In between bouts of Bioshock I am leveling a Roman gladiator through the new (to me) browser based online RPG "Gladiatus, Hero of Rome". TO be more accurate I am levelling my gladiator while playing Bioshock. How is this possible you may ask. Have I suddenly developed ambidextrous multi-boxing skills?
Not really. You see Gladiatus is a game of fairly limited interactivity. For example my heroic Gladiator is cleaning out stables to earn a few gold coins as we speak, a task that doesn't require any explicit attention from me. Indeed he is quite happy to do that while my computer is switched off. Quite a lot of Gladiatus involves logging in asking your character to do something and then coming back when the job is done.
In addition to sweeping out stables your gladiator can explore a number of dangerous locations and undertake quests in order to build up his skills, wealth and equipment. Of course the real purpose of the game is to exploit these skills in order to vanquish fellow human players in the Roman arena. A strict ladder system is enforced you can only progress by fighting and vanquishing one of the four players immediately above you in the ladder. Given that my humble gladiator was ranked around 10,000th on his server when he joined you can imagine the long hard slog it will be for him to fight his way to the top. There is some light at the end of the tunnel however. I suspect that only every 10th number is actually allocated because he seems to be jumping in leaps of 40 places. Also many of the lower numbers are non-players who signed up and never leveled their characters so beating them is no problem at all.
In addition to the ladder you can also issue a challenge to any other named opponent for a small fee. I don't think this allows you to make progress on the ladder but does allow for grudge matches. By the way challenges are never declined and matches are immediately resolved. If you are challenged while you are away from your computer you will have a message when you return telling your whether you won or lost.
In addition to combat there are a number of vendors and there is an active market place for users to buy and sell their treasures. There is also the most unforgiving auction house I have ever come across in an online game. If you are outbid in an auction you lose the full amount of your bid. Players cannot place items for sale in the auction house but instead various high level goods appear for sale. Since auctions last for a random, undisclosed amount of time actually acquiring an item without losing your bid is an exercise in brinkmanship.
The game is a bit confusing at first and there is a lack of documentation but with the aid of the active forum you can quickly muddle it out. It seems to be very popular judging by the level of forum activity and the fact that there are already seven active servers with apparently thousands of players on each.
The thing is quite addictive and I find it an amusing diversion to have it going in one tab of my browser while I am looking at other things. Sadly, having reached the dizzy heights of arena rank 8751 I must admit that the whole game is ultimately rather pointless. Progress in the game is ruled almost entirely by the clock - you can only fight one arena opponent every 15 minutes for example and missions take a set period of real time. You quickly figure out that the key to progress is to adopt a slavish schedule of logging on regularly in order to start the next task. Alarm bells rang when I browsed the forums and noticed that high level players have to indulge in "account sitting": playing someone else's account in order to maintain their rate of progress while they are away. Ah well - there is always progress quest.
By the way Gladiatus is a commercial enterprise from a German company called Gameforge . Although the game is free to play they have several ways of earning their money. Firstly there is the option of purchasing premium mode for around €3 per month. This gives you a daily wage and also reduces the time between fights and missions. Effectively premium mode allows you to progress far more quickly. In addition to premium mode there is also the option to purchase "rubies" for real cash which can be traded for high end items in game. Significantly rubies allow the user to buy out high level items from the auction house without risking the loss of their bid. I should also point out that the terms and conditions have a clause which reserves the right to give your contact details to third parties for promotional purposes. I haven't received anything from anyone other than Gameforge yet but if you do decide to join the game you might want to use an unimportant email account to register.
You can try Gladiatus for yourself here (The link is safe but I will receive some notional kudos for directing you to it. If you have a problem with that you can go in through the front door by googling Gladiatus.)
By the way if you do create a character on server number 7 please feel free to issue a challenge to Hortius (currently level 4). Most of my arena battles to date have been against dormant accounts and it would be nice to fight a few live players.