Ryse: Son of Rome is an Xbox One launch title where players take command of Marius Titus in an epic tale of revenge as you battle through and against those who threaten your family and the great city of Rome. The game looks as great as any you’ve ever seen, though this alone may not be a good enough reason to spend your launch window money on.
There’s no doubting that Ryse is a spectacle without peer. Indeed, the characters are brightly detailed, down to the hair on one’s arm. They are all incredibly well-animated and realistic. Tried and true and cliche as it is, you really do feel like you are in a movie. Environments are incredibly realized and never monotonous. The city of Rome is depicted in a number of both beautiful and war-torn fashions, and look absolutely phenomenal. Outside of city walls you will enter forests, beaches, and rocky paths, each of which is painted with exquisite detail and, if nothing else, will keep you entertained just by looking at them. Hell, in a game that spews more blood than there is water in the oceans, even the blood is pretty to ogle over. Though the game is very gory, not just because of blood. There is definitely something more squeamish players ought to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to purchase.
With a beautifully realized world comes an equally engaging story. At its core, the plot follows Marius Titus as he exacts revenge upon those who have wronged him. With a few unexpected twists and turns, the story moves at a perfect pace: fast enough to keep you glued, yet not to so fast as to be confusing or hard to follow. Indeed, Ryse is a pretty short tale (6 to 8 hours, depending on individual play speed). However, it moves at the pace you might expect a story of war-torn vengeance to move along and it never overstays its welcome. Rarely, if ever, does the plot become stagnant and annoying to trudge through. Right when players become comfortable with what is going on, a new turn is made and excitement is renewed.
However, while Ryse has all the makings of a phenomenal piece of art or film, it falls a bit short as a game. Gameplay is actually a bit reminiscent of the more basic combat you’ll come across in the Batman: Arkham or Assassin’s Creed games but boils down to more hack-and-slash than either of those two. Indeed, combat consists of attacking, blocking, deflecting, and dodging. Unfortunately, in a game that relies on such simple mechanics from start to finish, upgrades are practically nonexistent. There are no real unlockable combos or techniques to be had. Rather, upgrades come in the form of passives. Players use their “Valor” (points you use to upgrade) to increase such things as amount of HP, XP, or Focus obtained from an execution. As such, most of the combat skills you learn at the beginning of the game are what you’re still using by game’s end. The most skill and technique advancement you’ll really learn to master are “perfect” hits and countering enemies who attack in unusual patterns–both particularly easy feats that don’t require much skill or training. Even the relatively infrequent boss battles are pretty mundane, as most of them do not add much to diversify themselves from standard enemies other than having an extended health bar and the occasional interrupting cinematic.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the combat in Ryse is not bad by any means. If you take it at face value as a hack-and-slash and mix it in with some flashy executions, it’s actually quite fun. The problem here is that it is simple combat that never really changes; from beginning to end, you’re doing things the same way against different enemies with an upgrade system that never really makes it feel like you have upgraded much of anything.
However, there are some instances when gameplay shifts a bit out of its repetitiveness. As was well-advertised, you will sometimes be in command of your legion of soldiers where you will advance forward to block arrows or rush a group of enemies. Granted, these situations are simple in mechanics and are little else than timing when to raise shields and when to throw pilae, but they occasionally breathe fresh air into an otherwise stale system. Another instance of gameplay that shifts things up is when you are at the command of a scorpion, a stationary bow-and-arrow rig. Here you take something of a first person shooter style of play where you shoot arrows at barbarians, sometimes in support of your line of men at defense during more grand-scale battles. Again, these are small shifts in gameplay, but they’re fun and noteworthy all the same.
The game’s multiplayer system, while unique and interesting, lies a bit flat and shallow. Essentially you and one other player team up and enter the Coliseum to complete objectives and spill blood. At the outset players can customize their gladiator, and prior to entering battle, may select a god who grants them some special powers and abilities. In the case of Mars you get a wild fire burst that burns and knocks back enemies, or in the case of Apollo you can regain some lost health. Selecting a supporting God and having a partner in combat are really all that stand out from the multiplayer. Some nifty things can come from selecting a God and having a partner allows for some different executions, but otherwise, Ryse’s multiplayer suffers from the same flaws that single-player combat does: limited to simple and repetitive hack-and-slash with some flashy execution sequences.
All in all, Ryse is not a bad game. It is actually a pretty good game-not a great game, but a good game. It looks beautiful and has a wonderful story to tell, but it is clear that too much effort was put into these aspects, regrettably at the expense of gameplay. More often than not, Ryse seems to forget that it is a game and not a movie. As such, regardless of a wonderful plot and stunning visuals, combat runs a bit dry and stiff. Luckily, because the game is so short, this monotony of combat won’t drag on, as the game will be over by the time you start to really get tired of it. At its core, Ryse is beautiful, flawed, but still enjoyable. Xbox One owners should definitely give Ryse a chance. Eventually. Maybe just not now, nor at its current price tag.
[+Beautiful visuals][+Engaging story][-Repetitive, stagnant combat][-Lackluster multiplayer]