Ryse: Son of Rome Review
Crytek is known for pushing PC gaming to the limits with their Crysis series, so hearing that they would be headlining an exclusive launch title for the Xbox One left us very excited to see how they would handle the next gen hardware. We couldn't wait to see how Crytek would push the Xbox One hardware with the their newest project, Codename Kingdoms. After a couple name changes, Ryse: Son of Rome is meant to inspire the Leonidas or Maximus in us all. So let's see how this Roman army epic handles the next gen gladiator arena.
We must get one thing off of our chest, Ryse: Son of Rome's visuals are varied and beautiful, but its gameplay is immensely hollow. At first, Ryse captivated us and hinted at the capabilities of having a brand new system. We were genuinely awe-struck at some of the things we witnessed, until we started noticing a habit that was occurring throughout everything we were experiencing: quick-time events. Of course Ryse would look amazing, because it plays like one giant QTE.
Ryse follows a traditional formula: enter a room/outdoor area, kill every enemy, repeat. Every once in a while, you might have to use a catapult or some type of turret, but there's not much else to Ryse besides that. Despite how repetitive it looks, Ryse looks absolutely fantastic. As expected with Crytek, the forests and backdrops Marius Titus visits in his conquests are absolutely phenomenal; if you want to show off the capabilities of the Xbox One to your friends, put in Ryse. Ryse's presentation is nothing short of a spectacle. Whether you are exploring parts of Rome that are under attack by Barbarians or at war overseas, Ryse's look is exactly what we were expecting of the Xbox One.
Just as Ryse's visuals are off the charts, so is its sound. The music is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's work in Gladiator. But it's the sound effects of Ryse that really boom. Ryse is meant to be played on a high-end television accompanied with surround sound. Just as Battlefield 4 attempted to show off the Xbox One's capabilities, Ryse is where it truly succeeds and just wowed us in terms of its overall presentation.
The execution animations Marius pulls off in combat are cringe-worthy in terms of savagery and left us genuinely surprised at how awesome they looked. Centurion brutality is cranked all the way up as you'll be chopping off limbs, bashing shields into faces and slitting throats with your gladius. Unfortunately, these executions are plagued by Ryse's number one flaw: repetitiveness. If you were to Youtube about a minute's worth of execution footage, you will have spoiled about 90% of Ryse's gameplay for yourself. In other words, limb dismemberment, shield bashing and throat slicing are going to be a very common occurrence throughout Marius' ventures to the point of redundancy. And these things will get noticeably old rather quickly.
As previously stated, the rinse and repeat effect of Ryse's level layout do not add any sort of depth to its already repetitive combat system. Its controls are what you would expect from third person action titles - X is sword attacks, Y is a shield bash (Ryse's version of a heavy attack, used to break shields/defenses), B is a dodge/roll, and A is parry/block. RB does an area of effect stun based on Marius' focus meter (which refills from executing enemies). And LB will call archers or order the other soldiers around you according to the circumstances of the level. There are also a few sequences where you must throw javelins at archers and other long-range enemies by holding the Left Trigger, having Marius automatically lock-on, and hitting the Right Trigger to throw, resulting in a perfect hit nearly every time. This can be used to take out some of the ground melee forces early, which saves you time on having to whittle down another enemy and execute him.
You will have to fight groups of enemies, but the combat is nowhere as smooth as it is in the Assassin's Creed series where you can engage multitudes of enemies at the same time. Instead, you must simply hit the A button each time you see an enemy trying to swing at you. As long as you hit A, Marius will automatically block the attack, giving himself enough room to use the X and Y buttons to attack a single enemy. Once an enemy is weakened, an icon will appear over his head, signalling for you to press the Right Trigger in order to start an execution animation. During an execution, the enemy will have a colored outline of either blue or yellow, signifying which button for you to press. Marius will either stab or bash them according to which color it was, then another color outline will appear. These executions are simply quick-time events, switching back and forth between pressing the X or Y button. Even if you get the color wrong, the execution still takes place, you simply get less points and do not get the execution bonus.
For some strange reason (the multiplayer explains it as devotion to certain gods), Marius gets bonuses for executing enemies according what bonus he has selected with the D-pad. You may only have one bonus active at a time, such as bonus exp, health replenishment or bonus focus. Nevertheless, executions keep the party going. But this party is one that gets old rather fast.
The gladiator-based multiplayer mode of Ryse: Son of Rome is surprisingly enjoyable. Unfortunately, it is plagued by the single player mode's same detriments. You can play with a partner, and select specific god bonuses (instead of choosing with the D-pad) to benefit you and your partner. The arena level will continuously change, offering a few arena-specific executions based on where you are and what traps are around you. And there are also combo-executions that you and your partner can pull off on an enemy at the same time. Even with a partner and the awesome combo-executions, the fighting mechanics of Ryse get old rather quickly.
We must say that Ryse offers no long-lasting value, it is definitely a renter at best, but it is a beautiful one. Once you complete Marius' story mode in about five to six hours and try out the co-op multiplayer once or twice, there isn't much else to it. Ryse does an excellent job at showcasing the capabilities of the Xbox One itself, but it lacks any real substance. Marius' story is intriguing and kept us captivating along with the magnitude of how epic his battles are, but the actual combat of Ryse does not carry it enough to hold any type of replayability beyond its single player campaign. Its gameplay is repetitive from beginning to end and the entire adventure felt like one big, glorified quick-time event.
This article is based on a digital copy of Ryse: Son of Rome that was purchased for review.