Ryse has not been without its teething problems. It was far from blowing everyone away at E3. Plagued with dodgy frame rates and what seemed like a heavily QTE based core mechanic, not the greatest of starts. Well, the final code is here, and the question is will Ryse go down in history as a legend, or is it fated to be forgotten by the ages?
Game: Ryse: Son of Rome
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Ryse leans heavily on flashbacks for its plot device, so after the introduction, you will find that the story is told to you in chapters (missions), by the lead character himself. While this doesn’t always work for some games, Ryse manages to pull it off somewhat competently due to the content and narration.
Around an hour or two into Ryse you might start to recognise the story at play. Unfortunate things begin to happen to the games protagonist, Marius. Family members expire, higher beings intervene, revenge is had and the plots thicken. Switch out the Rome setting for a Greek one and there is more than a passing resemblance to another rage driven warrior’s story. However, despite the obvious parallels Ryse does make the age old cliche its own, while also making Marius a likable character.
Anyone who has seen Ryse in motion even in passing can not argue this is a pretty game, and considering the developer, it isn’t at all surprising. The good news, is that the game now runs at a somewhat steady 30 fps, which is no doubt a result of the ridiculously small field of view. Marius will often move from the gorgeous vistas of Rome itself to lush forests and eerie woods over the course of his campaign. Unfortunately most of it is obscured by the man himself. About 35-40% of the screen to be exact. What is worse is that this camera hinderance can sometimes worm its way into affecting the gameplay. That aside, it is still nice to see a baseline for what the Xbox One can handle, knowing that things can only get better.
Animations are wonderfully executed (no pun intended), while Marius swans around the battlefield decapitating, amputating and generally plunging his sword into his enemies from every conceivable angle. Facial animations however can be a bit hit and miss. On the whole they work and are done well, but for some reason, everytime a character smiles you are treated to this weird toothy grin that makes them look like a rapist.
As previously mentioned, voice acting is to a high quality and if anything it is the main reason you are able to digest the story telling. It’s not often you can say that the whole cast seems to have pulled their weight, but it can be said here. Every other aspect of the sound design is also on the same level of production quality, from the sound effects to expected epic soundtrack, it all slots into place.
And here we are, the gameplay, what should conceivably be the best part of any game. Naturally by that statement, you have probably assumed Ryse’s gameplay is shocking, it’s not, but it has it’s share of problems. Namely, it is stuck in the past.
Ryse likes to concentrate on its aptly named “executions” rather than the gameplay style choices that are usually associated with the action adventure/brawler genre. You are given four that can be used with a quick tap of the right trigger when an opponent is sufficiently battered and they generally fall into the usual archetypes. Health regen, focus (Ryse’s ‘pwn’ all button), damage boost and XP boost. The problem here is that while there are at least 50 different execution animations, and they all look gorgeous might I add, there is no real way to stamp your identity on your play style. Adding to this, using pretty similar combinations of the X and Y buttons to execute them becomes immensely repetitive. Crytek have attempted to hide the QTE nature of this by removing the button prompts and replacing them with an outer glow around the enemy you are maiming, but as you can imagine, it doesn’t work. In addition, you can block, you can throw out a generic string of attacks by mashing ‘X’, dodge or break an opponent’s guard with Y, but beyond this there is no learning curve, no unlockable moves, not real strategy to employ. Basically once you have experienced the first hour or two of Ryse, you have essentially experienced all it has to offer outside of the relatively intriguing story. This is a problem, and it seeps over to the level design too.
Each mission has a simple structure in that you are either working your way from A to B, which is not a bad thing in and of itself or defending a point from barbarians. All the while using the simple combat system which feels like a poorly bastardised version of Batman’s Arkham series without the gadgets. The A.I doesn’t help the situation much as they execute pretty simple routines and can be found staring into the distance every time you execute one of their comrades. These are a bunch of barbarians I would not like to go into battle with as they are more than happy to wait their turn to be brutally slaughtered. Breaks from standard combat come in the form of on rails “turtle formation” sections where you will be attempting to get past a series of archers and pretty much amounts to moving forward in increments followed by a momentary pause to block incoming arrows.
There are upgrades available in Ryse, but these are reduced to the extension of life/focus bars, increasing the effectiveness of executions or expanding an inventory you don’t really posses, being that the only items you will be picking up is the odd javelin. This all but renders the upgrades redundant. As unlock systems go, it is pretty bare bones.
On the plus side, Camera controls are pretty stable, except for the odd occasion the game wants you to look in a very specific direction regardless of what you are doing, be it fighting, looking for the in your face collectibles or navigating the environment.
After the relatively short campaign you are free to take part in Ryse’s co-op multiplayer with randoms or a friend. It is essentially a scaled back Horde mode in that there is a limit of 2 players, but it is just as fun. Dare i say it makes more sense in this environment considering the theme of the game itself. There are a few RPG elements thrown into the mix, letting you earn rewards and unlock different armour parts for your gladiator. Anyone who is familiar with the MMORPG genre will know exactly what to expect here. However, it is a shame that this level of customisation was not implemented in the single player as games like Darksiders II have proven it can work.
What we have here is a relatively short game with no real replay value when it comes to single player. The campaign will take you around 6 hours to work your way through if that, but if you like to dismember fol with friends you can find some added enjoyment in multiplayer.
There is nothing awfully wrong with the core of Ryse. It has strong dialogue backed by a decent story, an amazing graphical engine courtesy of Crytek, and the potential for a solid combat system. The problem is, it is just too shallow. Too much rinse and repeat, not enough depth. Quite frankly it screams first generation release, which makes it is a fleeting one night stand instead of a long-lasting relationship. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend you spend £50-55 to experience what it has to offer. If you can find it for a much cheaper price, say £20-£30, it might be worth the jump.