Game Review | Ryse: Son of Rome
Game Summary: After his family is murdered, a Roman warrior must fight the barbarian horde to fulfil his father's dying wish: to protect Rome. (IMDb)
This title is an unfortunate example of gaming copying Hollywood in all the wrong ways, chief of which is prioritising spectacle over making sure the overall package actually functions properly and achieves what its creators set out to do.
Make no mistake about it, Ryse is an absolutely gorgeous game even by 2017 standards – no mean feat for an Xbox One launch title. The pre-rendered cut-scenes are actually lower resolution and more disappointing visually than the gameplay for the most part – usually, it’s the other way around.
The main issue is that there is very little gameplay at all. Now, it’s not like one of the Metal Gear Solid series, which has more cut-scenes than gameplay; rather, after you’ve played the opening 20-30 minutes of Ryse, you’ve experienced pretty much the entire range of play you’re going to get.
For the first 60% of the game, it’s not actually too bad, as you lead the protagonist, Marius, through a quest for revenge against the men responsible for the death of his family. It’s definitely a familiar story and doesn’t really do anything original narratively, but is enjoyable nonetheless.
Although saying that, it does turn out that those you’re seeking revenge against aren’t entirely to blame and the true antagonist(s?) of the plot escape any punishment at all. Also, it should be noted that the story is alt-history anyway, but your actions certainly cement this in the final voice-over.
I should also point out that the voice-acting is also pretty good, with pretty much every role being performed as well as it could be, if not better than the material there is to work with. The heroes are admirably valiant and the villains are truly detestable – exactly as it should be.
As stated above, all of this does work to carry the mediocre gameplay, consisting mainly of Arkham Asylum-esque combat and QTE sequences, with the occasional turret sequence thrown in. The problem is that the game just goes on too long and becomes a chore.
With so little variety in the action, it comes down to how much you want to just finish the story off. More than once, it was a struggle to start playing again because the flow of the gameplay had become so repetitive that it was genuinely an effort to force through to the end of the story.
It doesn’t help that the game was clearly rushed at the end - if not rushed, then just badly-designed - with cheap enemies that can block certain attacks because… well, just because. There are also certain sequences that have instant-death failures if you go the wrong way for the same reason.
As an example of the rushed/poor design, there is one turret sequence that requires you to keep an onrushing horde a certain distance away for a certain amount of time and no feedback in gameplay to tell you this.
If you do what the game demands, the section finishes in very little time. But it’s possible to kill five times as many enemies over a far longer stretch of time and fail. Why is surviving longer while killing more enemies a bad thing?
Then there’s the final showdown before the QTE-driven final section. The entire game has been leading up this moment and you’re left with an opponent who can dodge, block, and parry anything you throw at them, leaving you to kill them by a thousand cuts as you can only get one hit in at a time. And you have to do this twice, for no reason other than to drag the ending out.
Ryse: Son of Rome makes an amazing first impression, but the more time you spend with it and the closer you get to the end, the more you realise that there’s very little going on behind the pretty looks. The story is well-performed, if unoriginal, but the gameplay is dull, repetitive, and simply not enjoyable.