Review: Ryse: Son of Rome – Beautifully Mindless

Hello. I’m a normal consumer who was worried about Ryse, one of the few exclusives to come to the XBox One launch, and I’m happy to report that rumors of its crappiness have been greatly exaggerated.  

Ryse was shown off at E3 as a gorgeous Xbox One launch exclusive that looked like the longest quicktime event in history. The media was worried, fans were worried and in the days leading up to its release, the review embargo extension gave everyone the feeling that Ryse was dead in the water, and totally sucked
Well, it doesn’t. In fact, it’s kind of awesome. Just not in any substantial way that moves forward the gaming industry on it’s Roman-armored shoulders. 
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Ryse is ****ing gorgeous. I can’t think of the last time I had my jaw hit the floor over and over just from stunning visuals. I’m taking rain and blood splashing in puddles as fire reflections dance on the water 8888ing gorgeous. Ryse is the game you pop into your Xbox when company comes over purely just to show off your neat, new contraption, it’s that simple. Ryse is by far the best looking game across the launch, and that much is expected when Crytek is at the helm (no pun intended there). 
Ryse oozes production values, and the single player campaign featuring much Roman intrigue is set-piece moment after set-piece moment. It really is almost exhausting to take in so much glory so often, especially during the campaign. Ryse is pretty much the perfect example of a Jerry Bruckheimer-esque/COD-style game at it’s core – lot’s of show, but something uninspiring purveys under the beautiful armor. 
The QTE-fest we saw at E3 is still here, albeit in a less ugly manner. The quick time events come primarily in the “executions” performed once you lower an enemy’s health to a certain threshold. Yes, they are awesome, and look great the first 150 times you see them, but they begin to break up the action. Some like how the executions give you a break, but I really found them taking me out of the experience in a 1960’s Adam West Batman kind of way. What I mean by that, is that it disrupted the natural flow of action, suddenly I became invincible as the surrounding enemies politely stood aside as I butchered their friend in honorable combat. The combat itself is a lot like Assassin’s Creed or the Batman Arkham series, but more shallow. Everything comes down to: Shield break, hack hack hack, block, execute. That would be fine if more variety was prevalent in Ryse, but the only break you get from the shallow combat are in the form of silly line battles or manning a crossbow. 
Ultimately, it feels like the campaign is incredibly on rails. Yes, the game definitely feels more rewarding on higher difficulties, and when you can expertly string a 45 hit combo on some foolish barbarians, it feels good, but that doesn’t change the fact that some flash games may be deeper than Ryse. 

As far as Kinect integration, Ryse has a handful of moments where you can ask archers to volley or gather to your side. Nothing much really. It kind of makes you wonder just what the hell they’ve been working on for seven years? Besides the beautiful imagery of course.

Still, it looks really, really, really good. And although I don’t think graphics count for everything, and even not much at all when it comes down to it, they certainly help Ryse. When it comes down to it, Ryse is essentially the best version of Golden Axe ever created. If this game came out twenty years ago, it would be touted as the greatest game of all time, but twenty years ago there were only 3 or so buttons on a controller… About as many as Ryse employs. 
This may seem overly negative, and I actually don’t mean for it to be, as I really enjoyed Ryse’s twisting plot and sprawling campaign, but only in short bursts. Luckily all of my complaints are pretty much numbed when you join an arena with a buddy.
The multiplayer is surprisingly where Ryse shines brightest. It’s various interesting locales that take place in a morphing gladiatorial arena are extremely cool, and the dynamic objectives given to you and a partner, be it kill or protect a civilian, destroy waves or hunt down a certain enemy, are all very fun with a friend. Yes, the combat is the same, but everything is less boring in multiplayer – this is known fact. I really, really enjoyed my time with the multiplayer, building up my character’s gear through ‘booster packs’ was slightly annoying, as the system is silly and broken. Basically, you earn gold (or buy it in a silly microtransaction move by Crytek, shame on you) then spend the gold on these booster packs that randomly have items, like opening a pack of magic cards. I ended up with 5 pairs of rare shoes while my breastplate was still level 1. Dumb.
Still, you want to take on more challenges and playlists in the multiplayer modes, because the morphing and changing arena is just so damn cool. Crytek is really onto something here with this whole property. If they can expand on the combat, I will gladly pick up Ryse 2 or whatever comes next. But is it worth your $60? I don’t know. If you’re a casual gamer that wants to show off their Xbox One during Thanksgiving, and you have a nice disposable income, then yes, this is a must-buy. However, if you’re a core gamer who already has BF4, an AC game, Dead Rising 3, or one of the other multiplatform titles to tide you over, it’s hard to recommend Ryse, as you will need a friend to really get your value out of the title. As great as the campaign is, it’s still a vapid, but gorgeous experience that will only last you 7-8 hours at best, which means you need to get some good action out of the multiplayer to truly get you dollar’s worth.
But damn it, once it is in your hands, it’s so friggin’ impressive visually that you may just get over the fact that it doesn’t titillate your mind and thumbs the way you would hope. Give in to the superficial beauty, it’s okay to do once in a while, especially if the game goes on sale around the holidays.
Published on November 27, 2013 at 2:06 am
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