Ryse: Son of Rome (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013
Parent Talk: I can tell you right now this isn’t a game for anyone under 17 years of age. It’s rated M for mature because of partial nudity, blood and gore, intense violence, sexual content, and strong language. As you attack enemies the action slows down and zooms in on brutal executions which feature dismemberments, decapitations, and much more. This is an adult game through and through.
Plays Like: Most people will say it plays like God of War and leave it at that, but that’s actually not very accurate. God of War features a wealth of puzzles, and the combat system is always a mixture of melee combat and magical attacks. There’s no magic to be found here. While the combat system is based around close quarters combat, there are a variety of other gameplay options like taking control of a small group of Centurions, commanding your army to attack key spots and more.
Review Basis: Played through the single player campaign on what equates to the normal difficulty setting, and played a few Gladiator arena battles online.
When media outlets started releasing their early reviews for Xbox One launch titles, Ryse
was one of the games I was most excited to hear about, and after reading all the reviews, it was the title I was the most shocked by. Everyone said the game was extremely repetitive, environments were too similar, and overall it was simply an ok experience at best. Well after having completed the game, I don’t know what everyone was talking about, or if I’m just insane, but this is a standout title for the platform and one, in my personal opinion, that shouldn’t be missed. It’s the type of launch title you crave for, an original IP with balanced gameplay and absolutely stunning visuals. What’s not to love about that?
This will come as a shock to absolutely no one who has played the game, but the graphics are incredible. They clearly show the early technical prowess of Microsoft’s new system. Characters animate realistically, facial animations are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and the environments are both varied and ridiculously detailed. From a crumbling Rome cityscape to a fleet of Roman warships, the action zips back and forth to many different locations, each completely different than the last. Bushes and trees slowly sway to and fro in the wind, water causes ripples in puddles during the rain, and the particle effects from a smoldering boulder are wonderful. There’s one scene where you’re making your way through a fog-filled forest that’s just spectacular.
+ The combat system is very easy to learn, and can prove rather challenging to master. During any enemy encounter you have a basic strike attack, a strong attack, a shield slam used for blocking incoming attacks, and an evading roll for unblockable attacks. You can also use a focus power, which stuns all enemies around you for a short period of time. Each of these attacks can be used in combination to deliver some truly outstanding combos. It’s not uncommon to see the combo counter hitting the high 60s. Once enemies have taken enough damage, a skull icon appears over their head, at which point you press the right trigger to activate a quick-time execution. The enemy will then flash blue or yellow and if you press the corresponding button fast enough, you will cut off one of their arms, slice off a leg, or impale them. It all looks wonderfully brutal.
+ The purpose of executions are to help you replenish health, focus energy, increase your experience gained, or cause more damage to your enemies. You can cycle between these options by using the d-pad, but can only have one bonus active at a time. Once a character is in execution mode, it’s essentially an instant kill, and while hitting the correct button might not be super important on the normal difficulty setting, it becomes a must on the higher settings. Failure to hit the right button doesn’t actually negate the execution, it simply lowers your bonus.
+ As you murder thousands of enemies you earn special points which can be spent on a wide variety of unlockables. These include extending your health bar, making your focus attacks last longer, etc. There are quite a few to unlock, but by the end of the game odds are good you’ll have virtually everything you need unlocked, but if you’re really anal you could use real-world money to buy gold, which can also be used to unlock these skills.
+ Buying gold via micro-transactions doesn’t unbalance the game because skills are all locked to your rank. For example if you’re only level two you can’t use real-world money to purchase a level five skill. This is great because it doesn’t allow players to bypass the whole game, become godly, and finish everything in 45 minutes. When I hit the end of the game I actually questioned why there were micro-transactions here to begin with given how pointless they are so long as you play the game.
+ Outside the sword combat Marius partakes in a wide variety of other duties. From shootouts with archers, to my personal favorite, taking control of a small group of Centurions, the action stays fresh throughout the game. When with your Centurion allies, you can march toward a group of enemies, using your shields to block arrows and lob lances back at them. It’s also possible to tell your troops where to attack next, giving you some freedom to decide exactly how you want to tackle some of the larger combat sections.
+ Excellent use of Kinect. You have the option of holding down the left bumper to tell your troops to launch their volley of arrows, or you could just say “Fire Volley!” It works the first time, every time and makes it much easier than holding down a button, which takes a few seconds to register.
+ The narrative might be a little clichéd, but ultimately I enjoyed every minute of it. At the beginning of the game players are introduced to Marius, the game’s protagonist, as he makes his way to the Emperor of Rome, with the city apparently besieged by barbarians. When Marius meets up with Emperor Nero, he begins to tell the tale of how he came to be. The story remains interesting throughout, and as I progressed I always wanted to learn more about the different struggles Marius went through to get to where he was at that point.
+ The game lasts for anywhere between four and six hours, depending on if you look for secrets or just hightail it for the next checkpoint. This might sound a little short, but it actually works in the game’s favor as any longer and the combat would start to feel repetitive. As it is now it smoothly flows from one combat sequence to the next perfectly.
+ The online co-op mode pits two players together in the famous Coliseum. Before each fight the players select their gods for which they’ll represent, which grant them a special power. This might be renewed health after every execution, or perhaps a focus recharge. Each round the Coliseum changes its landscape so the action doesn’t become too repetitive, and the objectives also alter after a short period of time. In all, this mode acts as a nice diversion from the single player campaign.
+/- Boss fights can prove to be challenging and fun, but one of the oldest gimmicks in gaming history is featured here, replenishing boss health just to extend the battle. The bosses don’t gain any additional moves, you simply fight them all over again, which artificially makes the boss fights last far longer than they need too.
As seems to be the case with all these new next-gen games, there are a couple of bugs present. Steven and I played a Gladiator online game together, only to have to quit out during the very last round because the enemies glitched and became stuck in time, impervious to our attacks. I also experienced a bizarre glitch where the colors wouldn’t appear during execution scenes, meaning I had no clue which button to press. Thankfully the bugs appear to be kept at a minimum, but they’re present nonetheless.
Ryse: Son of Rome is the perfect showpiece for the Xbox One, and it also happens to be a fantastic game. If you’re ok with an action game lasting around a half dozen hours, featuring a fun and easy to learn combat system, and some of the best visuals out there, Ryse is for you. This is easily the best single player game on the Xbox One right now, and a true AAA action game. Don’t let the other critics fool you, this is one excellent game.
For Sparta….err…For Rome!
Final Score: 9/10