Ryse: Son of Rome

Ryse went through an interesting journey on it’s way to become an Xbox launch title this year. It started out as a Kinect game before that was entirely scrapped, and in the end it became a “God of War” clone in the eyes of the ignorant. While nothing can be said of what the game might have been, the game that did end up on the Xbox deserves far more credit than most people have given it after marking it off as a “QTE fest”.

The game literally does not feature a single QTE from start to finish, at least not technically. In order to get “legendary” or “centurion” executions on enemies – which give you the most XP or health/focus regained – you do have to follow the button prompts. Unlike more annoying prompts of the past where the button itself is slapped on the screen, a practice which reached it’s peak of stupidity in the God of War series where the buttons were in a different place each game and you literally were punished by losing a massive amount of health if you messed up, in Ryse the enemy you are killing or object you are attacking glows the color of the button you should press. The button doesn’t have to be pressed, it doesn’t matter, you just won’t get as many points. There is one place in the game, though, where you do need to press the right buttons, which is literally the last 5 minutes of the game, otherwise you are boned.

Graphically, Ryse is easily the most beautiful game on console right now, including Battlefield and Killzone. The Crytek people excel at one thing, and that is making their engine ridiculously pretty. Character animations are all smooth, down to their lips when they talk or the swing of their axes and swords, and look entirely convincing. The skin textures for the people and the advanced graphics that are now being used such as sub-surface scattering or layered texture overlays to put blood and dirt, or even facial stubble, onto models is awesome as well. One thing is for sure, graphically this game is entirely “next gen”. It may not be full 1080p but it’s hardly noticeable outside of Upload Studio.

As a former student of archaeology and Mediterranean history, I can’t help but point out the wild inaccuracies of the story. Barbarians never invaded during the reign of Nero, especially not Boudica who never left Britain and died there after or during the rebellion that destroyed London; Nero never authorized the legions to leave Britain and they never did; Nero also never had any children. On top of that, the scutum carried by the soldiers are all wrong. They all are based on inaccurate hollywood depictions of late period Praetorian guard who carried smaller scutum. It wouldn’t be a big deal – and isn’t too big of a deal – but the entire structure of a Roman legion boils down to the shield. Each soldier wore only one greave, on his right leg – because his left leg was meant to be protected by his shield, and doubly protected by the shields on either side of him in the line. Anyway, as with literally all entertainment media involving Rome, history is fudged over intentionally.

These damn graphics.

Despite those fudgings, the story is actually quite interesting – if Rome is the kind of thing you dig. Instead of following the mythological wet dream fan-fiction route of God of War, Crytek decided to craft a story that actually made sense. Ryse is a revenge story, mind you, just like God of War, but the mythological aspects and the characters themselves contain far more depth and behave far more realistically.

One valid complaint from many sources is the combat in this game. It can get repetitive, and probably will, but the game isn’t long enough to make you get tired of it. It took me maybe 7 hours to beat the game and that was with creating upload studio videos of certain parts, as well as dying repeatedly on one particular boss. So you should be able to beat the game before it ever gets repetitive. What this boils down to is that you don’t have more than two attacks. You can shield bash, and you can strike with the sword – in different ways. Other than that Marius can block or roll. There are no fancy Thera’s Bane or spinny tops of death here. Which is kind of a shame, because your enemies all get to do cooler attacks than you.

The combat system is very simplistic but it is rewarding for those who can enjoy it. What little levelling system does exist in the game seems to be unimportant, though I did not experiment with not levelling up. I for one didn’t even know you could learn new executions until I already beat the game on normal and started on Legendary. If Ryse does evolve into a franchise, it would be very pleasant to see some more depth added to the combat, or to take it a little off the rails and give you a move list like true hack and slash games such as Dante’s Inferno, Ninja Gaiden, or others.

 Ryse is definitely worth the time to check out for anyone who likes mythology, ancient history, and/or hack and slash games. The experience is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and the game accomplishes exactly what it set out to. If all goes well, hopefully Ryse will become a deeper game than this brief but engaging slash fest.


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