If there’s one word to describe Ryse: Son of Rome, that word would be beautiful. The developers behind Ryse, Crytek Studios, have always demonstrated their technical prowess with each release of their games, most notably Crysis. Ryse is technically very impressive and a great showcase for the Xbox One’s power. Problem is, Ryse runs out of things to say fairly quickly, and while stabbing barbarians has its novelties at first, the experience quickly grows stale and repetitive.
Ryse’s story starts off with Rome under siege by hairy barbarians; you’re tasked -as Marius a centurion- to escort the emperor of Rome to safety. Marius then feels it’s a good time to tell a story to the Emperor and just like that Marius is back as a simple soldier of Rome visiting his family. Ryse’s story is a rather enjoyable tale about vengeance, honor, and sacrifice. The story is also told out of chronological order. Marius’s tale is entertaining and full of beautiful locales with lots of variety in the scenery. At one point you will be fighting alongside a fleet of Roman soldiers to take a beach, while at another you will be sneaking around by your self through a dark and foreboding forest filled with deadly traps. It’s that variety in locales that makes Marius’s journey somewhat memorable. The voice acting is also impressive with Marius being the most well realized character. There is also a worthy percussive score in the background.
You are not just walking around in the different locals basking in the sun, you’re stabbing barbarians right in their neck and watching the blood ooze out of their wounds. Combat focuses around blocking enemy attacks, stabbing, slashing, and the very frequent albeit flashy executions. The best comparison for Ryse’s combat is the Batman Arkham games, although it’s not as fluid and precise. Later on in the game you’ll be able to perform heavy attacks on your opponents as well. The first time you take down an enemy it’s fun and enjoyable and it stays that way for an hour or two. The problem is, you soon see the vast majority of the combat you can achieve and it grows tiresome after constantly slaughtering droves of barbarians. The executions you perform are brutal and have gory aftermaths. Though the executions tend to repeat themselves far to often and they quickly loose their luster. While playing Ryse, I couldn’t help but feel that there was great potential for exciting combat that’s meaningful and deep, but it’s never fully realized. There is good groundwork here and you get the feeling that there might be something more distinguished down the road the more you progress. However genuine the intentions were, it never really happens.
Fighting swarms of angry barbarians that go down almost without a problem aren’t the only type of enemies you will encounter in the campaign. Inside those swarms there can be mini-bosses. They are a little more resilient to your usual line of attacks and sometimes force you to resort to other moves such as cartwheeling away like you’re Marcus Phoenix. Ryse also has a few boss battles in store for you as well. While they require a little more finesse to defeat than your usual strategy of stab, block and execute, they go down almost without a problem. The difference with bosses is that they have a much larger amount of health. Block their attacks and stab just like any other enemy and you will prevail.
Like a game stuck in the past, Ryse is inexorably linear in its design and mechanic. It harkens back to some old school conceptions, such as shallow unlocks that feel more static than engaging. Ryse also gives you the ability to gain skills with kills and upgrade Marius as you please. With each kill you gain points where you can then spend in a submenu full of abilities. Or you can spend real world money for the upgrades. The upgrades don’t change up the combat all that much and consist of the typical health bar increase and carrying more items in your inventory. The best and fastest way to earn the extra points and upgrade your solider is the executions you perform on enemies. The way you perform the executions is by initiating a button prompt that begins when there is a skull over an enemy’s head when he (yes he, there is basically no female fighters you encounter but one) is near death. His body will then turn the color of the x or y buttons for a second or two on the controller. You also earn experience through basic kills but you gain a lot less.
Ryse also has a multiplayer suit that lets you buddy up with one of your friends and take on legions of enemies inside of a coliseum. The combat remains exactly the same as it does in the campaign, except you’re not marching off into different levels. You stay in one coliseum with a crowd of bloodthirsty romans begging to see death. The coliseum actually moves the scenery around and changes up the landscape in the confines of its own area. It makes for an interesting and unique multiplayer experience. It’s fun to partner up with your buddy and do some good old fashion killing with no pesky story.
What Ryse has going for it is an interesting story, incredibly beautiful graphics and a surprisingly unique multiplayer suit. It’s too bad that the gameplay and combat are uninspired and get repetitive fairly quickly. There is a foundation for the gameplay that is sound. It just never quite reaches the heights of its visuals and you’re left feeling that the gameplay could have been more. If you want a great representation of what your shiny new console can do, then by all means get Ryse, but if you’re expecting a game that plays as good as it looks, then you might find an experience that gets dull faster than Marius’s blade.