By James Daly
Developed by Crytek and Microsoft Studios, Ryse: Son of Rome has you play as Marius, a Roman General recounting the tale of his exemplary military career to Emperor Nero.
Ryse offers an average story that is clearly meant to take a backseat to the combat. The world of Ryse: Son of Rome is centred around violence, both as a conceptual demonstration of power, and a method of achieving goals. Another theme of the game is dealing with loss, as we watch Marius suffer against the immense power of his enemies. Poignant as this is, empathising with Marius, likeable as he is, does not save this game.
The game is relatively simple, with some variety in fighting commands and a a few different mechanics to spice up the gameplay. One thing the game does particularly well is create a sense of commanding your own army. The player lines up Marius and his legionaries, and then marching on the enemy, pausing to defend in an authentic Roman tortoise shield formation. This feature also includes an option to launch an offensive volley of pilas (spears) at enemies, making quick work of enemies en masse.
For the most part, Marius marauds around slaughtering barbarians like its going out of fashion in an apparent homage to Electronic Arts’ Dante’s Inferno (side note: Marius has a striking resemblance to Dante from that game). Marius hacks and slashes through hordes of enemies with flair and precision, but the violence feels hollow because the game can’t communicate the physical sensation through the controller. As a result, Ryse: Son of Rome can be dissatisfying at times.
The game looks good with realistic graphics and vivid cinematic sequences but this is dashed at times by on-screen hints and glowing interactive items and enemies. I know Ryse needs to educate the player in how to actually play, but it could have been done better with more subtle devices. This leads me to the biggest problem with the game: it doesn’t feel like a game.
Ryse: Son of Rome feels like a tech demo made to launch the Xbox One, and that is exactly what it is. Every scene shows off the capabilities of the console, and so they should, but this reliance on showing off what the hardware can do has been employed at the expense of clever game design and a truly memorable story. Ryse is good, but it is all wrong as a video game. It can be fun to play but there are not many people who would want to complete the campaign more than once.
The game feels shallow and that really is a shame. A game set in Ancient Rome like this could have been so much more. The story isn’t actually bad, it just feels sort of cheap and unimportant for the most part, like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The good news is that if you persist with the game then you do eventually get a decent, enjoyable section with a solid ending, but you really have to motivate yourself to play until that point.
The thing that really annoyed me about Ryse is the best part of the game involves defending a wall from an attack by an endless horde of enemies equipped with siege towers and ladders. Firstly, the siege towers never actually hit the wall, making them nothing more than a visual backdrop, and, secondly, the whole sequence is a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. To make it even worse, I played Return of the King on Nintendo Gamecube and that game looked and handled when it was released back in 2003, a whole 10 years before Ryse: Son of Rome.
Overall, Ryse: Son of Rome is a moderately fun game with a very limited appeal. This isn’t one for everybody, but it is a fairly decent beat-em-up with some nice touches and a protagonist that you will warm to, eventually. The gameplay isn’t addictive like most games of this genre, and the story falls short despite the epic-like soundtrack.