Ryse: Son of Rome


By: Matthew Codd    On: Xbox One
Published: Friday 22 Nov 2013 12:00 AM
 
 
this could have been the Xbox One’s standout launch title Matthew Codd
 
 
 
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When Crytek - the people behind the likes of Far Cry and Crysis - announce a new action-adventure title set in the Roman Empire, you think you'd pay attention. However, that isn’t exactly what happened when Codename Kingdoms was unveiled at E3 2010. Announced with a simple teaser, the reveal was almost totally devoid of information and didn't exactly spark up a lot of hype. In 2011, the game was renamed Ryse and the known details about it were expanded to include the fact that it was to be an Xbox 360 Kinect game; after that, it more or less disappeared from the public eye.

That all changed when Microsoft announced the Xbox One console in May this year, and revealed that the game (now titled Ryse: Son of Rome) would be an exclusive, fully-fledged Xbox One launch title, with Kinect features relegated to controlling your squad. At the prospect of a next-gen, CryEngine fuelled, Roman-themed hack and slash game, heads were finally starting to turn.

Ryse puts you in the sandals of Marius Titus, a Roman footsoldier who, following the brutal murder of his family, rises through the ranks to become a General and save the Roman Empire from a barbarian invasion. It’s your standard revenge narrative - if you’ve played God of War or seen a Quentin Tarantino film, nothing about this story will be new to you. The plot won’t be winning any awards for originality, and frankly does little to engage you in an otherwise beautiful world, but it’s functional and serves its purpose. That purpose, of course, is giving you a reason to wade through thousands of hairy barbarians in gratuitously violent fashion.

And boy, is it violent. Combat is largely built around setting up opportunities to use visceral executions, with a standard array of offensive and defensive maneuvers letting you whittle down enemies’ health until a little skull appears over their head prompting you to finish them off. The combat itself is a simple case of blocking, counterattacking, and using a shield bash move to open defensive foes, but tight, responsive controls mean that this is a lot of fun - at first.

“At first,” you ask? Well, as tight as the combat is, a lack in enemy variety means it gets very stagnant very quickly. Making matters worse, it doesn’t take long before you learn that repeatedly pressing X-X-Y ad infinitum is pretty much your go-to combo for almost every enemy in the game. The idea of having to use a shield bash (Y) to open up a defensive enemy to sword attacks (X) is neat, but any sense of excitement is lost when you learn that the vast majority of the enemies will reliably block your third sword swing in a row, every time.

Boss battles are - surprisingly - even worse, and are frankly some of the most boring boss fights I’ve ever encountered. For the first three quarters of the game, bosses are simply bulkier versions of standard enemies, and fall to the same basic combo. It’s not until the second to last chapter of the game that the first real boss appears, but he offers little respite from tedium. This boss, and every other one thereafter, is simply a case of waiting for their attack, parrying it, and counterattacking with your three-hit combo, over and over again until they fall.

But, as I said, the combat is largely about setting you up to execute foes, which can be incredibly satisfying. The game boasts just under 100 unique execution animations, which are a real pleasure to watch, in a "that guy got his arm chopped off and then got stabbed in the throat" kind of way. That said, some animations are much more common than others, and there’s only so many times you can watch someone stomp on a downed enemy’s face before diminishing returns start to kick in.

Proving that Quick Time Events are now more or less ubiquitous in gaming, they show up during these cinematics to try and give you a sense of control over the brutality. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) you can’t fail them - pressing the wrong buttons, or even pressing nothing at all, simply results in less bonus experience or health gained.

Which brings me to one Ryse’s most ingenious, if minor, gameplay elements. At any point in the game, you can switch between four “perks”, which determine what rewards you get for an execution. Running low on health? Switch to the health regeneration perk, and your finishers will help you recover; a few experience points short of that upgrade you’ve been eyeing? The experience perk and a brutal murder or two will give you what you need.

You'll occasionally have to undertake other tasks as the leader of a Roman battalion, like issuing orders to your troops or marching a phalanx across enemy lines, but these are throwaway moments that are few and far between, and offer little to spice up the experience.

Like many games today, Ryse has a multiplayer mode, though it’s not much to write home about. It’s co-op only, pitting you and a friend against wave after wave of enemies in the Colosseum and tasking you to undertake certain objectives, such as securing and defending a post. I can see it being fun with friends in short bursts, but it’s probably not something you’ll want to invest a lot of time in. Especially considering that earning gold to buy new gear for your gladiator takes a long, long time - unless you’re willing to shell out for microtransactions, that is.

Where Ryse really does excel is in the visual department, which is unsurprising, with it being a Crytek game. Of all the Xbox One launch titles I’ve played, this is one of only two that really looks to me like a next-gen game (the other being Forza 5).

The sheer level of detail in the texturing is mindblowing. Whether it’s the back of Marius’ armour, which you’re looking at for 90% of the game, or a dusty urn hidden down a back alley of Rome that you might never see through the course of the game, Crytek have spared no expense in making sure that everything looks as lifelike as possible.

Character models, while still identifiably computer generated (console technology hasn’t advanced that much), are the most detailed and authentic I’ve ever seen, with every wrinkle, freckle, and blemish there for the world to see.

Environments are realistic to the point that they’re more or less indiscernible from photos. Not only are they absolutely stunning to look at, the locations you’ll visit are impressively varied - considering the entirety of the game could just as likely take place on the streets of Rome.

As well as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which you’d expect to see in a game like this, you’ll travel to the far corners of the Roman Empire, waging war in the dense forests and foreboding swamplands of Britannia. And somehow, no small detail is lost, despite the demands of recreating a natural landscape in an authentic manner.

Still, beautiful visuals can only do so much to redeem a game, and as beautiful as Ryse is to look at, it’s still more than a bit underwhelming to play. Which is sad, because, with a bit more thought put into the game design side of things, this could have been the Xbox One’s standout launch title.


The Score

Ryse: Son of Rome
"Beautiful, next-gen visuals can’t redeem lacklustre gameplay."
6.5
Average
Rating: R18   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min

 

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Comments (15)

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LukeB NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 12:43 AM Posted by LukeB
Well, the score is a bit lower than I was expecting, but not by much. Based on what I have played I was thinking it would something along the lines of, "Stunning graphics, interesting story that could have been amazing but just fell a little short on the immersion. Almost a Batman: Arkham Asylum meets God of War clone with less unique and colourful characters but more executions", which is basically what you've said.

I was really concerned about the story being good, but from what you (and other outlets) have said, it isn't so much that it's bad, it's more that it's interesting but nothing NEW, which is fine.

I was really hoping the types of enemies would really start to open up from the few we were allowed to see from the first 2 or so levels, and I'm disappointed that there isn't more variety, but hopefully Crytek and Microsoft will be able to justify a sequel that will remedy this and increase both them and the number of unique and interesting ways to kill people... perhaps if you could use more than a Sword, Shield and the Spear (or whatever they're called).

Might still pick it up when when I can afford the system, still looks like fun and I'd like to experience the story for myself :)
 
 
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LukeB NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 12:45 AM Posted by LukeB
*Concerned about the story NOT being good... Really wish there was an "edit" function :)
 
 
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Hawkeye74
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 6:56 AM Posted by Hawkeye74
I actually quite like it... but then I loved Too Human, so I have no taste.
 
 
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phantom
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 7:32 AM Posted by phantom
22 November 2013, 06:56 AM Reply to Hawkeye74
I actually quite like it... but then I loved Too Human, so I have no taste.
Too Human! BROFIST! Loved that game, lol
 
 
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ReaperCrew NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 8:50 AM Posted by ReaperCrew
I'm left thinking that this game is actually more of a demo of the Crytek engine so indie developers will use it. Kind of disappointing about the lack of variety in the game, but considering its context being in the Roman army they were probably limited what could be acceptable to the story as deserters were dealt with brutally and battles were frequently won by sheer force size versus elaborate strategies.
 
 
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rocketman12 NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 9:23 AM Posted by rocketman12
I am surprised I thought this would be Xbox 1s pinnacle?
 
 
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scotteffone NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 9:44 AM Posted by scotteffone
I appreciate this reviewer for not giving the game a free pass because it looks better and that it's one of the first Xbox games.

Next gen AAA titles need creativity in gameplay otherwise I will be disappoint.
 
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jtbthatsme NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 11:47 PM Posted by jtbthatsme
22 November 2013, 09:44 AM Reply to scotteffone
I appreciate this reviewer for not giving the game a free pass because it looks better and that it's one of the first Xbox games.

Next gen AAA titles need creativity in gameplay otherwise I will be disappoint.
The reviewer has actually given a better review and score than that on another NZ site the game promised much and sounds like it's not delivered anything more than monotonous eye candy however not everyone will dislike the button mashing or repetitiveness of the game as they'll take a lot of fun out of the executions which along with the graphical quality of the cutscenes seems to be where this game gets it right.
 
 
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jtbthatsme NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 22 Nov 2013 11:49 PM Posted by jtbthatsme
Forgot to add that if I'd actually managed to get a XB1 at launch this was the game I was most likely starting with...so I'm disappointed that it's turned out lacking (a bit like my funds to buy the console lol).
 
 
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scotteffone NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Saturday 23 Nov 2013 5:59 PM Posted by scotteffone
22 November 2013, 11:47 PM Reply to jtbthatsme
The reviewer has actually given a better review and score than that on another NZ site the game promised much and sounds like it's not delivered anything more than monotonous eye candy however not everyone will dislike the button mashing or repetitiveness of the game as they'll take a lot of fun out of the executions which along with the graphical quality of the cutscenes seems to be where this game gets it right.
It's also what I expected from the trailers and what I had read about the game. Appeared nice on the eyes but gameplay looked repetitive - and from the review - finding X-X-Y so easily seems to not only confirm that but makes it worse.

I think that's why I was so interested in Driveclub and Watchdogs as launch games. They offered more than graphics which I think some people assume are givens with new consoles anyway.

Maybe I expected too much from launch games so Ryse 2 (if it's in the works) could be a chance to do something different now they have it in the real world and more time.
 
 
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Coddfish NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Saturday 23 Nov 2013 9:50 PM Posted by Coddfish
23 November 2013, 05:59 PM Reply to scotteffone
It's also what I expected from the trailers and what I had read about the game. Appeared nice on the eyes but gameplay looked repetitive - and from the review - finding X-X-Y so easily seems to not only confirm that but makes it worse.

I think that's why I was so interested in Driveclub and Watchdogs as launch games. They offered more than graphics which I think some people assume are givens with new consoles anyway.

Maybe I expected too much from launch games so Ryse 2 (if it's in the works) could be a chance to do something different now they have it in the real world and more time.
Yeah, the game actually had a lot of promise, it just really really failed to deliver on opportunities. I suspect this is at least partly due to the switch from Kinect game to full fledged action game, and then being rushed out to meet the launch deadline.
 
 
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kiwibadboy NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Sunday 24 Nov 2013 12:23 PM Posted by kiwibadboy
Cheers for the review NZG :)
 
 
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wuruhi
On Thursday 12 Dec 2013 2:44 PM Posted by wuruhi
I thought it was well worth a rent. Finished in about seven hours which is being generous as I was just looking at the scenery at times. Boss fights are painful, killing someone twice is just a reason to lengthen an already short game. Accurate review here.
 
 
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Nibblo
On Saturday 1 Mar 2014 12:00 PM Posted by Nibblo
I found this game to be really good and in no way could you beat this game by hitting XXY unless you were on the lower difficulties. I really hope the reviewer played it on legendary as the multi-tasking you had to do to win the simplest of battles was intense. The enemies would often attack all at once and if you didn't have tactics figured out before hand you would be dead very quickly. Some enemies required perfect blocks after a 3 hit combo, some required only heavy attacks or shield hits, some required 3 light attacks, some required rolls instead of blocks and often you would have different enemies that required all these things at the same time while calling down archer attacks and avoiding missile attacks.

The reviewer probably played it on medium difficulty and never played it again. They should have played it twice and on Legendary.

Loved this game and the the story was really compelling, I had to get to the end. The graphics? well they are head and shoulders above any other next gen game out there. Friend has the PS4 and we have worked our way through their exclusives and we both agree this is the best looking game out there. I would have given this game an 8. If anyone has an X1 and not bout this game buy it now especially with the cheap digital offer going.
 
 
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Nibblo
On Saturday 1 Mar 2014 12:04 PM Posted by Nibblo
23 November 2013, 05:59 PM Reply to scotteffone
It's also what I expected from the trailers and what I had read about the game. Appeared nice on the eyes but gameplay looked repetitive - and from the review - finding X-X-Y so easily seems to not only confirm that but makes it worse.

I think that's why I was so interested in Driveclub and Watchdogs as launch games. They offered more than graphics which I think some people assume are givens with new consoles anyway.

Maybe I expected too much from launch games so Ryse 2 (if it's in the works) could be a chance to do something different now they have it in the real world and more time.
You can only beat this game using XXY on the easiest of difficulties and even that's debatable, don't believe this review, play it for yourself it's incredibly intense and enjoyable. Sure it's repetitive but just as much as any other brawler (Conan for instance) and it doesn't over stay it's welcome. One of the most under-rated games of this gen so far.
 
 
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