Ryse: Son of Rome aims high, but fails to ryse!
Being a launch title for a new console is a hard thing, being a great launch title now that's even harder. The Xbox One launched two months ago with a pretty strong line-up of games, one of these being Ryse: Son of Rome. I am going to say it, it is a good game, not great by a longshot, but also not extremely bad like people have been saying.
Developed by the amazing guys over at Crytek, Ryse: Son of Rome is a third person action-adventure hack 'n'slash game which tells the interesting ryse of Marius Titus. This is his story and the way it is told it's very intriguing. From a young idealistic soldier turned to a badass Centurion fueled by the desire to end every one of the Barbarians who murdered his loving family...if only that was the case. After years of fighting abroad and decimating the Barbarians, Marius returns to a new Rome, a dark one plagued by death and oppression. The Emperor Nero, yes the mad one we have read in history books, has been slaying everyone across the Empire to keep his power intact. Casualties of these "political killings", as you may have guessed by now, were also Marius family as he comes to understand. So with a personal vendetta Marius sets out to kill Nero and bring down the entire "evil" Roman Empire single-handedly...
You'll know what happens, you'll see things from miles away and you'll understand how this story will end. It is predictable as any revenge/do the right thing stories we have seen so many times in the past, but that doesn't mean that it is bad. In contrary the story is really good and how it is told makes it even better. You feel Marius pain and rage, you get him, you understand his actions and you want him to succeed, to become the Son of Rome. And experiencing that journey, his ascension, even though it is a short one, is fantastic.
It is even more fantastic when the story-telling is combined with the insane production values Crytek has thrown into it. From the insanely beautiful graphics and motion captured animations to the fantastic voice acting and OST, Ryse: Son of Rome is a true next gen experience.
The level of detail on the characters, the physics of the cloth or on the armor parts where every part, from the smallest to the biggest, moves is just insane. Marius looks, moves and sounds like a true Centurion or better say exactly like someone would imagine a Centurion. Facial expressions are just as amazing as everything else making Marius look like a real person.
The environments are just amazing. The city of Rome is extremely well designed, with details in every corner, from anti-Nero writings on the walls to glorious and magnificent statues everywhere. Castles, forests, the beach, each of the environments is unique. And the details of the materials like stone, gravel, dirt or marble combined with the dynamic lighting make Ryse a jaw-dropping game.
The scale is also insane. While playing the game in the background you'll see the Colosseum in all its glory, giant emperor statues and many other great scenes that immerse you into this world making you part of this great city. Great landscapes are also visible when you are at the top of a hill or some other high place.
Now before the game released the devs released a detail about the game that fired up the whole internet, the 900p resolution deal. See, you remember it, everyone remembers it. People all over the internet, me included, mocked and trashed the Xbox One and Ryse for the 900p max resoulution. We said all kind of ugly things, things that now I am not proud I said and if I could take everything back, I would. The game looks absolutely stunning and it runs at a fantastic 60fps making the whole experience great. The combat flows, the animations are fantastic and the set-pieces well, jaw-dropping.
I can talk hours upon end about how insanely good Ryse: Son of Rome looks. If only the gameplay was as good as the graphics... Now don't get me wrong, I really liked the combat Ryse offered, but that's it. For hours on end that is what you will do, slash, kick and bash the same five guys. As I said it is really cool, but only for the first hour that is. There are some small moments that are meant to break the monotony and the utter repetitiveness of the combat, but these sequences fail to do that. The ballista sequences are well, turret sequences and we know how much we love them... Even the boss fights are not that engaging. Once you learn the pattern which most of the times is really easy to memorize, it loses the cool effect.
Many games nowadays feature dumbed down melee combat that requires no skill at all to pull off insane combos or killstreaks. Ryse is part of this group with a very simplistic combat system. Light and heavy attacks buttons, a dodge button and a block button that if timed right will result in a parry. That's all you are going to do, rinse and repeat. They promised it to be something deep, but in reality as simple as it can get. There are no combos meaning that it doesn't matter what buttons you press, in the end you will get then same attacks. However they kinda make up for it with the execution system. Once an enemy is damaged enough you can trigger the execution which plays out like a QTE. Then the enemy will flash a color which corresponds to one of the buttons on the controller and you have to press it. But even if you don't press the button the execution will still go through with no penalty apart from losing points in the perks system.
There are four perks which can be activated using the D-Pad. So you have XP boost, damage boos, health regeneration and focus which works as kinda a Bullet Time ability where time slows down for the enemies, but you still move like normally and deal bonus damage. The other perks work like basically cheats; if you are low on health you activate the perk and execute someone. If you press the prompted buttons you gain a lot of the health back, if you didn't press right, you still get something and the same goes for the other two perks. Everything is easy, simple and it gets repetitive after a while since there is little to no challenge whatsoever.
But still it does not become boring or a chore to mow down groups of barbarians and doing that is the gore and satisfaction of the executions and the combat itself. It feels uber satisfying when Marius slashes someone or when he cuts someone's arm off even though it looks like a steak from Tom & Jerry. There are 100 different executions in the game and each one is beautiful to see even though you don't really have much control during them. It would have been even more gory and amazing if the blood gushed out like in the movie Ninja Assassin, but since the germans and australians don't want that, we can't have that!
What else? Yes, a major drawback of the game, in my opinion, is the lack of equipment. Marius has only his trusty gladius and sometimes a lance to use in combat and three, if I am not wrong, shields. Now that's a pity when you fight dudes with broadaxes or stuff like that and when you see that amazingly beautiful weapon laying in the ground but you can't pick it up, it just hurts. Ah the missed possibilities... Another drawback is the lack of exploration and sense of freedom. As I said above, Rome looks gorgeous and the places you visit are incredibly detailed and hurts not being able to go that room in that palace or that corner of the city. You feel like you are in a ride and everything is linear, no side objectives, nothing to find or collect, it's, again, a missed opportunity.
Microtransactions, the word everyone loves to hear in a game... Yes these are present in Ryse: Son of Rome but don't worry, they are not intrusive or bullsh*ty like you might expect. The microtransactions are locked within the multiplayer or co-op part of the game. So for real money you can buy fake coins you can use to buy booster for your online character. How does the multiplayer works? Well, you along with a friend are gladiator and you fight for glory inside the Colosseum. It is basically survival, but with missions or challenges thrown here and there. Is it fun? The double executions are fun to watch and pull off, but everything else, the melee combat, the weapons, feels just the same as the singleplayer.
Ryse: Son of Rome wants to be something big and memorable in every category, but it fails when it comes to gameplay and story. It looks absolutely stunning, but it has an uninspiring and repetitive combat which is the only thing you will have to do for 5 hours. In the end this game is more a statement of the crazy graphics that the next generation Xbox can handle rather than an interesting overall experience, but that doesn't mean that you should skip it!
Thanks for reading!