MASHING TO MASTERY
Microsoft recently decided to test out a new digital pricing initiative, and Ryse: Son of Rome is the first test for this pricing model, so now seems as good a time as ever to share my thoughts on one of my favorite titles of 2013. Ryse's development is actually a fairly bumpy one. Initially, Crytek designed the game as a Kinect-only title called Codename: Kingdoms, but development was halted and the game was built anew as the Xbox One exclusive we now know today. While some of the original game design decisions mostly likely still exist (quick time events are present for all executions, and the game is unabashedly linear), Ryse has little in common with a Kinect game. It is most assuredly a combat game from beginning to end, and a pretty good one at that.
Ryse's initial reveal at Microsoft's E3 2013 press conference was a bit of a rocky showing. While the game looked gorgeous, the gameplay seemed to consist largely of QTEs (quick time events) and cutscenes. The developers even described the game as “mashing to mastery” and this set message boards ablaze with trolling of the game's basic gameplay mechanics. Hopefully anyone with negative impressions can wipe those thoughts away from their minds and see the game for what it really is... a damn fun beat-em-up.
Ryse: Son of Rome is a traditional vengeance tale set in Rome during the early first century. The game chronicles Marius Titus' rise to power within the XIV Legion and eventually leads him to discovering the mysteries of the brutal murder of his family. Microsoft and Crytek spared no expense in the game's presentation values, including first-class voice-overs, grade-A performance capture, and a truly epic score. The game is also the premiere game for Crytek's own 4th generation game engine and features amazing bells and whistles in the graphics department. From the separate movements of the soldier armor and character animations to the beautiful swaying of foiliage in the wind, you may not see a better looking console game in the near future, but the most surprising thing about the game is just how good it feels to play.
Ryse is a classic combat game, and while it does not contribute new mechanics to the genre, the high quality gameplay shines brightest in the blocking mechanics. Most of the game's scenarios feature Marius fighting 4-6 enemies at a time and the fights are scripted similarly to that of a martial arts film (each enemy attacking the player in succession). Timing Marius' shield block correctly is the key to player's success, and this particular timing window is expertly designed. Every type of enemy in the game has his/her own attack pattern, and once the player gets into the groove of the blocking rhythm, high combo numbers and executions will become second nature, and these executions are actually more than icing on the cake.
Executions in Ryse are quite impressive and make a great argument for including performance capture in games of this genre. Every facial animation has been captured along with the basic animations of each execution, so while it comes off a bit gratuitous, the horror of each execution is expressed in dramatic display and this feature helps to give Ryse a very clear identity. These executions also grant the player different buffs (more focus for stopping time, health, xp bonuses, and power boosts), so choosing a buff before completing each execution grants an additional layer of strategy to the game. The weakest portion of the game shows itself during the game's boss battles. Nearly every boss battle features one enemy routine, so the battles can be easily completed even on the hardest difficulty setting. Fortunately, these boss battles are few and far between and they all look extremely good, so the ease of difficulty can be slightly forgiven.
It's pretty obvious that I enjoyed my time with Ryse's single player campaign, and while I could recommend the game on that alone (especially at the current budget price of $39.99), the multiplayer element is also a blast to play. While the game only allows two-player co-op, there are many maps to fight through, as well as a ton of armor upgrades, and multiple executions to unlock in the game's gladiator mode. Crytek is also supporting the game with quite a bit of DLC to keep fans of the game playing for months to come, so this game isn't just a one play-through affair. I would love to see our readers give this game a chance, and would certainly welcome a sequel with open arms (get on it MS/Crytek!).
Thanks for reading, and make sure to email me at Vern@XboxUncut.com with any thoughts on this write-up.