Ryse: Son of Rome is ostensibly the epic tale of the Roman general Marius and his quest for revenge against the barbarians who killed his family and sacked his beloved empire.
You’ll note I said “ostensibly.” That’s because Ryse is actually a very high-spec version of the classic color-matching game Simon. Beat your foes down in Batman Arkham-style combat, then it’s time to execute them. Push the right button at the right time and your heroic centurion brutally maims a baddie. Press the wrong button at the wrong time and, well, he still does it, you just get fewer Experience Points ™ in the process, meaning it’ll take you a little longer to unlock even more executions. So I guess it’s actually even less of a game than Simon, if you think about it.
You’re granted more bonuses based on how quickly you succeed at Simon. Claiming the most experience points for an execution essentially requires memorizing it and pressing the necessary buttons before you’re told what they are, which is about as rewarding as it sounds. Executing people can earn you super meter, health, bonus XP or boosted damage, selected at your leisure. In other words, you’ll never die because you can suck the delicious life force out of your hapless foes. That’s not all the sucking that’s going on here, of course. Damn I’m clever.
There’s a few other mechanics to learn but none of it takes Ryse to the level of something you’d want to play as an actual game. Enemies with shields need to be shield-bashed to bring down their guards. Larger enemies need you to dodge before attacking. There’s a “Burning Eagle” super mode where you can apply the beat-down in spectacular fashion after filling up a meter. If all of this sounds familiar it’s because every last bit of it was already done in another game, including the endless series of execution QTEs. You even run through endless corridors killing baddies a la Final Fantasy 13! There’s turret sections too, because everyone loves that crap, and a plot that’s guaranteed not to keep you playing.
There’s also a cooperative arena mode available if you have friends who are also remarkably bored and rich. Have you considered playing the stock market instead? The arena mode involves wasting even more hordes of dudes, earning customization options while doing so. You can then use your freshly customized gladiator to kill even more dudes. Ryse is a game for those of you who really, really want to kill dudes, but there are superior dude-killing games available. Sunset Overdrive is a solid choice if you’re on Xbox One, or you might try one of those Batman games that Ryse really wishes it was.
Ryse looks god damn amazing, of course. It was the poster game for the Xbox One. It would have to look great for the couple hours you’ll put into it before moving onto one of the other launch titles. During the course of playing it became pretty clear that this was the reason for Ryse’s existence, really, because it does look stupendous. Crytek even beefed the PC edition up to an insane 4K resolution – if your rig can handle it – so things look better than ever. Unfortunately, it also has the slight issue of running like crap at max settings even on solidly built systems, so if you’re intent on playing this be ready to play around for a bit to find a level that works for you.
Here’s a hint: stay away from the “supersampling” option, which is code for “slideshow” but looks mind-blowingly good if your PC can somehow handle it.
One thing that I noticed while playing is that there really aren’t that many variations on the enemy models, so you’re going to find yourself decapitating the same dude a whole bunch of times. He gets better after each chopping, I suppose. As for sound, it’s exactly what you think: epic, orchestral, etcetera. The voice acting isn’t too bad either. No real complaints about the presentation aside from killing the same dude a billion times over and the questionable performance by default.
Is that enough recommend this PC edition of Ryse: Son of Rome? Well, not at its current $60 asking price. If and when it drops to a more manageable $20 then that’s worth a few hours of gameplay just to gawp at the visuals. Until then, it’s just way too simple given the other offerings on the market right now to recommend. Like the Roman Empire, it stands as an example of the dangers of hubris – appearances are nice, but you still have to put the work in to make a great game.