Ryse:Son of Rome (or as my girlfriend and I call it, the stabby stabby game) isn’t what you would call a great game. However, it is a tremendously fun game game that’s great to fire up after a bad day at work to blow off some steam. To put it another way, Ryse doesn’t advance video games as art but is a cathartic stress reliever.
As Marius Titus, you are a loyal Roman who joins the legion after watching barbarians murder his family. As a member of the legion he is charged with protecting the empire from internal and external threats. As you play through you’ll help suppress a barbarian revolt in Britannia and struggle to keep Rome from collapsing in upon itself. The game has some loose historical ties but the plot is about as historically accurate as the movie Titanic. You know there’s a boat, an iceberg and a lot of people die, but everything else is fabricated to tell a tale. This gets in the way a bit as the game journeys into mythology.
Marius’ tale is stretched out along six to eight hours of gameplay and while the action gets repetitive at times it never felt like you were wading through a lot of filler. I played the game in several 60 to 90-minute gameplay intervals which helped break up the monotony. Longer playing sessions revealed the super repetitive nature of the combat. While that sounds like a knock on the game I still found there to be a lot of fun to be had within the game's confines.
The combat is largely Marius wading into a battlefield where he is surrounded by two or three enemies. Once you defeat one, another one will take his place until you advance to the next area of the level. The strategy emerges in the order and method for dispatching each enemy type and this does make a fairly dull scenario a bit more engaging.
Crytek weaves in a few other gameplay types where you have to make decisions on how to have your troops and archers line up. This does make a bit of difference in how battles play out but they are too far between to feel like a meaningful part of the game.
In addition to these sequences there are a few where Marius must form his troops into a phalanx and march on enemies shooting arrows at them. Here you alternate between turtling under the interlocked shields and having the troops throw spears at the enemies. While these sequences are fun initially they wore out their welcome by the third or fourth time the game introduced them.
The fun for me though came in the actual combat and the various maneuvers that Marius pulls off while he’s working his way through hordes of enemies. The combat feels a bit like the system that Rocksteady built for their Batman games with a touch of God of War thrown in for flavor.
After you complete the game there’s a co-op mode where you and a friend wander through grand arenas, fighting it out with hordes of bad guys. It’s a decent experience but you’re still locked in the game’s fight-a-group-of-bad-guys-and-advance-to-the-new-area mentality.
The face buttons are fairly simple you can attack with your sword or shield, defend against incoming attacks, and dodge. There are combos to be had and the combat flows well once you get the hang over everything.
Once you get enemies near death you can trigger an execution quick time event. These events involve only your shield and sword attacks and are impossible to fail. You can earn higher rewards for the executions (either in health, experience, focus, or damage) by completing them completely but this still feels a bit off.
There are light role-playing elements buried in the game as you can convert experience from executions, skills, and new executions into upgraded rewards. There are some weird user experience decisions in how these reward menus are laid out which can make it difficult to find out where you can put the new executions. Of course if you’re so inclined you can buy experience with real-world money and upgrade everything without playing it. I was able to get almost everything upgraded in one playthrough but it is an option for those without a lot of patience.
As a launch title the system has to incorporate at least a few features which show off the bells and whistles of the new Xbox One hardware. In Ryse’s case this is the ability to issue voice commands at a few moments in the game. I will admit that yelling for the archers to fire a volley of arrows is a bit immersive but I only did so when home alone with my dog (who still gave me a weird look when I did it). There is a button command that you can use instead but it requires a long press of the left bumper which is an interesting decision.
Graphically Ryse is one of the best-looking games on the market and one of those games you pull out to show your friends what all the Xbox One fuss is about. The level of detail on the Roman soldiers' armor is impressive and even the barbarians' animal pelts have amazing-looking fur. All of the combat and bloodshed is set in some of the most visually stunning levels I’ve seen in a decade. This level of detail and fidelity does act as a good reward for the time you spend waiting for the levels to load.
Also raising the bar is the voice acting and music. There are certain places where Ryse nearly crosses the uncanny valley with some of the digital acting in the game. The level of detail and performances in some of the digital actors is stunning, especially the work on Nero’s son Basillius.
There’s part of me that thinks Crytek has a potential franchise with Ryse – that a second iteration with some new moves, new gameplay elements, and some tweaks could turn into this generation's Gears of War (or Resistance). Time and sales numbers will tell if Crytek gets that chance but Ryse, while flawed, is still a lot of fun in chunks.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.