The Romans. With a massive penchant for eating and killing, it could be said that they were a bit nuts. Ryse: Son of Rome aims to whisk you away to that world long past, an alternative world of the Romans; and whilst there isn’t an awful lot of eating, there is a hell of a lot of killing.
First announced way back in 2011 as an Xbox 360 title, Ryse is now an Xbox One hack and slashing exclusive, bringing the very best out of the next generation console. Before the One was released, Ryse was the game being talked up from all quarters for it’s attention to detail and quite frankly amazing graphics, if there was something Microsoft wanted to show off, Ryse would be the go to guy. But as we’ve seen before, graphics don’t make a game and even when they look this good, it doesn’t necessarily create a must have game. There’s got to be something else to it, a decent story perhaps?
Yes, a decent story would be a good start and Ryse excels in these parts. Taking on the role of Marius, a Roman general, you’ll get the chance to follow him from humble beginnings right up until the point where he takes control of of the Roman Legion. Split up into eight chapters each of differing length, it’s an epic tale of revenge that after a relatively slow start gains pace well, concluding with one of the best second halves of a campaign you are ever likely to find. Whilst the single player doesn’t follow a strictly believable storyline, there’s enough nods in there to the historical Roman era to make it something that you’ll want to follow and keep interested in.
I mention that it starts off rather slowly and being completely honest, I was pretty bored for the first few hours of gameplay, having to grind my way through in an attempt to find some excitement. I’m not a huge fan of hack and slashers, with X, Y, A and B button mashing being far from my ideal form of gameplay, I have to admit to not really getting hyped up for the game prior to installing it in my Xbox One. It turns out to be a very linear game, pointing you in the right direction every 5 seconds with little room for exploration and contains many invisible walls (my pet hate), that stop you from really getting the most out of the title. Marius is a big guy and I’m sure all that heavy armour weighs a ton but the fact that he can quite happily clamber over certain obstacles whilst flatly refusing to go anywhere near others kind of ruins things for me.
I think it was for these reasons that I struggled through the first few chapters, but was hugely glad I did as after a slight story twist (one that I’m not going to spoil), the whole game lifted in pace and quality.
The fighting mechanic itself is spectacular. Whilst you’ll need to be on the ball to time your button presses right, you also find a fair degree of tactical nous is needed to defeat the enemy line in front of you. Smashing the X button constantly won’t do anything other than give you a broken controller, but mix up the X and Y attacks whilst bringing precisely timed blocks and evades in will see you toppling even the most difficult of opponents. And if you do get your precision right, you’re treated to some of the best slow motion quick-time events I’ve ever witnessed, with even more gore, hatred and representation of death than previously seen. Gone are the old fashioned button prompts, instead replaced with your opponent ‘glowing’ the colour of your next hit. It isn’t necessary to always press the correct coloured button, but do so and you’ll find yourself gaining enough XP and health boosts to see you right through to the end.
I say health boost, but if you’re one of those players who would rather earn more focus (needed for the big special attacks), take an XP increase (for leveling up Marius) or would prefer an all-out damage boost then the choice is yours by switching the option, on the fly, just before you dispatch an enemy. There are no health packs lying around in ancient Roman times so you regularly find yourself switching between the four boost options in an ever difficult attempt to stay alive whilst keeping Marius kitted out with the best level ups available. You could cheat your way to victory by upgrading via that ever great microtransaction system but you really don’t want to do that. Do you?
With Kinect being such a major point of the new console, it would have been strange to see Ryse not make the use of the new technology and although it’s limited to voice control only, it works perfectly well. There are times throughout the battle that you get the feeling of being overrun by Barbarians and the chance to shout out to Kinect to get your archers to cover you is a welcome addition. Kinect haters will be glad to know that any voice command can be substituted with a long press of a bumper button.
If you’re one of those people who prefer their multiplayer sessions to single player grinds then you’ll probably be interested to hear what Ryse has in the form of online combat. Well, the truth be told, it’s a bit of a let down. A co-op campaign would have suited Ryse down to the ground but unfortunately there is none available. Instead, there is a gladiatorial contest in which you and a friend get to take on waves of the very best Barbarians in a number of differing arenas. It’s decent enough but once you’ve played it once, you’ve basically experienced all it has to offer with only the offer of a few better weapons giving any reason to keep going back. It’s slightly disappointing and as an Xbox One launch title, I would have expected to see more.
Before the Xbox One was released, Ryse: Son Of Rome was brought out whenever something needed to be ‘shown off’. There’s no debate that it looks absolutely beautiful but we need a decent story and some great gameplay for it to be a real Xbox One must have, and Ryse comes so so close to delivering on all three counts, with just the gameplay (on occasions) letting me down. Be warned, its a very bloody gory game that won’t take much longer than six hours to complete, but it portrays a world of an alternative Roman Empire immensely well.
If you’re after a single player story and want to see the best visuals this side of a seriously high end PC, pick up Ryse. If you don’t, then there’s something majorly wrong with you.
Did I mention there’s lots of killing?