In Ryse: Son of Rome, players are introduced to Marius Titus in epic fashion as he is guided through the dramatic last stand of Rome, fighting his way through the swarming barbarian horde with a single purpose: get Emperor Nero to safety. Marius, being the competent soldier that he is, accomplishes his objective and delivers Nero safely to his panic room, but the intentions of Nero’s savior and sole protector are in question as Marius starts to tell his tale.
The tale of Marius Titus starts as he returns home just before being dispatched to join the 2nd Legion in Alexandria. The elder Titus, a former soldier and evidently a big fan of foreshadowing, presents his son with the Blade of Damocles, regaling Marius with the tale of Damocles’ betrayal and ultimate revenge. This happens literally seconds before his entire family is murdered by barbarians, spurring Marius into an unquenchable bloodlust and on the path to revenge. Vitallion, a respected general and friend of the Titus family, gives Marius his chance for revenge by pulling him out of the fruity 2nd Legion and placing him in his own 14th Legion, destined for blood in jolly old England, where his heroic ferocity in battle and natural leadership abilities get him promoted to Centurion on the first day of combat.
Unpacking my Adjectives
Ryse is both epic in scope and beautifully rendered. The CryEngine, which was behind one of the most realistic and beautiful games of the last generation, Crysis 3, utilizes the Xbox One’s remarkable power, producing one of the most realistic and visually engaging games I have ever had the good fortune to play through. Fire, hair, and water, the notorious graphical stumbling blocks, have been deftly overcome by the Crytek development team. Combat is very fluid, and even in the grandest battles there is virtually no framerate stutter. The superb voice acting is perfectly synchronized with the characters speaking the lines, resulting in some very convincing character performances.
The story itself is very well-written, exciting to play, and steeped in both history and mythology, incorporating a bit of the mystery and mythical with the more visceral aspects of Roman soldiery. There was never a moment that I felt that Marius was acting out of character: he acted exactly as I would expect a soldier of his caliber, loyalty, and morality to act. Had Ryse been a CGI movie, and not a video game, it could have been the greatest computer-made movie ever.
Multiplayer is an online-only cooperative affair inside the ever-changing environments of The Colosseum. Multiplayer takes advantage of special co-op combos and finishing moves. The environments themselves are very dynamic, with new elements and environmental dangers being constantly introduced into the arena. Despite the lack of head to head or local co-op, Ryse multiplayer is a lot of fun, albeit not very competitive.
What Went Wrong
First, despite the fact that the story is engaging and well-written, the writers went to Maximus Decimus Meridius, Bruce Wayne, Ezio, Connor Kenway, and Death Wish for motivating their protagonist to revenge: killing his family. I’m not saying that murdering an entire family isn’t a viable way to motivate a game character, but it’s been done...a lot. The writers also went a little heavy on the foreshadowing. I would like to have experienced the progression of the story without the writer spoon-feeding what was going to happen later.
The biggest problem faced by Ryse is the constrictive linear environments. Every level is point A to point B with no deviation and no room for exploration. You take the path that was written for you, complete your objectives, then move on to your next cutscene. No lollygagging. Oh, and why do all the Romans have English accents? Thanks, Monty Python, you’ve officially ruined Latin. Romani ite domum.
The repetitive nature of the combat and enemies is enough to steal a full star from Ryse’s final rating. Marius will fight the same five or six barbarians throughout the entire game, using the exact same strategies, then finishing off with special moves. Finishing moves were cool during the first couple of levels, but after using them on absolutely everybody that I killed, I started to get sick of them.
Ryse does a lot of things right: the story is immersive, the environments felt authentic, and I could genuinely empathize with Marius and understand his motivations. Co-op is a blast and the single player story is the very best currently extant on the Xbox One, with ACIV running a very close second. Kinect integration is smooth and natural, the graphics are stunning, but I often felt like I was muddling through the repetitive combat just to get to the next cutscene so I could progress the story, instead of playing the game. Gameplay should never come second to the story in a video game, and I feel that this was Crytek’s greatest error: they made such a great movie that they forgot we were playing a game.
Ryse: Son of Rome is not a bad game, but neither is it a great game. There is virtually no replay value to the single-player campaign, but the co-op may extend the life of this title a bit. You’ll definitely want to finish the game to see how it all ends, but actually picking up the controller to get there will eventually seem like a chore. Pick this one up on the cheap.