*Authors Note* Ryse: Son of Rome is an Xbox One exclusive developed by Crytek. It also serves as a launch title for the new console. Some spoilters are contained within this review
Microsoft have done an excellent job of providing a breadth of content available for their new Xbox One at launch. We’ve seen fighters (Killer Instinct), sports games (NBA 2k14, FIFA 14), shooters (Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4), racers (Forza 5) and open world hijinks (Assassin’s Creed IV), but even during the Xbox360 era, one hole always needed filling – the action game. Well Microsoft have teamed up with Crytek, a developer renowned for its work on the FPS series Crysis, to fill that hole and the product of their endeavours is Ryse: Son of Rome.
Ryse tells the tale of Marius, a Roman soldier who was witness to his families murder at the hands of barbarian bandits. With revenge being the only thing on his mind, Marius journeys with the Roman army to Britannia, gradually progressing through the ranks in the process. Through some pivotal moments Marius finds his journey requiring him to head back to Rome so that he can finally exact his vengeance on those who tore his family apart. It’s an engaging plot that will constantly keep you interested as the tale is told via flashbacks with additional aide of some very pretty cinematics that use Roman style wall art.
What makes or breaks a game of this particular genre is of course the gameplay. Comparisons to Sony’s God of War series are natural, but Ryse does just enough to set itself apart from the looming shadow due to its much larger emphasis on counter-attacks and evasion. Don’t count on being able to simply slash, hack and dice your way through waves of enemies, because they’re smart, land a few hits and they’ll start dodging themselves, but you’ll very quickly find that the X, X, Y combo, can easily be repeated to tackle this issue. It’s unfortunate however that this combo can be exploited because it makes combat very repetitive and simplistic, so thankfully there are a wide enough range of enemy types to force you to block and evade. Marius is not a punching bag, it will not take many hits to bring him down and therefore the added depth created by different abilities mapped to the D-Pad are handy, you can select one of the boosts (health, XP, focus and damage) that receive an increase with every kill Marius makes – if you’re running low on health, select the health bonus to recover when you land a kill.
Movement can at times be a bit clunky and cumbersome, odd invisible walls stop you when you shouldn’t and you will find yourself weighing up utilising the games executions for bonus XP, simply because the overuse of these becomes frustrating at times. What also frustrates is the occasional quicktime-event that looks incredibly similar to the usual execution colours, leaving the player off guard and vulnerable if they choose not to take it. The XP you gain through combat can be committed to a range of different attributes, from overall health, focus or damage increases, among others such as widening your range of executions, and this feature just adds an extra layer of depth and diversity to the combat. XP grows on trees however and even if you die, all earned XP is retained, perhaps a frustration for some because it doesn’t encourage proficiency but it also an advantage to more inexperienced players, and also those attempting the tougher difficulties.
Visually the game looks sensational, Crytek are world renowned for their games packed with incredible visuals, but Ryse also sports incredible artistic flair, perhaps facilitated by the Ancient Roman setting. The water cascading over surfaces and even as you sail over seas looks absolutely stunning, the flicker of flames and trickling of blood all looks incredibly realistic, but perhaps it’s for this incredible visuals that load times are painfully long and after many encounters you must then sit through a mini cutscene before entering the next region. The soundtrack and voice-acting also match the incredible visual flair with a rollicking score and exceptional voice work through cutscenes and even during gameplay.
Multiplayer is also a feature and all modes (Arena, Round-To-Round and Solo) take place within Rome’s fabled Colosseum. Arena is a Co-op experience where you must hack through opponents while keeping the crowd entertained in the process, die, or fail to keep the crowd impressed and its game over, Solo offers a single player based version of this same mode. Round-To-Round is a wave based co-op mode where you face of challengers again within the Colosseum without the crowd factor.
Ryse does a lot of things, it firstly demonstrates to the world what next-gen systems are capable of, while also creates Microsoft’s first genuine exclusive action series. Despite some gameplay flaws, Ryse does enough to set itself apart from its peers while delivering an excellent, engaging story that personally, I would happily see continued in a sequel. There is plenty to improve but Ryse is a great starting game for early Xbox One adopters regardless of your experience with the genre in the past.