Ryse: Son of Rome is about a man’s journey for vengeance and the wholesale slaughter of those who get in the way of said vengeance. This is an important game for the Xbox One. It is the game that is supposed to visually justify your purchase of a $500 gaming console with the graphical fidelity Crytek games are known for.
Ryse is a spectacle with production values that could rival most Peter Jackson films and Crytek is setting the tone for the next generation on what games can and should look like. Entering the Coliseum packed with thousands of blood-thirsty fans for the first time is a sight to behold. The fog filled forests where barbarians in Minotaur helms stalk your men is intensely creepy. It’s exciting to see Crytek’s version of ancient Rome no matter how brutal. Be warned though, Ryse pulls no punches as far as showing off the latest in next-gen gore.
The game follows the life of Marius Titus from recruit to a General in the Roman Army. So when King Oswald’s Tribes threaten her borders, Marius does what he cans to preserve peace in his lands. The story has Marius recounting the events to Emperor Nero as to why the barbarians are invading their great city.
Marius himself early on loses his family after barbarians raid his hometown. In other words, Ryse is a standard story about revenge and predictable betrayals by folks in position of power who take advantage of Marius superb ability to kill people. You’ll see the twists come from a mile away which is unfortunate because the setting alone is enough to get people excited. Thankfully the mediocre story is saved by the incredible motion capture and voice acting.
The combat in Ryse in similar to what you would find in the Batman Arkham or Assassin’s Creed games, as much like those games, the fighting in this game has a rhythm to it. In Ryse’s case, the beat is loud and simple, much like a war drum. Marius is usually surrounded by folks who mean him harm. You’ll deflect, roll and hack through most of these foes with little trouble if you pay some attention.
The key is being able to figure out which enemies are more susceptible to which blows. Shielded foes will block of your attacks unless the shield is smashed away with a charged strong attack. Some enemies are more aggressive while others wait until you’re preoccupied with killing someone else to make their move. Your opponents, whether they be brutish axe-wielding barbarians or soldiers clad in heavy plate, will all telegraph their attacks in one way, shape or form.
Aside from unblockable attacks (in which make the enemies have a convenient red glow) memorization is key to juggling multiple baddies. Using your Focus ability will slow down time momentarily to score some extra hits and bypass any guard. Focus is a great tool in a pinch against dual-wielding foes who become a real challenge in the late game. One-on-one Boss battles also consist of basic pattern recognition or just rolling around until the boss misses the last hit of their combo.
The obscenely graphic executions is your reward for breaking down an opponent. When the camera zooms in during an execution, the look terror as you plunge your Gladius deep into some poor sod’s sternum is gruesomely satisfying. Give someone enough of a beatdown and you’ll see a small skull display over the head of the future dead guy. Once the execution is triggered, a color coordinated quick time event that you can’t fail will happen. If your timing is on point you’ll be rewarded points to upgrade Marius. The only real problem with the executions themselves is you can’t screw them up. The animation will continue regardless if you hit the right button. Which begs the question, why bother making executions a quick-time event if there is no consequence for failing aside from losing some experience points?
Upgrades are your typical beat-’em-up affair. Experience points can be thrown into increasing your maximum health or unlocking new executions which, chances are, you’ll be doing just that. There’s almost 100 different ways you could dismember, behead and impale someone, including double executions which by far are the most badass to perform. This is your incentive for stringing together longer combos and nailing the executions prompts since those yield the most experience points.
Ryse is a short affair, taking about 5-6 hours to run through the campaign on a normal difficulty. Honestly, 5-6 hours is the perfect length for this game to run before the constant combat grows stale. Marius’s lack of weapon variety really hurts the game’s replayability. It’s just a sword and shield, so you’ll perform the same X-X-Y or Y-Y-Y combo to handle most troublemakers. The late will make you work a bit by mixing up enemy types forcing you
However, the biggest problem with combat is that you almost never get a break from it. There are some breather moments from the repetitive gameplay, such as using a ballista to fend off war elephants. Other moments you’ll be entrenched in formation with your fellow Romans: you and a dozen Legionnaires slowly march towards a group of archers with your shields up waiting for right time to chuck a volley of spears at the ranged fools. These bits are nice but all too brief moments that feel remind you that is a bigger battle going on around you.
There’s also a fun online co-op where you and buddy can level up a gladiator and tackle the challenge of the Coliseum. Most of the time you just have to kill everything with the occasional “protect this” or “set this thing on fire” objectives that’ll randomly pop up. The co-op is a fine distraction but really doesn’t merit one or two playthroughs. The co-op could be a great standalone game for Crytek in the future if they decided that gladiators are popular in 2014. #moneymakingideas
Ryse: Son of Rome is a gorgeous game that gives us a great sense of what the Xbox One can accomplish in terms of graphics. Sadly, the shallow combat doesn’t shoot it passed your average 3rd person action game. But it isn’t a bad game. In fact, I think this is Crytek’s best work since Crysis. The beauty of Ryse makes up for a lot of the game’s flaws. Seeing what this game throws at you is worth playing through at least once.