Ryse: Son Of Rome Review
Games that take many years to complete often have a heavy burden of being a blockbuster hit. Ryse: Son of Rome, developed by Crytek (makers of Far Cry and Crysis), falls into that category but in a ‘special case’ kind of way. While Crytek did expect for Ryse to be a hit, their seven year development cycle seems to point in a different direction. At one point, Ryse was slated to be a melee oriented game called ‘Kingdoms’ back in 2006 for the debut of the Xbox 360’s Kinect. Instead, the game evolved into a game engine proving cinematic fun fest as the highlight of the Xbox One’s exclusive launch titles.
Developed by Crytek
Published by Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One [reviewed]
Released on 2013-11-23
Upon starting this game, it is very clear that Crytek intended Ryse to be a drama filled action epic fit for a Hollywood movie but crammed into your TV and controller. Though the game no longer exists as a shallow Kinect-only experience at one time previewed as, Ryse did finally mature into something more than a series of quick time events. Often times gaming sites previewed Ryse early on to be nothing more than a boring mass of quick time sequences filled with blood and dismemberment. Thankfully, Crytek evolved the game to be a bit more.
Ryse: Son of Rome’s story is a simple yet dramatic one. While you could probably predict the ending, the performances that each of the characters deliver come off with A-list authenticity. The voice acting and motion capture are impressive. Somehow, I wouldn’t put either the acting or the final graphical wow factor on the same level as say Beyond: Two Souls, it is certainly a memorable impression that is made. The performance of Basilius played by Jamie Ballard stood out in my mind. The cutscenes all managed to capture the scope and intensity of the scenes and battles to come. Oddly enough, the only misstep when it came to facial performances were in that of the enemies that you fought. At times, you would see a foe’s expression uncharacteristically calm as they attacked or before you began a wicked execution sequence. Of course, this is quickly forgotten as the execution itself (which is the signature of the game) dominates the moment in a ballet of blood and brutality.
Also married to the graphical drama is the commendable sound design for the game. While I wasn’t blown away with the music or the sound effects in a way that made me want to run out and snag the soundtrack, the sound did capture the moments well. Enemies gurgled, screamed, and roared and more as siege engines boomed to drown out the sword clashing and slashing. Probably the only true memorable moments in the soundwork were in the gladiator arena portions of the story and game. The crowd reactions as well as the arena commentator keep you immersed in the moment.
When it comes to gameplay, the combat in Ryse resembles Rockstar’s Batman Arkham games. A number of foes surround your visible Roman general and as they attack, you time your strikes, counters, and dodges around a host of varied enemies. If you time your counters or strikes just right, you are granted the time to string together a satisfying combo of slashes and bashes. Once complete, you’re granted the option to finish your foe in one of three ways. You can simply kill them with a boring single blow, push or strike them into an environmental demise, or initiate a slow motion execution that has become the trademark of the game.
These executions are fun to pull off and the opportunity to do them are seemingly unlimited throughout the gameplay since every foe outside of the bosses can be executed in this 300-styled manner. Every single unsuspecting foe that comes across your path can become the next highlight film sequence of crimson carnage. In a way, this is the event that could make or break a gamer’s opinion of the game. Those that enjoy pulling off these executions will love the game for what it truly is, the evolution of beat em ups. Those that quickly bore of these moments will quickly write this game off. Despite offering moments of choreographed attack and defense with your platoon, ranged attacks, voice activated orders via Kinect, and light tactical choices, most will only remember the game for these plentiful executions. Finishing off your foes can be shaken up a bit though. If you position your enemy just right, environmental traps, spikes, ledges, and fires can become the gruesome method of death dealing instead of the slow motion affair.
As you pull off these strikes, blocks, counters, and executions, the point system and hit combo tally springs up on the left hand side of the screen in an arcade-like high score fashion. There you’ll see whether your strike or your counter was well timed or if your melee performance could be improved with a ‘perfect’ strike or block. These accurately timed actions build a focus meter that allows for you to put Marius into a ‘special attack’ mode. Upon pressing RB, you enter your special ability mode. During this mode everything around Marius slows down and his regular attacks do more damage (especially his crowd clearing kicks). These special modes allow you to more easily stun nearby enemies and take out larger foes who have a bit too much help around them to take down easily.
As the game goes along, Marius’ strength and abilities can be upgraded allowing him to more effectively wow you with is prowess using the sword, shield, and javelin. You’ll even be given moments when you must defend your troops and lead them into a mass of brutish free men. These short moments of making shallow tactical decisions and manning arbalests spice up the action. Still, you couldn’t help but wonder if more battlefield strategy could have been incorporated in the gameplay to further make the experience either a longer game or just more ‘next-gen’.
The multiplayer mode for this game plays out as a Gladiator themed survival mode. Here, your customizable gladiator takes on various map dependent challenges against a host of enemies in a grand arena. You can choose to take on this mode alone or with a stranger online. Due to the way that the combat plays out though, this mode is not a player versus player affair. This is probably a good thing since that would be too unlike the gameplay of the single player experience. Unfortunately, this mode is the only way you can play the game cooperatively. There is no local co-op.
In this mode you even acquire and buy loot that your gladiator can equip to make the death dealing more efficient. Thrown in there is the effect of the crowd’s interest and you have a mode that extends the game well beyond the short 5-6 hours of the campaign. Still, it is debatable whether or not the loot acquisition and level grinding is enough to keep you coming back for that much more Ryse action.
The tipping point for this game will in the end be whether the executions entertain you (despite the repetition) or bore you. Since this is the signature of the game and occurs so often, it will make or break the gameplay experience. While the game is easy to play and has a high fun factor, many will be left wanting more and the multiplayer mode just may not be enough. Despite the fun, paying a full sixty dollars for this game would be a hard pill to swallow. On the otherhand, it is the kind of evolved beat em up game that is easy to come back to like the days of Double Dragon and Final Fight. One thing is for certain, Ryse: Son of Rome is a great exclusive for the Xbox One to have.
3 out of 5