Ryse: Son of Rome is a beautiful game, stretching the breadth of Europe, you will encounter many wonderful and gorgeous places – and whilst there you will stab many people, repeatedly. From Crytek, the brains behind Crysis, Ryse is a roman tale that is very akin to the God of War trilogy in terms of its story and mechanics, but lacking in its final execution.
You play as Marius, a war toughened centurion whose sole purpose is to defend Rome – on many occasions single-handedly it would seem. Taken out of chronological order, you will be transported to many pivotal moments in his life that will shape the story and ultimately drive you to the place where the game begins. As the story progresses you are introduced to many characters, cutscenes and moments that push this story of revenge forward. I don’t want to spoil the innards of this tale, as I feel they are best experienced when you know less. Rest assured the story of Ryse: Son of Rome is both engaging and enjoyable. It may seem like this territory has been tread before (it has), but overall it held my attention span for the slender four-to-six hour campaign and certainly had me asking for more.
What Ryse also has going for it is looks. Everything about the visuals are simply unbelievable; it certainly has that wow factor you would like to associate with a console launch. Not only are the environments perfectly realised, from dense forests to shipwrecked beaches, the animations are also top-notch. Couple this with some truly stunning motion capture and voice acting and on the surface, Ryse is a simply wonderful example of what the Xbox One is capable of. It is a shame then that this attention to detail is let down by the distinct lack of combat variety.
Follow the leader
Whereas the God of War series has very well tuned combo mechanics that are contextual and provides many varying options to the player, Ryse is simply too linear. After only the first few levels you will have tried all that the combat has to offer. Combat consists of your standard strikes and blocks, X can be used for heavy or light attacked, depending on how long it’s held for. The same for Y, but this is used to parry enemies away using the shield. You then have A which is used for blocking. At first these utilised together create a very well crafted system, it’s just over time they become tired and stale with little variation on how enemies queue up awaiting to be killed next.
Once an enemy has been pummelled enough an indicator above their head gives feedback that an execution move is ready. Much like the quick time heavy trailer that launched back at E3, this is much of the same. There are a few different combinations on offer that are executed by pressing correct button, signified by an outer glow on your enemy combatant. The first few times you use these, you can’t help but be impressed.
The animations are perfect, each move is so life-like, you’d be fooled in thinking you were actually on the battlefield. The blood, sweat and tears of battle are ultimately all laid out on-screen, it makes each execution seem barbaric, and well grounded. Ultimately though, no matter what button is pressed during this, it matters not, as the execution will still play out, you’ll just receive less XP for your work. It’s a shame then, that this system could show a lot of promise, but overall becomes repetitive.
As you progress through the game you can purchase execution and skills upgrades, I’d have hoped that these would transfer to your game giving you more gory and spectacular kills, but it seemingly doesn’t. Later levels show the same strikes, stabs and melees that I’d seen countless times, and when fighting tens of enemies at once, seeing that same sliced neck, just became tiresome. The whole system is missing something, and it’s here where Ryse: Son of Rome shows itself as the launch title most expected it to be, the visuals seemingly promising more than the combat can deliver.
Writing cheques the gameplay can’t cash
On odd occasions Ryse does march off the beaten track. There are segments, where defensive formations are needed, shrouding your army in shields, deflecting arrows and throwing spears. As with most of the game, these rely rather heavily on the visuals to egg you on, none of the above actions truly require much user interaction and mostly offer a pretty passive experience.
There are also boss fights, which offer some variation to the combat, attacking differently to the normal rhythmic notion of your more standard enemies. However, these battles never really aspire to be anything other than a small upgrade over the standard fare, which is a true shame. The boss battles are hindered by regenerating health, elongating the battle, but never actually changing it up. Like most of the games combat, it can become a trial and error rather than actual ‘smarts’.
On the online side of the fence, we have “Gladiator mode”, which set inside the roman Colosseum pits you and a partner up against waves of enemies. Here you can select which god you wish to follow, and with that comes its own upgrades, which add another layer of diversity. Couple this with the drive to defend a human player, rather than AI and the multiplayer brings a more driven style of gameplay to the table, even if it is the same tired combat system behind it.
Overall, Ryse: Son of Rome suffers from style over substance. It’s visuals are truly awe-inspiring when compared to previous generation software and its a shame that this level of showmanship can’t be transferred to the combat. The story is great, I really enjoyed my play through. I cared for what Marius cared for, fought for his glory, for his people and ultimately I fought for Rome. It may have been a case of beauty and the beast, when looking taking in its looks and its gameplay, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Like a summer blockbuster, take this for what it is and enjoy it.