There has been no game this year that has earned so much criticism before it was released than Ryse: Son of Rome. It is easy for us to enter a “hive” mentality and disregard this game based on the very possibility of it being generic and repetative, but Ryse: Son of Rome is nothing of the sort. This game is not a gilded trinket that is pretty to look at but one that lacks all substance and value. It is, in fact, a remarkable gem with only a few rough edges in the slew of launch games for the Xbox One.
The tale is of Marius Titus is an entertaining one at the very least. Playing this Roman soldier as he rises from a fresh recruit to hardened centurion of the 14th legion is a fantastic time. Like the majority of Ryse: Son of Rome, the narrative could easily be mistaken for a simple revenge tale, but there is much more beneath the surface. Alluring twists await you at every turn, fascinating characters constantly enter the stage, and an interplay with the Roman Gods are only hinted at. When the tale had come to its mysterious conclusion, it left me with a feeling only few games have, one of satisfactory unease.
Such a cinematic experience is greatly aided with fantastic dialogue and voice acting from the entire cast. Facial animations are absolutely groundbreaking, and the characters no longer speak with just words, but visual expressions. The game simply oozes production values, running on the phenomenal Cryengine, Ryse: Son of Rome may just be the best looking game ever. Enemies are detailed and varied upon location, the environments are just purely a delight to look at, and you can even see the individual chains on Marius’s chainmail shirt. When a limb is cut off, you actually see the exposed muscle and bone.
With all of this visual detail, it is rather disappointing when you stumble across less fantastic aspects of the game. Some cutscene animations pale in comparison to the majority of them, with janky character movements and twitchy objects. This does not happen often, but when it does, it quickly retracts from experience because of the typical beauty of the game. Also, and this may just be my personal eye for detail, but when a sword goes through an enemy, no cut is shown afterword. When the slow motion close ups practically force you to look at the blade lunging through the enemies, it astounds me that there isn’t even so much as a cut.
Combat is deceptively complex, and if given a cursory glance, on could mistake it for repetitive. You have two main methods of attack, there is a simple sword hack, and then a shield bash. Both have a set of light and heavy variations. From there you have a standard block and roll when attacks become too hard block. When things get to hectic, you can use your focus to trigger a stun and slow down mode. Then you can slice and dice your opponents with ease. Executions trigger a slow motion animation. This is the only real “QTE” element in the game, but they are completely optional. Tapping the button coordinating with the color of the outline around an enemy will give you a choice of four boosts. The boosts can be selected on the d-pad and they go as follows, health, focus, damage, and experience. These can be changed on the fly to match certain situations. Other more specific and advanced mechanics can be employed as well. Things like temporary and environmental executions, perfect strikes, and burning eagle mode are just the tip of the iceberg for this game’s combat.
Ryse: Son of Rome tries to break up standard combat with ranged weapon sections and “strategic” troop orders. There is nothing wrong with the automated ballistas or pillum sections, but I found myself wanting to meet these foes face to face, rather than pick them off from a distance. Forming soldiers up in a phalanx or testeudo formation, was interesting for the first couple of times, but beyond that, it became a boring slog.
At the end of the 6 to 8 hour campaign, you could go back and find all of the collectables, replay the game on legendary difficulty, or play the multiplayer gladiator mode. I am not a “multiplayer” gamer, I enjoy a solid single player experience, and only a bit of multiplayer action on the side. Gladiator mode absolutely shocked me with how enraptured I could become with a mode that involved others. The basics of this segment involve you teaming up with one fellow gladiator and facing off against a randomly shifting environment and enemy set. You are given the opportunity to select a patron god, and they will grant you special abilities and powers throughout the match. Committing co-op executions may be fairly shallow but it is a blast the first time you pull one off. beyond that, you have a partner revival system and taunts to freeze your combo counter between rounds, all while trying to entertain the Coliseum’s crowd.
Both single player and multiplayer have different currencies and upgrades. For single player, you are awarded in valor, which is extremely easy to come by. With valor, you can purchase mostly passive upgrades and executions to suit your play style. Multiplayer however, is much more in depth. Gold can be earned through gladiatorial victories or real world money, with it you can buy anything in single player and multiplayer, but you would be crazy to spend it on anything other than equipment for your gladiator. There are 5 tiers to buy from, and every tier will unlock at a specific level. Buying booster packs will give you a random assortment of armor, weapons, and consumables to equip. Not only is the perfectly rendered equipment a visual treat, but the higher tier gear makes you an absolute demon in the arena.
Unfortunately, there is a terrible aspect that plagues the overall multiplayer experience, the microtransactions. This method of payment has a place within the industry, but not here. They are an understandable aspect to free to play games, but an absolutely unacceptable one for a $60 title. There is no reason nor basis for these microtransactions to exist, and they cheapen the experience drastically.
Reviewing this title post launch has given me a perspective different from my fellow reviewers. Because of the negative exposure this game received, I expected little to nothing from this game and was floored at how wrong I could be. This is not only an exceptional launch title, but a fantastic game in its own right. There is nothing wrong with a difference of opinion, everyone is entitled to one, and there can be no singular opinion, but when one is ill-informed, that is what irritated me. People who reviewed Ryse: Son of Rome prior to its release, made no attempt to understand the intricacies and timing of combat. They all but ignored gladiator mode, and the depth that it provided. Ryse may be no masterpiece, but it certainly deserves a fairer shake than it received from each and every one of us.