Ryse: Son of Rome Hands-on Preview - Are We Not Entertained?
Written Wednesday, November 06, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Ryse: Son of Rome isn’t the game you think it is. Or at least, it’s not the game I thought it was after dismissing it as a QTE button masher following Microsoft’s E3 2013 demo. Instead it’s a fun, engaging, brutally violent hack and slasher with a decent combat system and the best visuals I’ve seen on a console. Yet it’s not without its problems.
I spent two hours lopping off limbs and wading through a sea of blood recently, sampling the opening of the game and a darker, scarier chapter from around two thirds of the way through the story. Here’s what I thought.
Ryse begins with a cutscene showing the chubby Roman Emperor Nero waddling through his opulent palace, in fear of his life. The city is under attack from Barbarians and Nero is alone and scared. This is where our hero Marius Titus comes in; a thick-jawed man’s man with a red brush on his helmet, blood on his hands and revenge on his mind. He immediately escorts Nero to a safe place and begins to explain exactly who he is. Cue flashback.
A few years ago, Marius is a relatively new recruit to the Roman army, a posh boy with a wealthy family and aspirations to fight alongside the military’s leading regiment. Returning from battle for a chat with mummy and daddy and a quick tutorial fight, Marius’ home comes under attack and although he distinguishes himself in battle, his parents are brutally murdered. As he grieves over his father’s dead body, swearing revenge, a nearby commander growls, “Welcome to the 14th, lad. If it’s blood you want, I promise I’ll give you as much as you can handle.”
And I tell you what, he’s not lying. Ryse: Son of Rome is absolutely brutal. In those two hours I chopped off arms, plunged swords into throats, decapitated dudes, stamped on heads and almost drowned in their viscera. This is without doubt one of the most violent games I have ever played, and at first I found it a bit odd and off-putting. But by the end I was revelling in stylish, next-gen goremongery.
Here’s how the combat works. Against standard opponents, you can tap a face button quickly to initiate a sword attack, or hold it to pull off a slower, heavier attack. Chain a few of these together and, eventually, a skull will appear over your enemy and you’ll be able to instigate an execution. This is where the QTE moments come in, as time slows down and a coloured outline appears on your victim, indicating which buttons you have to press. Whether you nail it or not, your enemy’s gonna die a horrible death, but your timing dictates how you pull it off and what rating you get, from Recruit all the way up to Centurion and Legendary.
Built into all this is a series of bonuses which can be activated by hitting the relevant direction on the D-pad. There’s an XP bonus, for example, which adds a multiplier to your chain attacks and is banked when you perform an execution, with further points added according to the quality with which you perform it. These points can then be spent on unlocking further executions, including some which allow you to take out more than one attacker at once. There’s loads to purchase, unlocking as you progress and gleefully dialling up the violence.
Most interesting, however, is the way your health is managed. There simply isn’t any other way to regain health other than to fly into battle, weakening an enemy and then executing them, ensuring that even when you’re near death and vulnerable, you still have to keep pressing forward. It adds an air of tension and risk/reward to proceedings.
So while it doesn’t sound particularly exciting on paper, it’s really quite engaging thanks to the brilliantly swoopy, flowing animations, strong feedback from the Xbox One controller and a wonderful sense of impact. Hampered only by a dodgy camera, which when you’re near scenery occasionally blocks your view and therefore the button prompts. It’s fun, but the problem with Ryse: Son of Rome, however, isn’t what’s there. It’s what’s not.
You see, what I played of the game didn’t offer up much variation. There’s additional details in the combat which I haven’t covered, but it’s still just combat. The only sections which provided any meaningfully varied gameplay were short spear-chucking and turret shooting sections, as well as a portion where you storm a building by forming a Roman tortoise defence with your squad’s shields. But these moments were fleeting and occasional. Over the course of what promises to be a meaty campaign, you have to wonder if Ryse: Son of Rome will become tiresome.
Put another way, Ryse is a stunningly beautiful game with character models, animations and environments that outstrip anything I’ve seen on next-gen hardware so far. It’s gorgeous. But while the visuals are undoubtedly next-gen, the gameplay is a throwback to days of old. We’re used to seeing combat like this at the heart of expansive titles like Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham games. Based on my time with it, Ryse: Son of Rome has no such depth of gameplay. It’s just a brutally efficient, entertaining brawler that may turn out to be rather limited in scope. Time will tell just how much of a problem that is.
Ryse: Son of Rome is an Xbox One launch game, hitting North America and Europe on November 22nd.