Much has happened since the international release of Ryse: Son of Rome. The studio behind it has all but fallen to pieces, which means no matter how you looks at it, this is likely the one and only chance you’ll get to play this new IP on console. Does it hold up to other hack-and-slash games or should it be executed right out of the gates?
What was originally a launch title, in predominantly the United States, a year ago will now be a launch title in South Africa. As the name implies you’ll be taking this adventure on in ancient Rome where you’re in control of Marius Titus, a Roman Centurion. The campaign wastes no time by throwing you right into the thick of things. You’re up against an onslaught of Celtic barbarians in their aim to overrun the Roman Empire.
It’s essentially your tutorial and for good reason. Though it’s effortless to fight your way through hoards of enemies towards the end of the game it will take quite a bit of practice to get the hang of it all. Pressing the ‘X’ button has Marius slashing and dismembering foes with ease using his razor sharp sword. Pressing the ‘Y’ button will see him thumping enemies in the throat or face with the use of his shield. Tapping ‘B’ will evade incoming attacks, with him rolling all over the show, and a tap of the ‘A’ button will deflect attacks while in mid-battle. It all sound very simple, but when you’re slashing away at two or three enemies and you have to focus on attack, defending incoming attacks, breaking their defence and evading it can get rather frantic. The tutorial does not stop there.
Once you’ve pummelled your enemy enough an icon will appear above their heads. Tap the Right Trigger quickly and you’ll move into a slow motion execution that requires you the press ‘X’ or ‘Y’ buttons in a QTE (Quick Time Event) fashion. You’ll also be taught how to throw spears, by pressing and holding LT to steady the throw and RT to throw the spear. A simple LT followed by RT, in quick succession, will have you snap to the closest foe for a quick execution via a spear. Ryse: Son of Rome absolutely brutal. If you have a tough time with violence this game is NOT for you. Towards the end of the tutorial it’s time to show off the Kinect voice commands. I was literally yelling the commands at my Kinect (as I was a bit freaked out by the barbarian masses) and not once did it fail in understanding my commands. You can alternatively press and hold the LB button to activate the command, but using voice is just much quicker and surprisingly feels rather natural.
It’s only at the end of the in-depth tutorial that the story finally kicks in. Marius helps the Roman Emperor escape the barbarians by guiding him to a safe room. It’s here that he enters a flashback in time and tells the story up to this point. It goes back to an era where Marius is a soldier serving in the Legion. His mother and sister is by his side and his father is Emperor of Rome. Before you know it the barbarians storm the halls of Alexandria, where he holds post, and kills his entire family. Oh, it’s very 80’s. YOU KILL MY FATHER, NOW I KILL YOU! Marius takes on the title as Leader of the Roman Legion and sets off on his path of destruction.
Ryse: Son of Rome is quite honestly the best-looking game I’ve seen to date, and that includes other formats. How on earth the developers at Crytek pulled these visuals off is beyond me. Brushing through vegetation and seeing it react to your movement is astonishing and the lighting is undeniably beautiful. The various textures on armour or other materials are all pinpoint accurate. It does perhaps lead to one of the quirks I have with the game. It’s very short. I can’t help but feel that the time it must’ve taken them to create everything shortened the experience. I finished it from beginning to end in eight hours. There are some twists towards the end of the game, in terms of narrative, but it’s a very shallow experience if you’re after a deep storyline. If I say that it was heavily influenced by the Gladiator movie I’m not joking. There are parts where I thought I was watching the movie, though the script was obviously nowhere near as good as that of the Oscar winning one.
There’s also a clear lack in variety. Your enemies are generally all barbarians, though later on you discover a new race… who fights exactly like the barbarians. Once you know when to hack and slash and when to defend it becomes a walk in the park. There is also a bit of upgrading to be done. You can buy new execution moves and upgrade skills, via the XP you earn when killing enemies. Kill a bunch in succession without being harmed and you’ll enter a combo stage whereby your XP increases dramatically. To help you achieve this you can select gain focus (that dazes your enemies for maximum killstreaks), health, bonus XP or an increased strength in combat by pressing in various directions on the D-Pad. Once executing someone (using the above-mention RT) you’ll gain one of those extras you selected. You’re constantly keeping your eye on your health and focus bars.
If you’re after some multiplayer goodness you’ll find some here, but not much. You have the option at entering quick or custom multiplayer matches, whereby you can tackle some challenges in co-op or against each other as gladiators, but it feels like an add-on – as with most Single Player game efforts. Ryse: Son of Rome is not the blockbuster that everyone has been hoping for, but it’s still fun, if somewhat short. If you want a hack and slash that shows off the power of your Xbox One console you’re looking at the right game, but if it’s something that you want to last you’ll have to march on soldier.