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EGM Review:
Ryse: Son of Rome

Posted on November 21, 2013 AT 03:00am

The Ryse and fall of the Roman Empire

Launch games are strange. Companies try to put together selections that show off their new hardware, but frequently, it’s obvious there wasn’t enough time to completely flesh out an idea. Originally, Ryse: Son of Rome was planned as a Kinect game for the Xbox 360, though most of the Kinect features were stripped away when it made the transition to the Xbox One. That, combined with the rush to make the system’s launch, could account for the game’s lack of depth.

I enjoy a good hack-n-slash adventure, and Ryse provides enough visceral entertainment that I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had. But the game suffers from a lack of depth, repetitive gameplay, and a fairly short length (my first time through the campaign lasted around 10 hours). While Ryse’s foundation is solid, its flaws keep it from being the killer app the Xbox One so sorely needed at launch.

Players take on the role of Marius Titus, a Roman warrior who works his way up to the rank of general over the course of the game’s battles. Marius is your average everyday supersoldier, cut from the same cloth as Captain America. He can be surrounded by a horde of barbarians and hack his way out of the predicament—with nary a dent to his armor.

The core gameplay is basic: Lead Marius into battle, stringing together combos of hitting, blocking, and countering. Enemies attack in groups, and you’ll have to watch over your shoulder to protect your back. Time your button presses to rack up gigantic combos, getting bonuses for better timing. Once an enemy’s weakened, a symbol will flash above his head, prompting you to hit the right trigger and enter a slow-motion quickt-time event. While you don’t have to be perfect when hitting the buttons to successfully pull off the execution, the better your timing, the more experience you’ll receive.

While executions are optional, there’s a distinct advantage to pulling off as many as possible. Every time you successfully execute an enemy, you’ll receive a bonus in certain categories, such as health regeneration and experience. You can choose where you want to receive this bonus on the fly, so you can build up your experience until you need a health boost and then switch. It adds a nice level of strategy to the relentless battles. The fighting itself is smooth and fluid, playing much like the Arkham series, but the pacing is hampered by consistently slowing down for executions. I enjoyed this semi-mindless foray into ancient Rome, but I certainly understand that some players might decry the game’s repetition and lack of depth, so it’s best to be aware of those issues going in.

Ryse also offers upgrades to buy using valor—achieved during single-player combat—or gold, earned in multiplayer mode. It’s worth keeping an eye on these upgrades, as the game rarely prompts you to do so. You’re a Roman general, after all. You should know when to increase your stats.

Between close-quarters fights, the action is peppered with rudimentary exploration and puzzle-solving (though you can barely call these “puzzles”), as well as some long-range fighting with spears and other projectiles. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but the breaks are welcome and complement the design nicely. What is revolutionary, however, is the ability for Marius to direct his troops during some of the larger-scale battles. This can be done either with the controller or—more ideally—through voice commands using the new Kinect. I wish there were more of these sequences, since they’re great, hectic fun.

Gladiator mode—Ryse’s multiplayer option—is fun but shallow, allowing players to battle each other for money and glory—though not really enough of either. Set in the Roman Colosseum, this mode gives players the chance to create their own gladiator, customizing weapons, shields, and armor. Different dynamic tilesets provide an innovative way to change maps while keeping the action in the context of the Colosseum, which provides some variety to what would otherwise become a monotonous trudge. Even so, while the gladiatorial combat is fun for a while, it certainly isn’t going to drag you away from Call of Duty for long.

While I really enjoyed Ryse, the game does have its share of problems. Combat is repetitive, particularly with the limited number of enemy models—the sharp graphics only accentuate the fact you’re fighting the same guys over and over and over again. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more variety. Also, the narrative is basic and stilted, which is a pity, since the voice acting is great and the setting intriguing. I wish there were something other than a handful of scrolls you can collect throughout the levels to add details to what should’ve been a rich, colorful story.

Ultimately, Ryse: Son of Rome makes for a compelling addition to the Xbox One launch lineup. It’s a vehicle to show off the console’s next-gen graphics—and, during the command sequences, the potential of using Kinect to interact with the game. I have a feeling that Ryse will be compared to more modern action-adventure franchises like Assassin’s Creed, which isn’t fair. Instead, Ryse hearkens back to action classics like Golden Axe, where the point is to work your way through each level, hacking apart everything that comes near your sword. This is where Ryse excels, and the stunning graphics make for a hackfest like few others. And to me, all these elements trumped any of the little gripes I might’ve had along the way.

Developer: Crytek • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.22.13
For those who enjoy a simple hack-n-slash game, Ryse: Son of Rome fits the bill. This is no deep adventure, but rather a chance to burn your aggression by chopping your way through hundreds of barbarians, slowing only to enjoy the carnage during the brutal executions. Still, the stunning visuals and compelling setting will keep some gamers engaged throughout, making Ryse a flawed-but-interesting addition to the Xbox One launch lineup.
The Good The visuals are breathtaking, previewing what’s possible in this new generation.
The Bad Perhaps the barbarians were inbred, but they still all look too much alike.
The Ugly Getting all that blood out of your armor and tunic is going to be impossible.
Ryse: Son of Rome is an Xbox One exclusive.
Marc Camron, Senior Editor
Marc Camron is pleased to finally get a little bit of time to enjoy new games this holiday season, even if Batman: Arkham Knight isn't one of them. The rest of the time will be spent getting ready for CES in Vegas, starting on January 5th. At least it should be warmer there than in Colorado.

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