As one of the launch titles for the Xbox One, Ryse: Son Of Rome obviously carries a heavy burden. But if you’re able to put aside your expectations for what a next-gen game might be, you’ll find that Ryse overly simplistic but still fun action game.
Made by Crytek, Ryse is a third-person hack & slash action game set in ancient Rome during the reign of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 – 68 A.D.). When barbarians invade the realm, it’s up to you and your trusty sword to save The Empire, and your Emperor.
To do so, you mostly run from fight to fight, slicing and dicing up anyone stupid enough to challenge your sword. Which is about as simple as it sounds. There’s one button to swing it, one button to bash guys with your shield or stop them from blocking your attacks with their shield, and a dodge button. And, of course, holding them longer will make them stronger.
But while you can use the “swing” and “bash” buttons in concert, this hardly counts as a combo system, since “swing,” “swing,” “bash” doesn’t make your guy do a cool move any more than “bash,” “swing,” “bash” makes him do something different.
That said, if you “bash” and “swing” enough, you’ll fill up your focus meter which, when activated, initially knocks people back, and then lets you go all berserk on them while time slows to a crawl.
Along with smacking people, you can also take them out from a distance with pilums, which are Roman combat javelin (and no, I didn’t know what those were either before playing Ryse). Assuming, of course, you have some handy. Again, doing this isn’t difficult — just a matter of holding down the left trigger for a moment and then hitting the right one — but it’s still pretty satisfying when you nail a guy from 30 yards out like a high school track star.
There are also occasions when you can command archers to rain arrows down on your enemies, or have your catapults let loose, which you do by holding down the left bumper and issue a verbal command to your Kinect when prompted. The problem being that if you want to play late at night, you run the risk of ruining your marriage every time you want your archers to “fire [a] volley.” It also doesn’t make a lot of sense since, if you already have to hold the left bumper, why can’t that just command your troops? At a time when games all have the same attitude as Burger King — “Have It Your Way” — it seems odd that issuing verbal commands is an option you can’t turn off.
The simplicity also extends to the character upgrade system. By killing enemies and doing other things, you earn Valor Points, which are basically experience points. But while such simplicity makes the upgrade system instantly understandable, it’s not a particularly deep system, since there’s only nine attributes, and you can only upgrade them four times each.
While Ryse may be shallow, it isn’t without a few neat tricks. For starters, after whacking someone enough times, you can finish them off with an execution move that, when done right, restores some of your health. But instead of giving you specific button prompts, it highlights your enemy in either blue or yellow to indicate if you should hit the blue “X” button or the yellow “Y” button. It’s basically the same idea, but it somehow seems to work better. Though it also helps that if you screw it up, your enemy doesn’t dodge your attack or get a chance to hurt you; you still execute them, just not in the cool, health restoring way. Though even here Ryse could use a little variety, since it seems like most execution are just yellow, blue, blue.
This mechanic is use elsewhere in the game, to equally great effect. When someone turns red, for instance, you can hit the red “B” button to dodge their attacks, while green people can have their attacks deflected by hitting the green “A” button (though you can dodge at other, less colorful times as well). There are even instances when colors indicate what buttons to use to interact with something, such as when you have to hit the yellow “Y” button to move a cart out of your way.
It’s also absolutely beautiful. Whether it’s the stunning vistas, the detailed character models, or the cinematically-animated executions, Ryse — along with Forza Motorsport 5 and Killzone: Shadow Fall — clearly illustrate how good games can look this generation.
But there’s more to next-gen games than good looks. And, sadly, the simplicity of Ryse isn’t the only place where this game shows room for improvement.
For starters, the movement controls can be slightly wonky at times, mostly because the camera is rather close to your character.
You’ll also notice a distinct lack of variety in your enemies. And I don’t just mean because you mostly fight regular soldiers and the occasional tough guy. No, I’m referring to the fact that there’s only a handful of different character models for the bad guys. There’s mohawk guy, full beard guy, and Comic Book Guy cosplaying as Spartacus…uh, guy, and that’s about it. Given all the power that the Xbox One supposedly has, is it really that hard to make a wide variety of bad guys? Or even a random bad guy generator?
Then there’s the multiplayer modes, which are about as interesting as they are varied. Which is to say, they’re not. Even more so than the single player one, playing against other people online gets old real quick.
Batman: Arkham Origins Battlefield 4 Killzone: Shadow Fall Ryse also has a problem, both in multiplayer and the campaign, which is so prominent these days I feel like I could cut and paste a variation of this paragraph into almost every review I do: the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV, it’s impossible to read the subtitles, some of the text in the menus, or where it explains the rules of the different multiplayer modes. Thankfully, though, the text is readable for most of the game, especially in the menus for the settings and upgrades.
Such complaints aside, taken for what it is, Ryse is still a dumb but fun hack & slash action game. If you’re into games where you just run around, smacking people with a sword — like me — you’ll have a good amount of fun with it. It’s just hard not to see how much better it could’ve been.