Is anyone else playing this?

My two cents: as a big fan of the show (seriously, it's really great), and a decidedly small fan of F2P games, I had pretty insanely low expectations for this one, downloading it on a whim. However, I've actually had a rather terrific time playing this game in the last few days.

It's a 3D fighter with weapons, and it feels a bit like a slower, less-responsive (and significantly bloodier) Soul Calibur. With swearing. You recruit gladiators for your ludus, buy equipment, and send them into battle... And that's pretty much all there is to it! In addition to the typical chain-attacks and staggering, the fighting also features a crowd-meter that fills as you land successful hits. Spend too much time on the defensive and your crowd meter goes down. You can also raise it by taunting your opponent. If the match ends with a maxed-out crowd meter, the victor can perform a pretty brutal execution move. If your gladiator is on the receiving end of this, they'll actually die (and although you can pay to resurrect them, the cost more than doubles with each death).

Each fighter is classified with a weapon style, which can't be changed. You can accumulate perks for your gladiators as you take down more and more difficult enemies. Of course, the F2P model dictates that you can also take a $$ shortcut to fame and glory, but I've been quite happy to discover that it's completely unnecessary; after the first few hours of getting to grips with the combat system you can really start grinding some high-cash-reward fights, that will allow you to purchase weapons and armor to your hearts content.

Best of all, it really seems like it's captured the tone of the show, despite not having the slightest thing to do with the show's story. Little quotes that pop up between matches will definitely get fans smiling. The music is the same as the show's (a bit of a mixed blessing, IMO), and the way the fights play out is decidedly awesome... in its best moments it actually feels like you're taking part in the show.

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Negatives: Here we go... The graphics are early-ps3 at best... so, pretty crummy. And, of course, it's all online so you have to be connected to the PSN/XBL play it at all. Additionally, in order to progress in the "story" mode (really just a series of unrelated challenge fights) you'll need specific kinds of fighters in your ludus, who can be costly to recruit, and generally useless, if they don't suit your playstyle. Right now I've got a hammer-wielder who can barely take out the lowest-level enemies, while my dual-sword gladiator casually slices up dudes far above his rank. Yet I can't progress with the story missions until I stop sucking with the hammer guy (and it doesn't help that I'm still struggling with the dodge mechanic... I keep rolling instead whenever I try it)... Also (this is a real bummer) it is somewhat prone to stuttering and framerate drops, which can mess up the flow of battle (playing the ps3 version). Final criticism: why can't I customize my gladiator beyond the equipment? Seems like a character creation/editing suite is a real no-brainer for this type of game, but it's strangely absent. Oh well...

Positives: Did I mention that it's free? A real bloody good time, and fans of the show will not be disappointed. Well, probably not... I mean it's free! What did you expect?

This was not so much a "blip" as it was a "blooooooooooooooooooop" so I'm gonna wrap this up now.

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"'Tis no easy task to sever a man's head. You have to find the right angle."
-Crixus, the Undefeated Gaul