Spartacus, Ben Hur and The Gladiator are some classic Roman-themed films that I always believed could make for a great video game. To act the part of the courageous warrior, battling through waves of gladiators in the crowd roaring setting of an ancient coliseum; that prospect has always been a vision of mine. So when I first laid eyes on the new hack ‘n’ slash Roman inspired game, Ryse: Son of Rome, I thought my wishes were answered.
Ryse: Son of Rome is a third-person action adventure through the battlefields of Ancient Rome. Blood and death mostly define the experience, with players utilising swordplay to tackle waves of ruthless enemies, and over-the-top gruesome finishers to execute their foes. The gory tale that unfolds is much like any period specific action flick you have seen before but for this game it works and meshes seamlessly with the combat style. You play as Marius Titus, a Roman soldier who witnesses the death of his parents by the blade of barbarian warriors. To avenge his parent’s death and serve his emperor, Marius joins the Roman army ‘The Fourteenth Legion’ to seek vengeance on those responsible. As he climbs through the ranks and proves his worth to the empire, he is exposed to the truth about the people he fights for, and thus, the tale takes a turn into the realm of betrayal and dishonour.
If I had to surmise the narrative, I would likely describe it as a ‘tale as old as time’; a fight between good and evil but with a twist of betrayal. With that said though, the story is very formulaic and doesn’t offer anything truly noteworthy other than some well-casted voice actors and well-written dialogue to match. The characters that inhabit the story are all unique, both in voice and appearance, and this at least provides some depth to the tale.
Crytek have without a doubt taken advantage of the next-gen hardware graphically speaking. The overall style of the game is stunning, and no detail has gone unmissed. Each characters mannerisms, facial imperfections and combat animations are expertly crafted and provide this Roman narrative with some much needed life. Crytek have recreated the world of Rome in great detail; The environment design has been patiently tailored and is so impressive that even Caesar would approve. From the empowering warships to the majestic palaces, the visual landscape for this game has been carefully designed to create a larger-than-life roman experience.
To be honest though, whilst the environmental design is visually spectacular in so many ways, what especially caught me by surprise was the poorly implemented illusion of choice. I was eager to explore the dark forest, tussling through the branches and avoiding traps, and while I found a path where it looked as though I could cut through some trees, I was quickly stopped from going any further. Simply put, this is poor design as the point of an illusion is not to see the framework, and as such, the linear limitations were far too apparent! Honestly, having initially thought the game was going to deliver at least form of semi-open areas to explore, I immediately started to find the overall experience very controlling, and my freedom for exploration literally non-existent.
In Ryse: Son of Rome, the combat system is fairly basic and appears to have borrowed design elements from the Batman Arkham series, but without a layered or diverse execution. Essentially, each battle consists of swordplay, shield pushes, counter attacks, executions, and repetition. To give the game some credit, during the first hour I genuinely relished in the flow of the combat; battling insurmountable enemies while timing my every move. However, the fun was short-lived and sadly got repetitive very quickly. The same combat animation plays out over and over again, which gets can exhausting as you can only use one button for sword attacks. Another offence move in your repertoire called the focus attack is useful, but more so amusing to watch as it looks like a super-powered kick inspired from the film ‘300’. I thought the executions were amazing to watch in action, but felt the repurposed quick-time events were restrictive and didn’t offer the liberty of selecting your desired finisher.
Additionally, the levelling system did provide at least some freedom, and based on your preference, you can select to level up your health, focus, damage or XP using the d-pad. In battle, you subsequently earn points from defeating your enemies, racking up combos and performing well timed executions. The formation battles were a great feature and a real nod to classic Roman war strategies. The battle sequences have you calling your troops, forming them into line to march towards the enemy all the while taking cover from arrow fire, these scenes truly add to the experience of war. Surprisingly, the voice commands worked very well as Kinect picked up my directions almost every time; although, I found using the controller a lot quicker to perform these actions.
Arena mode is the core multiplayer component that takes place within the iconic Colosseum, which isn’t at all historically correct, but is still a fun take on the arena. There are two available options, single player and up to two players with online co-op, but unfortunately, there was no local co-op available. Personally, I was really disappointed by this decision, and couldn’t imagine it would have been too difficult to implement a split screen version in case you wanted to play along side a friend. Each stage has a unique environment and layout which spring from the arena floor before each battle begins; It’s an entertaining animation to watch before you prepare yourself for the chaotic sword bashing. The arena mode is a lot more difficult than the campaign as at times you are pitted against five to ten warriors at once. I found it to be a good training ground to improve your slashing and execution skills, plus there are enough objectives and tasks in-between to break up the combat.
Cinematic is the first word that comes to mind when describing the presentation of Ryse: Son of Rome. The game plays out like a blockbuster movie from start to finish, and the action does not stop to take lunch breaks. The sound effects and music spared no expense and added the right tune for the ideal atmosphere for this Roman tale. The violence is hard to watch for some and doesn’t hold back, from hacking limbs, slitting throats and even smashing faces with your trusty shield, in many ways this game does emulate real combat from the past.
Ryse: Son of Rome is a visually striking experience that provides a great cinematic display, but that’s where the positives end. The campaign is unreasonably short, taking around five to six hours to complete, and the combat grows tiring with its repetitive control style. There is some replay value in the multiplayer, but honestly, it doesn’t deliver enough to keep you coming back for more, and it is also shamelessly riddled with micro-transactions that should not be there. At most, I would recommend it as a rental if you’re looking for a graphical spectacle or perhaps a good time waster as you’ll be able to play it from start to and finish in less than a weekend. Sadly, I had high hopes for this launch title, and ultimately, was left dissatisfied. Crytek may have invested a lot of hard work and hours into Ryse: Son of Rome, but to me, it ended up being another case of ‘style over substance’.