Story of a Gladiator Review: Not an Epic, but Still a Bloody Fun Time

by David Sanchez December 10, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

When you think of the days of the gladiator, you think of big, epic battles. You think of a chiseled warrior covered in battle scars taking down equally chiseled warriors with equally gnarly scars and maybe even a ferocious tiger or two. Story of a Gladiator is based around exactly that: the battles that took place in arenas in front of bloodthirsty crowds, with everyone cheering madly for their favorite warriors, but more so cheering for death and blood and guts.

Yes, that’s what Story of a Gladiator is all about, but it condenses the experience into a more bite-sized offering. At first glance, the game may look a bit shallow — and the more you play, the more you realize it can be — but there’s a surprising amount of depth in this little arena beat ’em up that makes it a fun game overall.

Insert Mandatory Quote from Gladiator Here

When I first saw the trailer for Story of a Gladiator, I thought the game looked like it could be fun for, like, 10 minutes, but I was still interested in checking it out. If you’re on the fence, or if your thinking is much like mine was, I would definitely say you should give Story of a Gladiator more than 10 minutes. That’s because it’s not exactly fun for those first few minutes. It’s after about 15 or 20 minutes that it really picks up, and that’s thanks in part to the game’s upgrade system.

Initially, all you have are basic attacks and movement. There are no fancy moves to start, and all you do during your initial bouts is walk up to enemies, swing your blade, and walk back to avoid getting hit. It’s not complex. But then, after you’ve played a few battles, gained some XP, and earned a decent chunk of change, you’re treated to a surprisingly detailed set of upgrades.

Your character has pretty slow movement to start, but you can essentially shape your warrior how you see fit by unlocking a dodge roll, or even the ability to dash around the map. On the offense side of things, you can equip your gladiator with a jumping sword attack or even a slicing maneuver that will decapitate your adversaries if it’s the killing blow. These moves all use up stamina, so you can’t just spam away to your heart’s content. You can, however, upgrade your stamina, allowing you to utilize these moves more effectively and more often.

Upgrading your gladiator is useful early on, but it becomes detrimental the deeper into the game you get. You’ll face waves of enemies armed with swords, shields, and spears, and these guys have no problem surrounding you and taking you down in mere seconds. Eventually you’ll take on tigers and lions, which are much quicker than the other gladiators. And at the end of each campaign, you’ll face an oversized boss that’ll require you to play carefully but offensively.

To shrug off Story of a Gladiator as just a no-frills single player arena brawler would be a great disservice to both the upgrade system and the game’s little nuances, which really add to the experience. For example, while battling, you can gain crowd favor as you deal death blows and rack up kills. This will prompt the audience to shower you with health items and gold, and it’ll increase your overall XP gains at the end of a match.

The hub world is filled with cool little treats, like shrines you can pray at and make offerings to receive some additional buffs. Depending on the shrine, you can gain faster movement or make enemies turn on each other. The buffs gained through shrines are time limited, and you’ll need to revisit shrines before entering new battles as these buffs wear out.

If you really want an edge in battle, you can even purchase a pet — a lion, a tiger, or a panther. These helpful critters will join you in battle and will deal damage to your opponents, and you can even purchase buffs that increase their attack rate and damage if you so choose. It’s a bit strange that your pets don’t take damage during battle, but that’s probably for the best as Story of a Gladiator can get pretty difficult in spots.

Speaking of which, the game offers a nice challenge, but it sometimes borders on unbalanced. Throughout the three main campaigns, you’re faced with a nearly perfect challenge — battles are tough, but upgrades, buffs, and learning the intricacies of combat will allow you to succeed. Then there are later stages that may seem too easy, and others that at times will feel nearly impossible. For me, it was during these moments when the game’s difficulty fluctuated dramatically that I found myself having the least amount of fun with it.

Are You Not (Mostly) Entertained?

I played through the three campaigns in Story of a Gladiator in one sitting. It’ll likely take you between three and four hours to reach the finale, and you can add a few hours onto that if you’re looking to purchase every upgrade and get a three-star rating in every stage. That said, while there’s plenty fun to be had here, I’d hardly recommend playing through the entire game in one sitting. Even with the upgrades, the flow of battle is pretty similar from match to match.

The most fun I had was messing around with the upgrades and unlocking new stuff in the hub world. That’s not to say that the battles aren’t fun, because they are, but after facing waves upon waves of enemies for the fifteenth or sixteenth time, the action does lose its appeal.

All in all, though, I did enjoy my time with Story of a Gladiator. I wasn’t compelled to get a three-star rating in every stage or play through the story on the hard difficulty setting. Once I was done, that was that. Still, if you’re looking for something to play in between things — maybe when you’ve only got a few minutes to kill before you go out or before bed — Story of a Gladiator is a fine choice.

Score: 7 out of 10

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