I fear it was always fated so.
The gods have smiled upon me, for I played Spartacus Legends with the patch update and not during launch. According to user complaints and other reviews, the game was virtually unplayable in late June, with numerous instances of game-freezing glitches and online servers that were often busy, down, or unstable. My experience was far more pleasant, though the patch didn't solve the inherent design flaws—the permanent scars, if you will—of this free-to-play fighter.
As the name suggests, Spartacus Legends is based on the popular, gory abs-fest Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It's a Roman historical drama based on the gladiators, or slaves purchased to be warriors, who train within the walls of the ludus and fight in the arena for glory and gold. As such, your goal is to fill your own ludus with powerful gladiators, befit them with superior weapons and equipment, and then conquer each city district's challengers with the fury of the gods.
Devleoper Kung Fu Factory isn't particularly known for creating stellar fighters, having made the likes of Supremacy MMA and Bellator: MMA Onslaught, so the free-the-play concept makes sense for them, especially since part of the point is to spread the word about Spartacus to as many people as possible. The fighting gameplay itself is adequate with gladiators that have varying weapon styles and corresponding movesets, challenges that earn them perks, a system that rewards evasions and long-range moves, and equipment unlockables that become more powerful as your ludus gains higher fame.
This momentum, however, is neutered with the pacing and the polish. None of the animations nor physics feel complete, the slow-motion counters become dull quickly, there's no local multiplayer, and loading times are obnoxiously long. If the game freezes or disconnects from the online servers for any reason, you can lose your current fighter permanently. The combat system also encourages players to spam the same set of four moves. In multiplayer you'll find the occasional Crixus player using the same combination that has ridiculous recovery rate, and in single-player your opponents will soon become far more advanced in rating than you are.
In fact, by the time your fame reaches its eighth rank your gladiators will remain at around rating 120-150 while your rivals will leap to rating 220-250. Not even some of the supposed Legendary fighters designed after the protagonists in the Starz show have a rating that high. That's not even mentioning how difficult it can be to unlock Legendary fighters in the first place. Not only do you have to defeat them in battle, but you then have to wait until they appear in the randomized slave house, which refreshes in half-hour increments, and then purchase them with premium currency.
And that leads us to the questionable free-to-play model. Now, Spartacus Legends can be completed without using any gold whatsoever and can operate completely on using silver, but that usually means playing it safe by grinding away in less challenging districts. Since it takes considerable silver to revive a gladiator if he is executed in combat instead of being defeated normally, you might do this anyway. But that doesn't let you play as Spartacus or Crixus any earlier, as their challenge only unlocks after defeating the most difficult challenges in the game.
The incentive to use gold to purchase higher-level boosts, higher-level equipment, and higher-level characters is not in balance with the support for those who wish to play the game without purchasing anything. Even with all the gold-purchased extras, the rating between your fighters and your opponents remains stark, so you can imagine the difference in rating without gold. Sure, you can spend the gold naturally earned with each level up in fame, but you'll want to save it for unlocking Legendary gladiators. Those with the money to purchase gold, though, will be at a clear advantage online. It's a pay-to-win scheme.
That said, if you can ignore the multiplayer and prevent yourself from using gold unless it's absolutely necessary, Spartacus Legends is a satisfactory free-to-play fighter for what it is. Of course, that's a tall order when the game wants you to spend money on premium currency anywhere and everywhere. Shouldn't this game make you feel less like Batiatus and more like, you know, Spartacus?