Ryse: Son of Rome has certainly seen its ups and downs since its inception over seven years ago. Developed by Crytek, the makers of Far Cry and Crysis began this long journey from a game initially called Kingdoms. Intended to be a Kinect game at first, Ryse: Son of Rome back then was imagined to be the melee game that the Xbox 360 library needed early on. As time lagged on and on, the team eventually abandoned the motion controls of the Kinect and developed what is known today as one of the most cinematic and visually impressive launch games on the Xbox One.

Nice helmet bro.
Nice helmet bro.

With beautiful games like Grand Theft Auto V and Halo 4, Xbox 360 owners were not strangers to beautiful graphics on the current gen. Crytek understood this and decided that this next gen experience was to be more on the action movie side of things. With gorgeous graphics and excellent facial performance and motion capture the name of the Ryse game, Crytek managed to carve an interesting niche.

Ryse: Son of Rome’s production value shines from start to finish with amazing graphics and beautifully executed scenes much like a high dollar action movie. The story that Ryse acts out follows a Roman officer, Marius, whose heart, soul, and family are dedicated in principal to the core idea of Rome. This idea or dream was to bring civilization and order to the world. Unfortunately, Marius’ talents and this dream were corrupted by the emperor (and his sons). So, in superbly bloody and somewhat 300-like fashion, Marius is taken on a journey that sees the loss of his family, the support of ‘the Gods’, and the loyalty of a well trained Roman elite platoon.  While the story itself was a bit predictable and takes place over the course of about 6 hours of gameplay, there were a few moments where the performances were definitely notable (the younger son of the emperor Basilius played by Jamie Ballard comes to mind). The cutscenes featuring these actors all managed to capture the scope and intensity of the scenes and battles to come. Oddly enough, the only misstep when it came to facial performances were in the enemies that you fought. At times, once in slow motion, you would see a foe’s expression uncharacteristically calm as they attacked or before you began a wicked execution sequence. Of course, this is quickly forgotten as the execution itself (which is the signature of the game) dominates the moment in a ballet of blood and brutality.

Basilius is a luxurious power drunk grade A jerk.
Basilius is a luxurious power drunk grade A jerk.

These executions were at one time thought to be all that Ryse had to offer. Instead, Ryse plays out more like Rocksteady’s Batman games. Certain enemies have certain attacks that can be countered and blocked while others must be dodged. Larger enemies must be avoided until the opportunity presents itself for a visceral attack sequence. Then, once whittled down to size, the executions (which are the highlight of the game) can be initiated effectively lopping of limbs with the greatest of ease. As you jump from battle sequence to sequence, you are faced with a decent variety of enemies in modest numbers that challenge you just enough to enjoy the gory finishing moves.

Ryse execution

With that said, since every enemy can be executed in grand fashion, you will soon grow tired of the repeated arm lopping and shield bashing. These sequences are often only varied by the angle at which you attacked or the position that they were in when you initiated the finisher. The biggest issue that can be had with this system is that the game doesn’t penalize you for missing the correct button presses during execution. Instead, the deathblow continues despite your failure cheapening the whole experience and making it all too easy. As the tattoo that the game leaves with you once you complete the game, those unimpressed with the finishers will probably deem the game as mediocre or even boring. On the flip side, those who can appreciate the beauty of the slow motion affair and the occasional environmental finishers will find a visually impressive showpiece for their shiny new Xbox One. In my opinion, the variety of enemy types wasn’t quite numerous enough to make the difficulty a rich experience as the Batman Arkham games are. There the environment or room you are place in to conquer some battles affect how you choose to approach each enemy. In Ryse, the arcade-style seems to dominate how the game plays out.

As the game goes along, Marius’ strength and abilities can be upgraded allowing him to more effectively wow you with his prowess using the sword, shield, and javelin. These upgrades extend your life and focus bars, enhance damage, and such. One could only wish that more finishers could be unlocked or that equipment could be upgraded or altered in some way. Instead, this XP system seems a bit hollow and useless outside of the obvious health, focus, and damage upgrades.

Ryse Upgrades

You’ll be given moments when you must defend your troops and lead them into a mass of brutish free men. These short moments of making shallow tactical decisions and manning arbalests spice up the action but not really in a fulfilling way. One can’t help but wonder if more battlefield strategy could have been incorporated in the gameplay to further make the experience either a longer game or just more ‘next-gen’. Oh the possibilities…

Every gamer has a library of fun that includes games of all kinds of genres. Many times this wealth of games reflect a gamer’s many moods. Sometimes gamers don’t mind sitting down with a deep and complex game for hours knowing that the end of the game is almost 100 hours away. Other times gamers simply want that quick and dirty fun experience that is just pure adrenaline. It seems that in this day and age, too many gamers are looking for that +100 hour, open world, fully customizable choose your own adventure. Ryse simply has that hack n’ slash fun factor that you can even enjoy with a friend online. It is unfortunate, however, that the co-op experience is not local and only online.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED... for just a little bit???
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED… for just a little bit???

Thankfully, Crytek has molded Ryse: Son of Rome into the modern day evolution of yesteryear’s beat ’em up games like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, or even Devil May Cry. Complete with epic boss battles, RPG elements, and just the right level of difficulty, anyone can don the Roman armor and feel invincible. As an effective mashup of Gladiator and 300, Ryse: Son of Rome is a gorgeous arcade-y action fest of simplistic fun.