Finally, the next generation is here. Xbox One has been in the hands of the public for nearly two weeks now, and now that I’ve had a chance to get my hands on some of the games and remove the rose colored glasses that often come with new toys it’s time for the reviews to roll out. So without further ado, here’s our review of Ryse: Son of Rome.
Ryse: Son of Rome follows the tale of a Roman general named Marius Titus. The prologue takes place in a massive battle in the streets of Rome, with Marius leading the defense of the city and handling the personal protection of Emperor Nero. Upon getting to a secure location Marius, having some time on his hands, decides to tell Nero his personal story. The narrative then takes us back 10 years to the start of Marius’ military career where we see him arriving at his family home in Rome to be greeted by his father, who proceeds to tell his son about the legend of Damocles.
The story of Damocles is about a Roman centurion, well renowned for his skills in battle. In a massive battle against a large enemy his three most trusted generals turn tail and run, leaving him to die in a very gruesome manner. Upon reaching the underworlds Damocles is given new life by the goddess of revenge and tasked to avenge himself against those that betrayed him. It is explained that from that point on, all Roman commanders are given a dagger with an engraving of Damocles’ face on the hilt as a warning to always take care of their men, lest the avenging spirit return.
After we are told this story the house of Titus comes under attack by barbarians. After Marius and his father fend off the attackers and experience a rather large personal tragedy, they head out into the streets of Rome to fend off a larger group of barbarians who are trying to kill members of the Roman government. From then on Ryse becomes a story of war and revenge. It’s not the most in-depth story, and it won’t win any awards for originality, but it plays out well, and has some truly epic moments and memorable characters.
Moving on to the graphics, I can confidently tell readers that Ryse: Son of Rome is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I’ve got my Xbox One hooked up to a 50 inch LG Smart TV and the graphics are very smooth. In my playthrough I saw zero instances of screen tearing, the framerate only dropped when in the first few seconds of a multiplayer game and I only saw texture-pop once and it was very quick. The graphics are amazing, lighting is realistic, textures are very fine, character models move fluidly and realistically, and swords and armor glint very convincingly in different lighting. I’m including some video that I’ve taken using the Xbox One’s DVR and Upload Studio apps to demonstrate how good Ryse looks in motion below.
Let’s talk about gameplay. A lot of critics and gamers alike were quick to hate on Ryse when it was first shown for being what seemed like a game based on endless quicktime events. Having played through the single player game twice and thoroughly enjoyed the multiplayer, I really don’t see what all the fussing is about. Yes there ARE quicktime events, but they are merged seamlessly with the swordplay in the game that you barely notice them. The controls are simple, you use the D-Pad to select any powerups or bonuses you have, right shoulder button activates your focus, A is to deflect attacks with your shield, B is to dodge, X is for light attacks with your sword and Y is to bash enemies with your shield. Once you’ve hit your opponent enough times or have them in a precarious position a skull icon will appear above their head. This signals you to pull the right trigger for an execution move. The moves are not combinations you have to remember, they are context sensitive to your surroundings and the brutality of them is determined by how high your combo meter is. When executing an opponent his body will flash either yellow or blue. If you time your button press properly you get bonus experience point which can be used for upgrades. There is no penalty for missing this button presses and the execution happens either way, but you do miss out on some XP.
Upgrading your character goes to both your single player and multiplayer characters. With experience in the single player campaign, you unlock Valor points. These points can be used to unlock upgrades for health, focus, greater gain of experience and valor, and unlock upgrades to inventory and focus meters, which all apply to single player only. You can also unlock several executions for co-op, single player, back-facing, and context sensitive attacks, which all apply to both single and multiplayer. In multiplayer itself, you upgrade your character based on a levelling system. There are 100 levels and 5 tiers, each tier gets unlocked after a certain level is reached. As you level up in the arena, you are awarded with gold, which can be spent on booster packs that contain random armor, weapons and health upgrades. You can buy gold with your Microsoft account but I find that you get enough just by playing the game.
Multiplayer is a real treat in Ryse. Normally I wouldn’t cover multiplayer content, however I must point out how addictive multiplayer on Ryse: Son of Rome is. There is no competitive multiplayer, instead you and one friend play as gladiators in the arena, competing in bloodsport against AI enemies that get more difficult as you play. This is terrific as I don’t think Ryse’s combat would work in a competitive PVP environment. Working as a team to defeat hordes of enemies while earning gold and levelling up together is really a lot of fun though.
As an added bonus you can also play the arena modes alone if you are feeling brave. When playing co-op, players are given the option to select what arena environment they want to fight in and then before you start you must choose what god your character worships. Each god comes with different bonuses and, if worshiped for enough matches, can unlock a special shield or sword to prove the gladiator’s devotion. The four gods are Apollo, Jupiter, Mars and Diana. Jupiter and Apollo have attacks that slow down enemies to a crawl, Diana has a wind attack that blows enemies away and into hazards and Mars has an area of effect fireball slam.
As this game is a launch title, naturally I have a few gripes about Ryse. They aren’t game breaking (mostly) but they can become annoying. The smallest gripe is that the single player story is short. I beat it in one 6 hour sitting and aside from a few scattered collectables it wasn’t really all that replayable unless you want to feel awesome by starting the story with all the unlocks. Sometimes characters will disappear in combat, there are some clipping issues that sometimes end up with enemies half stuck in walls and a few instances where Kinect voice commands do not work. These are all minor complaints that can usually be overlooked. There is one bug that happens frequently in co-op that needs to be addressed. On several occasions when playing through waves of barbarians with friends, we would find that the last bad guy to die would end up freezing in place. No one would be able to kill that one enemy, and the game would still count them as alive even though they are immobile, meaning that the round would not continue on. Since there is no option in the menu of Ryse to restart the round or load the last checkpoint, this means the only option available is to cut your losses and quit the game, forfeiting any bonuses, experience or gold.
Ryse: Son of Rome is a fun game, with great graphics, a decent story with terrific voice acting and motion capture. The combat is simple and fun without overdoing it on the quicktime events. The upgrade system is simple, intuitive and challenges players to get as much experience as possible without being frustrating. There are a few glitches and bugs in the game but aside from one nasty glitch during multiplayer, it’s all around a very functional and fluid experience. Out of all the launch titles on the Xbox One that I’ve played so far, this one is my favorite and one of the best experiences in gaming I’ve had in a long time. I highly recommend this as a purchase for anyone adopting the Xbox One as their go-to next-gen console this holiday season.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 10/10
Sound – 10/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Ratings: M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI), MA15+ (ACB)