I’ve been intrigued with Ryse since it first came out on the Xbox One. It’s troubled development (originally planned to be released as a Kinect game) and mediocre reviews that all said it had generic gameplay with shiny graphics made me hesitate on my purchase at the time. Now with Ryse being ported to the PC, and with it also being included on a Steam sale for £3.74, I decided to pull the trigger, and finally give the game a go, to see if all of those criticisms were valid.
The first thing that grabs your attention about Ryse is it’s insane amount of detail. Every marble staircase, every glisten of light, and every single model in the world looks absolutely stunning, so much so you’d be forgiven at times for thinking it’s a 3D film. This amount of realism also extends to the characters on screen and the animations deployed. Facial expressions are intrinsically comprehensive, properly portraying emotions like never before, so much so that when people are angry, you truly believe their rage. This amount of graphical detail is consistently pushed into your face with each execution the gameplay ensures you participate in on a regular basis. Suffice to say, if there’s one thing that should keep you interested throughout Ryse’s 5 hour campaign, its the constant gorgeous presentation.
So how about the story – one of the core tenants of any game and the glue which holds and explains the gameplay set pieces. Unfortunately, this part of Ryse does not hold up well. It starts off all good and fine – your main character Marius Victus is a typical roman centurion, who just so happens to have a bad start to his career when barbarians invade rome and kill his family. Doing what any good centurion would do, he gets sent off to the front lines of the empire, taking on the barbaric Britains as they try to reclaim their land. It’s once you’re introduced to the main protagonist that the story truly starts to digress.
You see, it’s not the personality of Neo’s son that brings the games plot down, it’s what he represents; a clear deviation from the current grounded story. From this character onwards, the story of Ryse starts becoming magical, with Marius soon discovering that he cannot die – a fact which he shrugs off and never takes advantage of. Due to this severe change of tone, Crytek then have an opportunity to write things into the script which clearly goes against the ethos of the first half of the game. You start rebelling against Rome as a whole, dressing up in black to scare Romans but to also get into a colosseum undetected. For a man that knows he’s immortal, you sure like messing around in brothels and colosseums to go a round-about way of killing the people you hate. By the end of the campaign I was just left feeling disheartened and annoyed; it started so well – with a grounded story being an absolutely fantastic reason to admire and enjoy the characters portrayed. But alas, Crytek couldn’t keep it up, and despite the campaign being relatively short, it’s second half feels like it overstays its welcome.
The story was a bit lacklustre then, but what of the gameplay itself? Surprisingly, this part of Ryse actually holds up quite well. I’m all too used to the classic fighting system that Batman Arkham Asylum introduced all those years ago, and as a result, I felt right at home with Ryse. The combat is fluid, with a single press of the X or B buttons on the Xbox controller and a movement on the analogue stick causing Marius to charge across the battlefield to the next enemy you’d like to take on. Counters are present, ensuring you can maintain a decent combo, which in turn unlocks more moves to carry out, and finally, an execution system is present, a feature Crytek hopes will truly differentiate Ryse in a crowded market.
When an enemy is hit enough to become stammered, you can proceed to press the right trigger on your controller, causing a execution to take place. This brutal animation, which requires quick-time buttons to be pressed at precise moments, gives back health, xp, or a myriad of other benefits, and is needed to be used in order to progress in many areas. This incentive to execute people is a rewarding system, both aesthetically, and from a gameplay perspective, and it’s a lovely repetitive system that I enjoyed thoroughly throughout.
The enemies that you fight change throughout the course of the campaign as they would to increase the difficulty, with some being able to block your incoming attacks, or others not able to be stammered/killed unless you counter them enough times. This variety is short lived though, and before long you’ve seen every enemy variant Ryse has to offer. Whilst that statement may sound boring on the surface, it’s through clever level design that Crytek have managed to redeem themselves here. Enemies are spread out and come to attack at just the right moments, ensuring you’re constantly kept on your feet no matter what the area. Don’t get me wrong, it gets repetitive and predictable after a while, but for me, that was quite alright, as I felt empowered whilst mowing down hoards of enemies.
So, was Ryse truly the mediocre game reviewers made out? Yes and no. It could be argued that the entirety of the game, from the fighting, to the story and even the environments themselves were created purely for the aesthetics alone. This would explain why a colosseum level appears half way through for seemingly no reason, and why the execution system was introduced, with the incentive for doing so coming just after. Regardless of the reasons Ryse was made the way it was, I still enjoyed what (little) time I had with the game, and would recommend fans of action games to pick it up should they find it only sale for ridiculous prices once again.