Game review: Domina – thumbs up for gladiator management, thumbs down for lack of save option
Spend hours overseeing gladiator training and choosing who to send to the arena, then click furiously to fight or simply spectate like Caesar – but inability to save progress is a serious blow
Remember Oliver Reed in Gladiator? The classically trained British thespian played Proximo, the former gladiator who turns former slaves into warriors so that they can die with honour. Everyone wanted to be Russell Crowe’s Maximus, but Proximo held the real power – the ability to profit from death, to win the crowd, to shape destinies.
PC game Domina puts you in Proximo’s shoes, leading the charge as you buy new fighters, prepare them for gladiatorial combat and reap the rewards of the public’s bloodlust. It’s a brilliant concept – I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before, especially considering the many politically charged ramifications inherent in Ancient Rome, which the game more than plays up.
Wheeling, dealing, scheming, back-stabbing – it’s all here, as you weigh the many moral choices available in this world of swords and sandals. It’s like Football Manager with its front- and back-room dealings, but with greasy Senate types and beefcakes beating each other senseless instead. Just like the footballing franchise, how involved you get is completely up to you.
You can plot for days on how to beat your higher-up adversaries, spend hours managing gladiator training and morale, deliberate over who will be the next sent to their death, and then click furiously as you take the fighting into your own hands. Or you can simply take a back seat and be a spectator like Caesar in all this madness.
And what a sight it all is, especially if you choose to take it easy. The brilliant pixel art harks back to long-gone combat games such as Joust, but with enough modern detail and charm. Crowds circle the fighters in the stands, the emperor watches from a distance and the brutality of the barbaric acts are displayed in delightful 8-bit form.
It’s all fun and glorious gaming – until you realise you can’t save any of it. The developers have purposely not included a “save and quit” function, so that players can see how they progress by making different choices. It’s a noble idea, sort of, but it doesn’t really work. Until the inevitable patch fixes it, this is a massive flaw in an otherwise solid game.
Domina is easily the best gladiator-management game I’ve ever played – and also the only one. But until we can reap its rewards the day after earning them, it won’t be dominating our gaming cycle any time soon.