Ryse: Son of Rome
- Street Date:
- November 22nd, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- December 17th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Microsoft Game Studios
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Crytek leaves behind the shooting of 'Crysis' for its historic entry in the Xbox One launch lineup, opting for spears, shields, swords and Marius Titus, a Roman soldier hell-bent on revenge. This extremely violent brawler, which takes much inspiration from the 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' combat system, attempts to make the case for the Xbox One's technical prowess by bringing ancient Rome to the screen in all its war-torn beauty, which, when considering the game's Xbox 360/Kinect roots is no mean task.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Ryse: Son of Rome' is the purest brawler I've ever played. That's not a compliment, nor is it an insult. That's a fact. Where Batman might confront some enemies with his fists after stalking them from above or Kratos might leap about and solves puzzles before the requisite enemy encounter, Marius Titus, Rome's hero general, is beating the crap out of people at almost all times. Variety, for Marius, isn't in gameplay twists or even enemy types, of which there aren't too many. Marius finds that his spice of life is in the execution, the violent dispatching of one or two unlucky foes, the inevitable fate of an enemy encounter.
Get ready for slit throats, severed limbs, impaled chests and brutal shield bashes. Without the expectation of reprieve from the violence or a diversity of mechanics preceding each and every execution, 'Ryse' can fulfill a need for quick and dirty combat, all presented with a fluidity and beauty unmatched in any game before. Purity in violence, it seems, has a place in video games. Marius Titus is the most efficient killer with sword and shield.
Engagement with the enemy takes place in two phases. The first sees Marius whittling down his foe's health with heavy and light attacks using sword and shield, the latter integral to opening up more difficult enemies to attack. Marius can also deflect with his shield and do a dodge roll to avoid heavy attacks, which can only be countered with extreme precision and foreknowledge of that enemy's attack patterns.
Much of this phase of combat is about managing engulfing groups of enemies as they surround you, jumping from one guy to another with counters, shield bashes and sword blows, much like the 'Batman Arkham' or the 'Assassin's Creed' series. Marius also has a spear throw and focus attack at his disposal, the latter of which slows down the enemies around him for a brief period of ferocious indulgence.
Eventually, a little execution icon is going to show up above a damaged enemy's head. This is going to happen every time, and as long as you catch it there's no reason not to take the opportunity. Depending on which execution bonus you have selected, whether it be health gain, a damage boost, XP gain or focus attack gain, Marius will perform one of an extreme amount of executions, asking you, the player, to press either X or Y as the enemy you're currently slaying flashes a corresponding blue or yellow. Yes, this is a quick time event, but to treat it as such is a mistake. Pressing those buttons as swiftly as possible nets you a greater boost in whichever bonus you've chosen.
So in addition to rewarding the player with an extremely violent, extremely satisfying execution, there's also a bit of strategy in how you execute your hapless foes. Unfortunately, I found myself utilizing only two of those bonuses for the majority of the game – health gain and bonus gain. At no point did I feel behind enough in experience to want sacrifice other bonuses for an in-combat XP boost, and gaining a damage boost often meant killing enemies before being able to pull of an execution, rendering half the system inert. This system being Crytek's primary innovation, you'd hope it was fleshed out a bit more than that, especially considering a good chunk of the game's superb animation work is tied to it.
Complexity is sacrificed for fluidity. The animation system deterred Crytek from implementing varying weaponry for Marius or visually diverse enemies, as each meld into their respective animations without a hitch. They do, and it's a tightly controlled dynamic that does not feel immediately deep. Nevertheless, enemies are just varied enough to keep you on your toes and the visceral nature of Marius's combat style is immediately satisfying. It remains so for at least the duration of the campaign.
Less satisfying for the duration of the campaign is its story. Revenge will never be overdone as a narrative force, but that means the context around it is increasingly important. Going forth after the death of his family, Marius finds betrayal within the ranks of his own nation, appropriates the Greek myth of Democlaes, confounding as it is, as his vehicle of desolation upon the one-tone, scum-of-the-earth bad guys. Crytek is no narrative powerhouse, never has been, and Marius' motivations to kill whomever he wants to kill never comes across as substantive, which is only unfortunate for the missed opportunity in complementing the game's beautiful and detailed visuals with a flesh out narrative and character depth.
Surprisingly, the game's online cooperative component is quite compelling. Plunged into a gladiatorial retelling of the single-player campaign missions, yourself and a buddy must navigate an ever-shifting coliseum play set, achieving simple objectives while dispatching foes. It's remarkable how Crytek managed to port in the single-player combat without a hitch, given the highly-visual nature of the system, and make it just as satisfying with a friend.
However, the more open-ended arenas in the multiplayer highlight a glaring issue with the AI: all non-ranged enemies ever do is beeline it straight for you. Whereas tightly-designed single-player levels never allowed enemies to see you until very close, thus controlling the number of foes present at any time, the large arean style levels present a consistent issue. If your cooperative partner in the multiplayer goes down, every enemy he was fighting is now headed straight towards you. The result is often overwhelming, but it actually encourages you to back your buddy up even more.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Ryse' is its beauty. For every sword swipe or shield bash, there's a resulting, impactful and gruesome visual reaction, a reward more satisfying than any experience bar or floating damage number could ever offer. Again, Crytek delivers on the promise of industry-pushing technical achievement. Ancient Rome and its surroundings are placed directly into your living room, blood spewing with liquidity, bones snapping with crunch, ships crashing in a riot of enormity, fireballs flung and tearing apart the very floor at your feet with destructive force. Not a detail goes unchecked.
The fluidity of the combat is supported almost flawlessly with some extremely impressive animation work, mostly tying together each of your attacks with realistic weight and inertia. There is the awkward moment when Marius slides an extra foot to land an execution, and the transfer from light to heavy attack as you hold the button instead of tapping it is jarring at first, but it's all in the name of constant momentum. As long as you keep your combo up, the game will reward you with an unfaltering smoothness. It turns what might have been dull gameplay into a truly exciting experience, which isn't so easy to do.
Few games accomplish what 'Ryse' does in the cohesion of visuals and design. The only time the visuals take too much precedence is during boss fights, when instead of allowing the player to finish somebody off with an execution, the game cuts away to a scene depicting what you could be doing yourself.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The score in 'Ryse' feels more traditional than anything else, accompanying the action with predictable swells and dips, drum rolls for the barbarians and trumpeting for the royals. It's not so drab as to be considered placeholder, but along with the typically serious tone of the campaign's narrative, the music isn't trying to make the game anything more than its clichéd name. Unfortunately, though Marius is well-acted as he transitions from green rookie to battle-hardened leader, the writing dulls all other performances.
The various chants and warcries of your surrounding enemies do little to enhance the combat, reminding us in their repetition that this is, in fact, a video game and not the interactive movie the visuals hope to achieve.
Replay Factor 4/5
As the first Xbox One game worthy of its 1000 gamerscore, 'Ryse' enhances its moderately-sized campaign with difficulty increases that require further refinement of your abilities, not just a hunkering down for unfair deaths. Playing it through again becomes a new experience as a result and is well worth it.
There's also a fair bit of customization for your online avatar. Upgrading your gear, in addition to turning a tunic into something a bit more manly, will net you better statistics in regard to health, focus attacks, experience gain, etc. Leveling up, which opens up new tiers of equipment, is a bit slow, no doubt to keep players interested long enough for future DLC, and microtransactions, the Xbox One's most prolific "feature," are very present. There might have been far more compelling ways to earn new gear than randomized "Booster Packs," but then Microsoft and Crytek might not have been able to monetize it so easily. Fortunately that's the only downside to microtransactions here, as with a bit of grinding you can afford those booster packs without real-world money. It would have been nice, however, if we could have earned themed costumes through achievements or campaign progress, instead of their being offered solely as DLC.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Players can unlock concept art vistas, story-based scrolls and music through the campaign. DLC costumes mentioned before might spruce up the online component for some, as will a season pass that promises new multiplayer arenas in the future.
For every dollar that goes into technical and visual design, that's one that doesn't go towards amplifying a combat system, and I'm okay with that tradeoff so long as the gameplay is fun, if not incredibly deep. In a world of limited budgets constraining unlimited potential, Crytek's priorities were not misplaced. 'Ryse: Son of Rome' is an absolutely gorgeous game with a combat system designed to look flawless. For the most part it absolutely does. I'd never make the argument that Crytek is going for something too far away from shallow thrills, but if the potential of the new generation is in the execution of progressive, game-enhancing visuals, then that potential has been fulfilled.
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