Ryse is the premier launch title for the Xbox One. The only new IP out of the three major exclusives (Dead Rising 3, Forza 5 and Ryse) and the most obviously next-gen looking game visually in Microsofts catalogue, the pressure is on for Ryse. Created by Crytek, famous for their capabilities in pushing visuals to unseen heights previously with Crysis and the original Far Cry, Ryse reaches similar levels of fidelity but in an unexpected turn of events also represents Crytek’s best storytelling to date.
Ryse: Son of Rome tells the tale of Marius Titus, Roman soldier turned centurion, turned general. The story is told by Marius in flashbacks to the Emperor Nero. Those looking for historical accuracy are going to be disappointed as Nero is in his 60’s (having only lived until his 30’s) and has two sons. The game also begins with Rome under siege by barbarians all the way from Britannia but Ryse purposefully sacrifices historical accuracy for the story it wishes to tell. I was glad to see Crytek still ground their depiction of Rome in a reality but one dictated by them. Marius’s armor is particularly stylized once he becomes a centurion and the Barbarians suffer from mixing Germanic, Britannic and African traits but for the most part everything is relatively believable within their universe. Looking past this the story ends up grabbing from many popular media depictions of Roman decadence and brutality but it ultimately makes Marius’ an interesting enough character and his plight worthwhile due to fantastic voice acting and incredible animation bar some cliched writing. The story is short but is interesting with some great late game twists and a good ending that doesn’t try to shove sequels down players throats. It is both a detriment to the game and a compliment that it left me wanting more, there are plenty of cutscenes but over the course of a 5-6 hour campaign I wanted to see more of Marius and more of Crytek’s Rome.
Visually and aurally the game is stunner beyond compare on current or next generation consoles. Crytek’s skill is on display at its peak with Ryse, featuring some of the best facial animation and motion capture seen in a video game to date. The locale’s are lavishly detailed and every piece of Marius’ segmented armor moves with his attacks. Battles range from huge to intimate, both absolutely stunningly represented, from the siege of Rome and York to being ambushed by masked barbarians in the dark woods of the North. Every level has a distinct feel and visual style and to go with the incredible design is an impeccable score worthy of any motion picture. The sound is absolutely brutal, every bone broken and limb sliced is rendered with loving detail in the audio department and as I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is of equal quality.
With the presentation being impeccable one would expect the same for the gameplay but depending on your stomach for repetition that might just be a wrong assumption. I loved Ryse, combat is singularly frustrating and genius. Relying on a single set of four buttons making up your entire arsenal of combos one might believe it would get stale. A button is a block that has to be timed, otherwise it doubles as a taunt, causing Marius to bash his shield with his gladius. The X button makes for your basic sword slash, the Y for your shield bash and B for a dodge roll. Combat instead relies on flow and creating high combos by timing strikes and blocks, mixing your slash with your shield bash, making for some incredibly satisfying and brutal beat downs on your enemies. Certain attacks can only be dodged with the roll and enemies mix up your moves by requiring the removal of their shields or having two swords and attacking in quick succession. Once an enemy has been suitably bloodied, they can be executed. The executions are where Ryse will divide gamers, seen by most by quick time events, they require the player to do finishing moves on enemies by matching face buttons with colored prompts indicated by the enemies bodies being highlighted. Where they evolve beyond quick time events is that they have timing windows, technically they will always work but they will not always have benefits and that can be devastating. I found memorizing executions and timing my attacks perfectly was satisfying and empowering. The game matches the executions with attacks, yellow marking shield and blue marking sword. When Marius goes at them with the blade the color will correspond, it allows you to be able to preempt what comes next. If the executions could be failed it would ruin the flow of combat and make it a trying experience rather than a satisfying and rewarding one. I found the gameplay loop of moving from enemy to enemy, bashing and using sword attacks to keep them from parrying or dodging and setting them up for double finishers was addicting. After two play-throughs and hours of multiplayer gameplay I have yet to get bored of the flow of Ryse’s combat despite its apparent simplicity on the outside.
When Ryse divulges from straight combat is where it runs into some of its weaker elements. Throwing Pilum at enemies works but it is simple and under utilized in actual combat and for the most part is used in repetitive sections where Marius must take out archers with them. Other sections involve using ballistae that fire at hilarious speeds (although they have to for the amount of enemies that swarm in these sections), using kinect voice commands (which surprisingly work great but don’t really change gameplay other than freeing your fingers from an extra button press) and working with other troops in the famous Testudo formation. The ballista sections make for a nice break and some impressive set pieces but can ultimately last too long, making you salivate at the thought of jumping back into action. The Testudo sections are slow but can range from awesome to boring beyond belief with some taking place in massive battles while others oddly resulting in just walking in formation for a time before separating. The sections both enhance and hurt Ryse at times but I found them to be nice diversions and making me feel ready for more of the base combat. Missions are varied enough with defense sections and plenty of differing objectives, keeping the short campaign from ever getting stale and remaining satisfying throughout.
Ryse has multiplayer, a two player horde mode that takes place in the famous Colosseum. The floor plan changes every round, making for random objectives and battles with each game. The arena changes keep things interesting and the base combat and upgrade system kept me playing more. Although it is a co-op mode I found myself trying my best to get the higher score than my partner, making for some challenging moments, where I tried to stretch combo’s past the hundreds and avoid getting hit. The arena mode also just lets the combat breathe with no restrictions and larger enemy counts; combined with plenty of environmental traps, it makes for the best showcase of why Ryse’s combat system is actually really satisfying and smartly designed.
As a system showcase Ryse is a perfect choice, absurdly gorgeous and bombastic in every way, it delivers an all the spectacle anyone could ever need. If you buy an Xbox One, this game is worth it just to show your jealous friends what your new box is capable of. Upon closer inspection you’ll find an interesting and worthwhile story, challenging and satisfying combat and some fun and addicting multiplayer. In the end, it all depends on your stomach for repetition and your love of Roman history but gamers looking deeper can find something worth their time and money.
+Satisfying and deceptively simple combat
+Great voice work and music
-Extra gameplay segments can be hit or miss