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Ryse: Son of Rome is the gold standard of what launch titles are known for. It doesn’t do anything impressive or groundbreaking gameplay wise, leaving much to be desired but blows you away with its gorgeous visuals that could never be done on consoles like the 360 and ps3. Ryse delivers some decent action with a fighting system reminiscent of the Arkham series and a revenge tale that keeps you relatively engaged.
The game opens up with Rome in peril, barbarians have flooded the streets, the city burning to the ground and the Romans are on the defense barely holding onto their precious city. You take up the role of Marius Titus, a centurion in the Roman army and tasked with protecting the Emperor as the assault progresses further. As they hold out during the attack, Marius tells his story to the emperor thus 90% of the game is actually told in flashback, all the way back to when Marius just joins up with the Roman army. Quickly, a predictable set of events occurs and sets into motion Marius’s thirst for blood and revenge upon the barbarians, propelling him on a quest to crush them within their home state of Britannia.
Even though the events that spur this aggression from Marius can be seen from a mile away, the rest of the story is relatively engaging thanks to its surprisingly well voiced characters and believable looking characters. Both Marius and his battle hardened friend Vitallion are voiced extremely well that sells you on their intent throughout the game. Of course, Ryse: Son of Rome’s strongest attribute is its visuals. These characters look stunning and can truly emote what they are thinking and feeling by the animations and look on their face; whether it be the distraught Marius feels during the first attack against the barbarians, or the gritting of his teeth as he slices an opponent’s neck open. Ryse really is a huge accomplishment on the technical front and gives just a taste as to what we can expect from these next gen machines. The environments are no slouch either; they are varied and beautiful, going from a lush forest environment to the inside of the iconic coliseum. Everywhere you go in Ryse is absolutely gorgeous and it’ll make your eyes pop until the credits hit.
Unfortunately the gameplay doesn’t hit the same high notes as the graphical fidelity. Ryse takes a lot of inspiration from the Batman Arkham series. Combat is based around a similar counter system along with two attack buttons and a finishing “execution” move. Executions are done via quicktime events based upon the color the enemy lights up corresponding to the button on the controller. While on paper it sounds like a good idea and most of the time it is, there were some occasions where I simply could not see what color the enemy blinked, leaving me to miss the quicktime event. This would be a larger issue if it weren’t for the fact that there is almost no punishment for missing a quicktime event, it simply does not raise your combo multiplier up as fast as it would if you hit the correct input. This just makes the quicktime events monotonous and only a system to show off the games well choreographed execution moves.
The faults of the gameplay arise quickly since there isn’t much variety among Ryse other than a few scenarios where you enter a phalanx position or take up a scorpion weapon for supporting fire to help your fellow Romans. There are no other weapons other than Marius’s sword and his throwing spears and with only a handful of enemies the combat becomes repetitive quickly and kind of a slog. There is however an ability wheel that you can use during fights, these can be selected via the d-pad and can give bonuses to things such as health and damage based on your combo count. The scorpion sections are the game are clearly meant to break up the standard combat arenas but they are so automated and mindless it quickly boils down to “push left stick, press RT, repeat.” They are wholly uninteresting and feel tacked to desperately vary up gameplay. Kinect voice commands can be used in a few scenarios such as ordering your archers to give you cover fire which works pretty well but is ultimately a bit unnecessary since you can push the left bumper to do the same exact thing.
When the campaign is good and done, you can move onto the multiplayer portion of Ryse which consists of an arena style co op mode. This mode doesn’t do much to change up the bulk of the gameplay, but it’s hard to deny that having a friend mindlessly cutting off limbs with does enhance the experience. It takes place within the Colosseum and you and your buddy are given objectives to follow as the level literally shifts for each wave (by literally I mean the floor of the Colosseum actually moves up and down each wave). This hardly heightens the experience you’ll have with Ryse but if you have somebody to go through it with, it’s worth a go or two.
Despite how phenomenal Ryse: Son of Rome looks, it isn’t a big enough support to hold up both the story and the action that makes up the rest of the game. There is tremendous potential in Ryse, it’s combat included, but it just needs to be more well realized and expanded to something bigger and better. It is a rare case that we see a game set in the Roman time period and I’m hopeful that a potential sequel could take the series to greatness, but until that time, Ryse: Son of Rome is simply a pretty tech demo that uses its looks to masks its shallow interior.