Blood & Sand
There’s sand blowing on the breeze, the shouts of battle carrying on the wind and blood running through the streets… Welcome to Rome. Home to many a great story and countless tales of revenge, Rome is also the setting for Crytek’s introduction to next-gen console gaming, Ryse: Son of Rome.
From the word go, Ryse wants you to know what it’s all about. After an opening cinematic, the game drops you right into the middle of Rome, fighting off a horde of barbarians who are laying waste to the city. Within minutes you’ll have killed your first enemies and performed your first execution, and from then on it’s mostly a case of ‘you know what you can do, now go and fight’. Once you’ve pushed through waves of barbarians and saved the life of the Roman emperor, Nero, you’ll begin to discover the events that led to your current position.
The story of Ryse isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Marius returns home after becoming a roman soldier, much to the pleasure of his father, and they all live happily ever after… Nope, this is Rome, so naturally Marius’ father is brutally murdered and Marius begins on a spiral of vengeance and bloodshed that will make him question who can be trusted and who is truly to blame for his loss. While it’s a story that we’ve seen a million times before, Ryse still pulls it off well and some solid voice-acting and good characters really help to make the game’s plot a bit more interesting.
Outside of the game’s story, you’re left with the main aspect of Ryse… Combat. To fight your way through the game and beyond, you’ll use a combat system that should feel fairly familiar to fans of the Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham franchises. You’ve got a basic attack button, as well as a shield-break / knockback, a dodge and a block / counter button. Your main goal in fights is to avoid being hit while doing enough damage to an enemy to open them up for an execution. It’s simple, but cinematically brutal. Sword-fighting is occasionally broken up by sections where you’ll need to lead a group of legionaries, or operate a Scorpio (a crossbow turret) and while neither is particularly complicated, they do provide a much needed change of pace at times.
“It’s simple, but cinematically brutal.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the history of a game before it reaches shelves, but Ryse’s development explains a lot about its final product. Not just something Crytek whipped up at the last minute at the request of Microsoft, Ryse has been in development for 7 years now. Last we saw of it before E3 last year, it was supposed to be a first-person action title for Kinect on the Xbox 360, and while it eventually moved away from being a Kinect-required affair, you can still see how those elements were a major part of the game’s design. The colour-coded prompts of executions within Ryse could’ve easily been replaced with Kinect hand gestures, as could the scorpio sections and the controls when you’re leading a formation of legionaries.
Ryse: Son of Rome is a prime example of style over substance. That’s not to say the game doesn’t have substance, it’s just not as deep as most people might like. The combat is fun and there’s some fights toward the end that are actually really interesting, but sadly that’s lacking throughout most of the game. While the combat does tend to be repetitive, the style and the cinematic form of executions is amazingly well presented. Ryse’s biggest problem is it’s simplicity, but that simplicity allows the game to be possibly the most visually appealing title in the Xbox One’s launch line-up, and it runs with no signs of any major bugs or performance issues.
Despite combat growing a little stale at times, Ryse is still a great game to play, and those who enjoyed similar combat systems in other titles will feel right at home here.