for a tiny company.

You get what you pay for, indeed.

Corruption score: 10

Gameplay: 7

Graphics: 9

Sound: 0

Value: 8


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Gladiatus: Hero of Rome Boxart


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