A new generation of gaming is upon us and we kick off our Xbox One and PS4 review period with Crytek’s ancient Rome battler, the staggeringly beautiful Ryse: Son of Rome…
Ryse: Son of Rome is the quintessential launch title. It is a graphical powerhouse of a game; allowing you to bear witness to some of the most jaw dropping moments ever seen in gaming. As always Crytek deliver a knockout performance in the presentation department; combining the stunning visuals with a stirring musical score. This is gaming on a level of polish you’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself falls just a little short.
The setup is thus – you are Marius Titus; a Roman General who we first meet storming the gates of a palace to reach the Roman Emperor Nero. Through an overarching narration we go back in time to when Marius was a fresh faced soldier and witness the events that shape him into the leader he is destined to become. The quality of the facial capture and the voice is acting is high indeed; a pleasant surprise. The story is fairly interesting and moves at a nice pace, but isn’t anything that will stick in your mind in the years to come. Still, it serves it’s purpose – to drive Marius into ever-escalating melee combat situations.
Combat is meaty, fluid, and exceptionally violent. The closest comparison is the Arkham game series. Much like Batman, Marius is beset by foes on all sides and must move between them in a smooth fluid motion, bashing with his shield, hacking off limbs and driving his sword through guts. It works very, very well and you can really feel every thrust of your sword and smash of your shield. Once an enemy’s health is sufficiently depleted a skull icon will appear above their head. Pulling the right trigger will then initiate the much discussed “quick time” executions. Your foe will flash either yellow or blue, and you must press the corresponding button to perfectly finish the execution. Should you fail, well…nothing happens. You’re enemy will still die, albeit maybe from a knock to the head with your shield rather than a sword through the oesophagus. It’s a little disappointing but understandable.
Marius can also call on powers to assist him, such as a focus mode that slows the enemies down while you speed up. It’s very useful in helping to dispatch the more tiresome foes and is satisfying to use. You can unlock more skills with the xp you earn from battle but sadly they are mostly passive abilities such as an extended health bar.
There is nothing wrong with the combat then; in fact it gets a lot right. The problem is repetition – it’s all the game is. Once you’ve seen all the executions it becomes tedious very quickly, and a few shakeups in enemy types (heavies that require you to smash through their shields, rogue types with twin swords who you must parry three times successfully) can’t save you from eventual combat fatigue. The enemies don’t really change throughout the campaign either, you face the same three types with only new skins to differentiate them. There was only a certain number of times we could dismember the same fat guy with long hair and a goatee before we couldn’t help thinking a next gen game should offer more variety.
The game does try new things occasionally; but again they become repetitive. Once in a while you get to lead a phalanx of soldiers against a group of enemy archers and give commands to either shield yourselves or throw spears. It looks impressive but is ultimately hollow and repeated too often. There are also turret sections where you man a lethal crossbow, but we’ve seen it all before in last gen action games.
It’s not all tedium though – there are some truly mesmerising set pieces. Highlights include a trip into the darkest heart of medieval Scotland, and an enormous battle against the English army that evokes the very best scenes in The Lord of The Rings‘ Battle of Pellenor Fields. It’s moments like these that leave you in no doubt that you are in a new generation of gaming.
Outside of the campaign you have a two player cooperative mode. The pair of you enter a gladiatorial arena and fight waves of barbarians amongst ever shifting environments for fame and fortune. You can customise your combatant as you earn xp and rank up. The mode is ok if you enjoy Horde style multiplayer, but again it’s repetition can grate.
We have a soft spot for Ryse, and always encourage new IP. It does so many things with flair and style that it’s hard not to like. However, it’s impossible to really LOVE either. How much you get from Ryse and its short six hour campaign depends on what you are looking for. If you want a visually amazing showpiece for when your mates come round, look no further. Ryse flexes the Xbox One’s muscles admirably and few will leave unimpressed. If you’re looking for something with a little more depth, however, then you may want to consider giving Ryse the thumbs down.
– Matt Reynolds @thelostmoment