Ryse: Son of Rome Review: Roma Ignis
Ryse: Son of Rome is an extremely conflicting game. On one hand, you have an incredibly gorgeous game, quite possibly one of the prettiest on the Xbox One, with combat that's more tactical than you'd think. On the other hand, the game isn't much more than that. It's a series of combat bouts against an onslaught of barbarians through gorgeous and varying vistas that will sometimes try your patience due to its repetitive nature.
A story to not remember
You step into the shoes (or possibly Roman sandals) of Marius, son to a slaughtered family, out for vengeance and to reclaim the good name of Rome. With a dramatic setup like this, you'd think that Ryse would be bathed in historical authenticity. In reality, that's not the case at all. Not that it detracts from the experience in any way, but if you're a history buff, prepare yourself for some tall tales.
It's not that the story is decidedly cringe worthy, as it has some rather epic moments, but it's almost too much of a case of, "been there, done that." It's all very Gladiator or even Spartacus, and it doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from the norm. However, those are the pitfalls of making a game set in ancient Rome.
Thankfully, the story never outlasts its welcome, since Ryse can be completed at a rather modest 6-8 hours. It can last you a little longer if you're the type to go looking for each collectible.
A button masher this is not
Since Ryse was unveiled back at E3, its combat system has come under heavy scrutiny. First and foremost, if you go into Ryse and treat it like a button masher, you'll find Marius' face in his own puddle of blood really quick. Instead, it relies on being able to read your enemy, as well as predict when they're about to strike, so you can deflect attacks and unleash heavy hitting combos that end with the most brutal of executions.
Patience is often the key to success. Simply mashing the attack button will not only leave you open to attacks from all sides, since enemies aren't dumb to wait to attack you if you're already engaged with another enemy, but will also allow the surprisingly smart enemies to dodge your attacks if they're too predictable.
It can take a little bit to master the combat, but once you get the hang of it, it's largely satisfying. You block/deflect buttons with A, which can throw your enemies off balance when deflected right as you're about to get hit. The X button will unleash your Gladius and slice through your enemies, and the Y button will swing Marius' shield, which needs to be utilized in conjunction with attacks, so your enemies will get thrown off balance.
Marius can also slow his enemies down to a crawl with a Focus attack, letting him unleash a barrage of slashes as his enemies are suspended in time. It's very satisfying.
With all that said, it is important to note that the combat doesn't change much throughout the game. Whether you're fighting the very first barbarian or the last, you'll be going through the same motions from beginning to finish.
An anti-climactic sense of progression
Even though this is certainly more of a personal gripe, it's still an issue that should be called out. Throughout the game, Marius can level up various stats, from his health to his focus bars, as well as his combat proficiency. The problem is, that you'll gain so many Valor Points (currency for gaining skills) so quickly, that you'll have Marius over-leveled by half the game.
The ever so gory (and optional) executions
Around its reveal, Ryse was criticized for its use of Quick Time Events to finish off every single enemy Marius came across. Not much has changed since then, except for changing the way it looks. Instead of button prompts, enemies are highlighted in either yellow or blue, corresponding to the Y and X button respectively.
While these gory and ever-so-brutal executions are largely optional, as you can still put an opponent out of his misery using standard combat, the executions come with some needed bonuses. With a push of a button, Marius can gain bonuses to XP, health regeneration, Focus or damage. While each of them can be utilized to their max potential, players will find that keeping the health regeneration on to be one of the most effective ways to stay alive.
There are also over 90 different executions for Marius to pull off. You'll see some for dispatching a single enemy and some for taking out two at a time. There are even different executions depending on the bonus you have currently selected. Needless to say, by the time you unlock most of them, you'll rarely see Marius dismembering an enemy the same way twice.
Be wary of Microtransactions
The game allows players to progress Marius' skills with Microtransactions, which is relatively odd to see. Players can opt to use Valor (earned by just playing the game) or Coins to level him up. It's even stranger considering the amount of Valor you gain through playing the game makes leveling him up easy and quick.
It's odd to see microtransactions present in the game's single player menu, but just know that it's there, and that you should most likely avoid it.
However, Coins do play a much larger role in the game's multiplayer. Which brings me to...
The mode that's actually better than the Campaign
Rarely does a game that focuses on its Single player campaign have a multiplayer that's worth bothering with. Ryse is the exact opposite. This holds especially true if you have a friend to tag along for the ride. Did I mention co-op executions?!
You play as an unknown Gladiator, making a name for himself in various Arenas. As long as you keep the bodies dropping with creative combat and stylish executions, the crowd will be pleased and the payout will be good. Think of the game's multiplayer as Horde Mode set in Ancient Rome.
The better you do, the more Coins you earn (remember, the ones you can actually pay for with real money), which also lead to better booster packs you can buy. Since the developers didn't want to allow users to simply save up, or outright buy the best gear in the game, booster packs will reward players with random gear, depending on the booster pack's rarity and tier.
More than just a showpiece
Sure, Ryse: Son of Rome is a gorgeous game, possibly the best looking Xbox One launch game despite its sub-1080p resolution. But really, it's more than that. It's slower paced, tactical combat is fun, even though it never evolves throughout the game. It's an Xbox One launch game that won't be embraced by all, but should be enjoyed by many.