Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Probably a pretty good way to describe Ryse: Son of Rome in a sentence. The game is a basic God of War clone with repetitive and simple combat. There is no real enemy variation, only one set of weapons and a couple of boss fights. There are a few turret defence missions, but these are nothing more than repetitive shooting galleries that require very little skill. Levels are linear corridors leading into samey battle arenas. Controls are clunky and traversal is awkward, partly due to the controls, mostly due to bad level design. So if its not the combat that necessarily keeps the player interested, it certainly isn’t the repetitive narrow passage way/fight area level design, then what is it they made me walk away from Ryse thinking it was worth the 6 hours I invested into it?
Firstly lets get the obvious out of the way, Ryse looks gorgeous. I picked up the PC version and it looks stunning. Facial animations are up there with some of the best, if not the best. Pores and blemishes are visible on the skin, and hair looks and reacts realistically. The backgrounds and sky boxes are stunning and really lend the game a sense of scope and grandeur, even if the level design doesn’t quite do it justice. This game was originally released as a Xbox One release title, with the intention of showcasing the power of the new console, which it achieved spectacularly. The graphics and overall presentation of the game really drew me and without a doubt pulled me into the clichéd revenge storyline more than I would have expected beforehand. It does feel at times you could be watching scenes from Rome or some other period show or film. This styling and the structured, chapter approach of the story really does make me think of it like a serialised drama.
Each chapter follows a storyline focused on the new area, with an overarching theme of revenge as lead protagonist, Marius Titus works towards finding and killing those responsible for his family’s murder. The story is nothing revolutionary but sets up the different areas well enough and the story is well acted and paced throughout. The story sees you defend Rome, complete a Saving Private Ryan style beach landing, travel to Britain and fight as a Gladiator, as well as many other staple locales. Each new area is well designed and gives each chapter its own unique feel. Unfortunately that identity stops with the story and presentation.
The gameplay is extremely basic, you have an attack button, dodge, parry and shield attack. Swords and shields have heavy and light attacks, and certain enemies will require you to use both to break their defences, while some late game enemies will require you to time parries perfectly to open them for an attack. This is where the depth of the combat ends, you gain no more abilities or weapons so you play all eight chapters with the same load out. This causes the gameplay to become extremely repetitive. The game is improved somewhat in the early game as you watch the brutal takedowns, but then these sections become repetitive QTEs that don’t even require you to be accurate with the button prompts. The animation will play out regardless, with you gaining less points and boosts to health re gen. But those penalties are inconsequential when you are downing wave after wave, with each takedown almost refilling the health meter every time. Speaking of the waves of enemies, be prepared to fight hundreds of identical clones throughout the game, with you getting occasional armour differences between the grunt, the shield guy, the heavy and the assassin type enemies with occasional archer sections. The archer sections usually require you to throw a spear at an archer, or march forward in formation using your legion’s shields to block the shots before breaking cover to return fire. These events usually occur once per chapter and amount to nothing more to filler as it slows the pacing and offers no challenge. There are some crossbow turret sections but again they offer no challenge as the cross-hair locks on automatically and shots are quick. You also get to command your own archers to fire at certain points, allowing you to take down crowds if you might be getting overwhelmed. The commands are controlled with a button prompt on PC, but Xbox One owners can shout out the orders if they own a Kinect.
Ryse clearly had some intention of being a Kinect exclusive early in its development, with some residual aspects available still on the Xbox One version. However the developers made the decision at some point to make it a third person action game. That certainly opened it to a wider audience as a lot of people would have ignored a Kinect only version. That decision was likely made as the graphics and work required to make such a stunning game became increasingly more expensive. That makes the game seem stuck between two ideals. The original vision was probably more of an interactive movie with players interacting and controlling proceedings with Kinect, but instead we got a weird mish mash of that idea and a God of War clone. Every time a chapter started I would be drawn in by the cinematic cut scenes and would start playing, hoping that their would be some new gameplay variation, but it just never happened. The game also has an online mode, where you team up with another player and battle waves of enemies (just to give you a change of pace from the single player), but I was unsuccessful in any attempt to join an online match.
But I did enjoy playing through Ryse. It did feel a lot like participating in a TV series. The story feels like a low budget version of Gladiator but does enough to keep you invested by introducing new antagonists regularly and then giving you a reason for you to want them to die bloody, horrific deaths. The bombastic cuts scenes and set pieces round things off with a nice action movie type feel. The basic gameplay allows you to switch off and just get into a constant rhythm of attacking and blocking so it never becomes stressful. Its the type of game you can put on for an hour, switch your brain off and play through a chapter, and I think that’s what made me enjoy it. I could just sit back and enjoy watch elephants charge at me as I fired bolts at waves of barbarians, I would attack and parry as I watched flaming boulders fly across the sky and smash into the scenery. I did make the mistake of thinking that they may mix up the gameplay a bit with each chapter, and was disappointed each time I realised it was more of the same but thats probably my own fault as its pretty clear from early on this is more focused on story and cinematics than gameplay.
I would compare the purchase of Ryse to buying a Blu-Ray or going to the cinema, for the price it is available for its certainly worth one play through if you own a Xbox One or PC. You might go a bit insane playing it though.