Ryse: Son of Rome Review

Lee Bradley

Ryse: Son of Rome is a meaty game. The character models, the combat, the hunks of flesh you carve from enemies - everything about it is hefty and muscular, contributing to a game with uncommonly good, chunky combat at its core. A linear, story-led, swords and sandals romp, with an engaging multiplayer mode thrown in for good measure, Ryse is great fun.

You are Marius Titus, soldier in the Roman army, child to a murdered mother, son of a fallen father, owner of a silly hat with a brush on it - and you will have your vengeance in this life or the next. Marius' quest will take him from the sun-drenched villas of Rome, to savage forests at the edge of the world and back again. And along the way, he's going to hack off an awful lot of arms and legs.

What a handsome devil. Marry us, Marius?

Ryse is drenched in blood, revelling in lopped limbs, stabbed throats and stomped faces. Much of this comes during the game’s executions, timed button presses in response to coloured prompts that see Marius finishing enemies with deadly precision, his victims; screams of anguish presented with uncommon clarity. This is next generation hyper-violence.

The combat system is really satisfying. It’s rather simple on paper, but it has real clout, with every strike carrying weight and communicating impact. If you take a swing at a barbarian and your blow is blocked by his shield, the thump of steel against wood is tangible. The same goes for hits that connect with their fleshy targets. It feels great.

Mastering all this also takes a surprising amount of skill. As well as selecting the right series of hits, blocks and evasive rolls against the right opponents, you’ll have to get the timings right too, while also learning how to control crowds. It’s not especially deep, but it’s well realised and the best results can be quite demanding. By the time you’ve weakened an opponent enough to instigate a execution, you'll have earned its gory payoff.

More than just flashy QTEs, executions are also baked into the game’s systems. Pull one off and you'll earn a boost to one of four separate areas of your choice; Health, Damage, Focus and Valour (XP). Health and Damage are self-explanatory, while Focus allows you to instigate a kind of bullet-time in which you can dish out super-quick damage to enemies. Valour, meanwhile, allows you to purchase further execution animations.

Not only has he lost his arm, I can see up his skirt. Poor fella.

While there’s a large selection of unlockable executions - including finishers where you slay two enemies in one flowing animation, and contextual, environmental kills - they do eventually start to become repetitive. You won’t mind too much as the results are still satisfying, but we would have liked to have seen more variety. Indeed, the whole game would have gained from more variety, beyond the involving and occasionally annoying turret and tortoise formation sequences.

Regardless, with these ingredients, developer Crytek delivers a decent and surprisingly lengthy campaign. In around eight hours you'll hack, slash and stab your way through battle after battle, fighting barbarians, soldiers, scary dudes with sheep skull heads and even some familiar faces from history. The final third of the game loses its way a little with what feels like filler, but it's paced rather well and tells a decent story.

It's also one of the most beautiful games I've ever seen. While it may not match Forza Motorsport 5 for clinical photorealism, Ryse has artfulness to go along with its graphical grunt. There's a chapter around two thirds of the way through the campaign in which you venture through a dark forest, a giant wicker man dominating the skyline as fires crackle in the distance. It’s a hugely menacing environment, standing comfortably alongside the work of Naughty Dog and Irrational for pure atmosphere. Terrifyingly gorgeous.

The character models and motion-capture also excel, allowing the actors to shine with some standout performances. Every blemish and freckle on every face, every facial expression and strand of hair is exquisitely reproduced. It's a jaw-dropping game and although graphics aren't everything, I'd be lying if I said that playing the best-looking title on Xbox One didn't offer up a unique thrill. In terms of visuals alone, aside from a few dropped frames here and there, this feels the true arrival of next-gen.

Someone’s leaving the Colosseum with a colostomy bag.

This is also reflected in Ryse's multiplayer. Emerging from a dark tunnel into the roaring arena of the Coliseum for the first time is a spectacular moment, communicating the scale and drama of the stage. Yet this isn't an historically correct version of the Colosseum. Crytek has made some rather creative changes, building a setting with three different environmental themes and innumerable, randomised layouts that clunk up into place at the start of every round.

It's an arena mode, essentially, in which you play either alone or with a friend, fulfilling tasks like pouring blazing cauldrons of oil into enemy bunkers, defending designated locations, taking out archers and, of course, murdering the living crap out of hordes of brutish bad dudes. Just like the single-player it gets by largely on the strength of its combat, with super-cool co-op executions added to the mix. There's some fun levelling mechanics in there too, built around booster packs that offer up randomised equipment perks.

Not much was expected from Ryse's multiplayer, but it's a pleasant surprise, upping the challenge from single-player and offering a chance for players to continue gleefully slicing the limbs from meat-headed barbarians, while also hoovering up a few extra achievements. It's definitely worth a few hours of your time, despite my initial suspicions that it would be an afterthought.

On the subject of achievements, Ryse provides a decent enough list, most of which is dedicated to completing single-player chapters of varying difficulties, while also testing your combat skills. Like many of Xbox One's launch titles, including the digital-only offerings, it's also rather easy. Expect to be rewarded with about 750G from about 15 hours of play, without really going out of your way. It's solid enough stuff.

Ryse: Son of Rome then, is a very easy recommendation. With satisfying combat, breathtaking visuals, a decent campaign and a surprisingly entertaining multiplayer mode, it may not break new ground in terms of gameplay, and it offers little in the way of variety, but what it does, it does well. Alongside Dead Rising 3, it deserves a place in your fledgling Xbox One game collection.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Brilliant combat, a sumptuously produced story and some of the best visuals we’ve ever seen make up for the limitations of the gameplay. Ryse: Son of Rome is bloody good fun.

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Ryse offers a rousing score, fantastic voice acting and some hefty, clanking combat audio. It’s really well produced.


Stunning. Character models are incredibly detailed, the environments are all gorgeous and the facial animations are seriously impressive. This is what next-gen looks like.


Incredibly satisfying, chunky combat masks the limited gameplay. Turret and tortoise formation sequences are annoying and dull respectively.


The eight to ten-hour single-player campaign is fun, tells a decent story, and only falters in the final third. Multiplayer is surprisingly entertaining.


Weighted towards single-player and really rather easy, Ryse’s list guides you around every element of the game, from the story to the combat and the multiplayer. Competent.

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