It is often easy to dismiss browser games as being nothing but freemium cash-grabs, but every once and a while something is able to leave a fairly good impression on people. A growing genre for browser-based games is the MMORTS, a multiplayer online game coupled with real-time strategy elements. Many of these have become quite popular in the past few years, including Sparta: War of Empires.
More than just another 2.5-D MMORTS, Sparta: War of Empires throws a huge twist into the genre by emphasizing relations with your neighbors. A typical game would have you in charge of a Greek city-state, as you wage war against the likes of Xerxes and the Persians, but many of your fellow players, also in charge of their own city-states, may have something you need—a resource that's vital to your success or an item that will help you advance further into the game.
Where Sparta is unique, however, is how to obtain these resources. The standard "let's conquer everyone" option is always available, but it is possible to use diplomacy instead. Negotiating trades, borrowing resources, even stealing and exploiting players are on the table. While your city-state grows in prestige, so does your reach and your ability to go further in the game. All of your options, since you are dealing with a lot of players at once, need to be considered.
That does set it apart as a real-time strategy game, despite the mechanics under the hood resembling the standard RTS mold. Every unit has a cost, usually a combination of resources such as wood, bronze, and wheat, or gold coins, the second in-game currency that can be purchased by the player with real cash. All buildings and units utilize a combination of the three primary resources, while hero characters are gold exclusive and have fantastic abilities.
Overall, it is possible to play through Sparta without relying on purchasing gold, although like all free-to-play models, mileage varies regarding how much time and effort you want to put into the game without it. The question of time vs money is more or less what you need to decide when committing to a game like Sparta, but thankfully the game does offer you many chances to pick up gold by completing missions.
Since it is a browser game, graphically the design reflects older RTS titles, such as Age of Empires—primarily an isometric, sprite based world. Fights are not in real time, since individual troops are impossible to showcase. Thankfully, lots of hand-drawn artwork is present to give Sparta a slicker presentation. It is a mix of actual Greek design aesthetics, mixed in with some fantastical elements from Frank Miller's 300—a solid combination.
If you'd like to play the game, visit the Sparta: War of Empires official site!