I originally didn’t have much interest for Ryse: Son of Rome. It wasn’t the type of game that I’d like to play on PC and since I didn’t own an Xbox One until recently, the game generally flew under my radar and I never had my sights on it. However, is was recently free for Games with Gold members and I decided to finally push myself into the shoes of a Roman soldier.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
Release: November 22nd, 2013. October 24th, 2014 (PC)
As soon as I booted up Ryse, I was greeted with a gorgeous main menu. Now, this isn’t something that can necessarily increase the overall scoring of a game but it really is gorgeous. Everything is added to the screen without it ever feeling cluttered. Images are split across certain sections, giving the feel of a sort of canvas art print that you’d have hanging in a room. Progress is also shown by a red bar on each chapter in the selection screen. Everything is just so sleek and smooth that I would have been more than happy if Ryse was a main menu simulator and I just had this to stare at.
The story may seem a bit weird and confusing at first but everything starts to unfold at the start of chapter six. I won’t spoil any details but it consists of the game starting in the current and present day of Marius’ time. He then has flashbacks of previous missions against the Barbarians and that’s how the game pans out until it reaches the ending with the modern-day once again. One big twist is included and completely alters how you believed the story was meant to pan out. Although it’s an interesting story, it could have dealt with the flashbacks much more fluently as there seems to be quite a gap between each mission, some details that you’re missing. Since this was happening, when I booted up Ryse after a days break, I sometimes couldn’t even remember what had happened beforehand. Right now, I can’t even remember what the very first mission is and what I was tasked with doing. That’s not how a game should pan out. This doesn’t cancel out the fact that once you get into the story, it’s actually pretty great. The cutscenes are definitely on point, showing the realism and violence that surrounded Rome and its wars.
Now, the combat is simple but is still rather fun. It’s a brawler type which allows Marius to perform light and heavy attacks by pressing a single button. Enemy attacks can be dodged and their blocks can be broken through to deal damage to them. Also, attacks will need to be regularly countered by pressing the appropriate button at the correct timing. This sort of combat style has seen its way into many games but it takes the best ones to master it fully. The Batman: Arkham series will be games that I always compare brawling to, since, for me, they still reign as the king. Luckily, Ryse doesn’t fail at producing fun combat moments. It’s not as fluid as it could be; you can’t stop some attacks whilst they’re already mid-frame and this does lead to frustrating moments where you can see a slow attack coming from the side but you can’t do anything to dodge it. However, when mashing the X button, or the PC equivalent, Marius does hop from target to target, dealing meaningful blows which feel damaging.
The most satisfying thing about Ryse’s combat is the executions. Once dealing enough damage, Marius will slice up his enemy in all sorts of ways at the click of a button. These executions will always kill an enemy but tapping the correct button at the right time will grant you extra experience. On Xbox, you’ll only have to differentiate between X and Y, being blue and yellow. I admit that these may get a bit tedious after a while but overall, it’s gruesome, gritty and gorgeous. Does that make me sound like a serial killer? Interestingly, you’ll have four perks available to you and can switch between them at any given time; extra damage for a short while, refilling the Focus bar, refilling the health bar or gaining extra experience. These perks initiate on kills. I actually rather enjoyed this little mechanic as it made sure you’re constantly looking to keep everything topped up correctly and being able to switch between them so easily is also a neat bonus.
You’ll mostly follow these exact same footsteps throughout the entire game; dodging, countering, attacking. This can, over time, get rather samey as there are no extra weapons or skills to unlock. Little extra moments throughout the game are a nice touch from the main combat, such as when all the Roman soldiers crowd together to create a huge shield formation. You’re then tasked to move towards the enemy, stopping to raise your shields whilst they fire arrows. This is a pretty great scene to play and it made me feel like I came straight from the film, 300. Ryse then shook this up even more by doing the same but tasking me with throwing pilum at the enemy at the right moments and as much as I thoroughly enjoyed these scenes, they were just tacked on distractions from the repetitive combat. Once you reach the first boss fight, you think you’re in for a treat at something brand new. Although, it just ends up being the exact same fight as every other grunt that you’ve fought your way past to end here. The game even explains what you need to do as you enter the arena, literally holding your hand to make sure you don’t fail because as easy as it is to figure out, the game wants to feel smart.
Once I got to the Edge of the World mission, I was intrigued to find how it would pan out. It starts off with an eerie forest and your team is constantly watched upon as figures move in the shadows. However, I found it to be a shame that the enemies ended up being the exact same variants as the past four chapters. In a way though, I did still thoroughly enjoy this mission. It gave you new objectives in the midst of fighting as you had to single out specific targets and even the boss fight felt fun to play against, as you fought in front of a burning Wickerman. The arena was perfect for this type of fight.
In terms, Ryse brings up some decent dialogue exchanges with Marius being a pretty cool character. He’s completely void of any emotion and seems to be your typical Roman soldier, however, he is a great leader and tries to save his fellow comrades at every opportunity. Other than him, there aren’t many other characters at all that present themselves as main characters. I absolutely hate Basilius, the son of the Emperor. Period. His voice actor is pretty great but as a character, he does not fit into this universe at all. He seems more like a Pagan Min than Roman leadership. There are a few odd moments, such as the second mission where “Father!” is shouted more times than I could have possibly imagined. It kept making me think back to that Shaun glitch from Heavy Rain. Father! Father!! FATHER!!!
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. Since this released with the console, at the time, it really showed the power and capabilities of the Xbox One. Unfortunately, due to lack of some advancements, distant objects do look a tad out of place; fuzzy and quite dull in colour. In general, though, it provides some stunning scenes up close, as Marius’ armour glistens and the blood spurts from his enemies severed arm. Fancy. I can’t say how it looks on PC but I imagine images will look crisper and shinier, if the optimisation is on point, of course.
Overall, Ryse: Son of Rome has a base for a great game but falls short in a few aspects. Using the full power of the original Xbox One, objects in the main vicinity look absolutely gorgeous and offer some stunning sights of the classic sword ‘n’ shield fighting. Unfortunately, the combat can get incredibly tiresome and tedious if you’re playing in more than a half hour sitting. However, I personally find that the executions make up for this problem slightly; it never gets boring to see an arm fly off. After a while, you get sucked into the main story as it throws gorgeous cinematics and depth at you, albeit only for a short while until the game ends. If Ryse included extra weapons, an upgraded level system and a longer campaign, it could have landed softly on its feet in a very respectable area.
Below is a collection of extra images that we took during the game playthrough. Click on an image to see it in full screen.