Welcome to Ryse, a journey that will take you through various roman locales as you maim, stab and cut your way through everyone that stands in your way. With the release of the Xbox One, many look for the game to showcase their hardware. And while Ryse certainly does that with its highly detailed and expressive character models and breathtaking vistas, does it fare as well in the gameplay department?
Developed by Crytek / Published by Microsoft Studios
Available on the Xbox One.
Ryse is the tale of Marius, a Roman Centurion. Rome is under siege by barbarians and we follow him as he thins their ranks and makes a name for himself. The story begins at the end and jumps back to explain the events that led to that moment, and while it’s straightforward for the most part, the story diverges unexpectedly once or twice, keeping it fresh and interesting. It also helps that Ryse has some of the best acting seen in video games, and this greatly helps sell the characters’ motivations.
Ryse’s main gameplay hook is its combat. At all times you’ll be equipped with a sword and shield. You can deliver both normal and heavy attacks and use your shield to either deflect the incoming swath of a sword or bash it into an enemies face or torso. These moves can be chained together to create fluid attacks, which are graded depending on your timing. Depending on how fast and precise you are with your blows, you’ll be graded higher and receive more experience points. Once an enemy has felt the tip of your blade enough times, a skull will pop over their heads indicating that they can be executed.
These moves are Ryse’s most flashy and grotesque moves, as you’ll rip open throats, cut of limbs, and bash in faces. The enemies will flash yellow or blue, representing the buttons on your controller, buttons you can hit to perform the executions. I say can because the kills will play out whether you hit the buttons or not. Hitting them only grants you a higher score. This deflates a lot of the danger and challenge you would otherwise get with these attacks. When performing these executions, you’re allowed to choose from 4 different perks, boosts that are delivered at the end of the execution. You can raise your attack power, get more experience, raise your health or your focus (focus allows you to slow down time and wail on your enemies).
The problem comes in when you consider that throughout all of Ryse, all you’ll do is fight and you’ll see everything there is to see during the first two campaign missions. New enemies are regularly introduced in an attempt to liven up things, but after a while it’s repetitive nature starts to show. It also doesn’t help that there seems to be only five or six enemy models in the game, and you’ll repeatedly find yourself in combat with two or three enemies that look exactly the same, breaking any amount of immersion the game had managed to build up. Sometimes gameplay is broken up with two activities: either manning a scorpion (crossbow) or arranging a phalanx and marching on your enemies. These are fun little diversions that help break up the repetitive combat.
In addition to single player, Ryse includes a co-op multiplayer component. You and a friend can go into the Colosseum to dismember your way through a variety of different objectives. The combat remains as repetitive as in the campaign, but the ever changing environment of the Colosseum and the co-op executions help make it a fresh experience, one that might have more legs than the campaign.
As with all first-party Microsoft titles for the Xbox One, Ryse also has micro-transactions, which will undoubtedly turn some people off to the game. In multiplayer, you gain gold as you play through the arenas. This gold is used to buy booster packs (think of it as card packs). There are bronze, silver and gold packs, and depending on which you buy, you have a better chance of getting better equipment and consumables for your gladiator. The problem is that gaining gold is very slow, something probably by design, to push you to spend real money on the game. Seeing as the multiplayer is surprisingly good and a bit more varied than the campaign, it’s a shame that it’s brought down by these micro-transactions. Not many will have the patience to grind their way to better equipment.
Despite its repetitive nature, Ryse is a fun experience with a simple, yet well told story that might surprise you once or twice. Factor in that Ryse is only about six hours long, and the spectacle is enough to get you through it before it all starts to wear on you.