There’s no doubt being the only new IP out of the Xbox One launch line-up makes life a little bit more difficult for Ryse: Son of Rome. Almost every other NextGen title has the benefit of being an already popular series, and therefore any shortcomings with new technology are usually forgiven.
But any issues I have with Ryse aren’t a result of developers playing with new technology; they’re with the developers utilizing that technology to make the game look impressive, rather than focusing on making it enjoyable to play.
Set in a gorgeous Ancient Rome, Ryse tells the story of Marius, a man completely driven by vengeance. I won’t go into why he seeks revenge, because that would just spoil the whole story, but aside from a bit of cliche dialogue it’s quite a gripping tale that just builds and builds to such an epic finale that left me wanting more. If only I could say the same for the gameplay.
It took me a while to realise it, but the game is actually on rails. It’s kind of disguised in a way, because you can in fact explore every now and then for hidden chronicles, scrolls and vistas, but you certainly can’t go wherever you wish. You’ll fight some barbarians, run down a linear path, maybe pick up a scroll along the way, and then fight some more barbarians. Couple this with the fact you’re equipped with nothing but a sword and shield (and the occasional spears) for the entire game, and you could say things get pretty damn repetitive. The overly simple controls consist of pressing A to block, Y to disarm and X to attack. If that’s not simple enough for you, you can also use a ‘focus’ ability to slow down all nearby enemies for easy kills, although your focus has to be recharged over time.
The gore and dismemberment featured in the kills does keep things a little interesting, however, and you can also spend gained exp, known as Valor, to unlock a large range of different Executions. The Executions can be triggered when your opponent has taken enough damage. A quick time event then takes place, but not the kind with big distracting X or Y buttons showing up on your screen; instead, the opponent has a feint outline of either blue or yellow, which is definitely a much better approach to QTEs. You won’t be penalised whatsoever for hitting an incorrect button during an Execution though, which begs the question: why bother having QTEs? Why can’t Marius just get more creative with his attacks and finishing moves the more I hack and slash and the weaker my opponent becomes?
Unfortunately, the pointless mechanic additions don’t end there. In the second chapter, I was taught how to slash through timber as well as throw spears to break a certain object in order to progress forward in the level – and I never had to do either of those things again after that. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t use path clearing with spears to better hide the collectibles, most of which are just right out in the open to grab. It’s a missed opportunity, and sadly not the only one.
There are no new weapon unlocks. You can unlock new executions, or upgrade your health, focus, damage and exp boosts, but you can’t unlock new weapons, not even in online multiplayer. Now, some of you might know this game was in development for seven years, and in that time it went through many different stages. At one point you had a bow as a weapon and it wasn’t even set in Rome. Why didn’t Crytek keep the bow mechanics?
Throughout the game, every now and then, you can play a bit of tower defense and position your troops where you want them to be, and that includes where your archers should be, so that in the midst of battle you can hold down LB for 5 seconds and then they’ll spray arrows at your opponents. The tower defense is actually a rather neat addition, given the Roman setting, but I’d much rather be able to shoot my own arrows than attempt to hold down LB while still fighting at the same time.
Screenshots of Ryse from earlier this year also showed how many collectibles you had acquired as well as a Community section with friends’ highlights and a summary of your own stats. None of this stuff made it into the final game, which is a real shame, because it means the only time you know how many collectibles you’ve obtained is when you collect a new one. That’s hardly helpful. You can’t even see which chapters you missed items in. I could be wrong, but isn’t that a pretty standard feature for any games with collectibles?
As for the missing Community section, it’s just yet another missed opportunity.
There are only 8 chapters in Ryse and each one takes roughly an hour to complete. Once you’re done with the short but sweet Campaign, you can jump into the online Gladiator mode to co-op with a friend or stranger against waves of enemies, or you can try to tackle it solo. It’s safe to say Gladiator mode definitely adds some much needed replay value to Ryse, though I did have trouble finding someone online to play with.
There are a variety of different arenas, and in each one you’ll have to complete a different series of tasks (kill a certain enemy trying to flee, stop enemies from lighting the wicker man on fire, etc). Halfway through your Gladiator series, the arena will completely transform into another, so it’s a two-for-one really, and at least you’ll never get tired of seeing the same scenery for too long.
Your Gladiator can of course be customised to your liking, using gold acquired from Gladiator battles to buy packs containing both common and rare items. The more you spend the more rare items you get in a pack. The swords, shields, consumables and armour in these packs increase certain boosts, such as health or focus, so they’re extremely useful, but it will take you quite a while to earn enough gold for any of it. Crytek and Microsoft have solved this problem though with micro transactions available.
I didn’t say it was a good solution.
If this is meant to be Microsoft’s answer to the God of War series, for the most-part it fails in comparison. Seven years of development and we end up here, and I wonder if the team at Crytek are satisfied with the end result.
They changed their mind several times, and each time they did, they probably lost sight of what they were actually trying to achieve. Ryse: Son of Rome is still a beautiful game, and it tells a great story, but stale swordplay and linear paths throughout the game leave a lot to be desired. If Crytek are still set on making a sequel though, I’d still play it.