Ryse: Son of Rome is a solid entry into the pantheon of XBOX first parties, making for a memorable third person, hack & slash action-adventure game. With its stunning visuals, fluid combat mechanics & booming sound editing, it is easy to see why this has become a modern cult classic from the previous generation of XBOX systems.
Ryse is only my second time playing a Crytek Game. The first was Far Cry: Instincts (2005) on the original XBOX. I was not the biggest fan of that game when it was released; the PC version was more open world & looked phenomenal. The remake/port was linear, due to the more limited processing capabilities of the XBOX & looked a little less impressive graphically than its PC counterpart. This led me to skip Far Cry: Predator when it was released on the XBOX 360 & PS3.
All of that aside, I entered Ryse: Son of Rome with a clear head, & no bias, since I never had a strong enough PC to run its crown jewel, Crysis. Ryse is the perfect display of when a studio really knows the ins & outs of its game engine (Crygengine). Fluid battle mechanics along with near seamless load outs during levels is where this game really shines.
(The following will contain spoilers).
You are Marius, a centurion soldier in the Roman army, tasked with defending the city of Rome & it’s inhabitants. The game starts you in the heat of battle during a fictional siege of Rome, taking place while the great Nero reigns over the roman empire (those history buffs among us will point out the Great Fire of Rome, circa 64 CE, that supposedly Nero fiddled through as his citizens burned to death. The former was a real event, but the latter was only a dramatized account to symbolize the end of a great era in Roman History). Soon, you fight your way through a battalion of enemies & end up face to face with the emperor himself. Que the flashbacks.
Marius comes from a family of soldiers with a rich history of defending Rome. Your father, Leontius, was one of its greatest generals, later of the Praetorian guard, giving up his life of service to answer the higher calling of the Senate. Of course, after getting to know your father a bit at the beginning of the game, along with him teaching you how to fight (one of the better training levels in recent memory, although you are already a soldier when you meet up with him), he hands you the dagger of Damocles, & is killed during a smaller siege of the city.
You make your way north and west, into Britannia, under the command of Vitallion, an old friend of your father, as a legionnaire of the XIV, to find King Oswald & figure out why he is so unhappy with the truce with Rome, & why he sent men into the city to kill your father. There, you are introduced to Boudica, Oswald’s daughter, as well as Nero’s horrible sons, Basillius & Commodus. These two are spoiled brats, but you are tasked with finding Commodus (having been kidnapped by Oswald because Commodus was a horrible leader, constantly attacking Britannia & its people), who was sold by Oswald to Chieftain Glott, leader of the Caledonians, a tribe of ruthless Celtic Pagans who are painted with the blood of their enemies & have built a giant Wicker Man to sacrifice Commodus in. This provides for some of the more frightening parts of the game, but I feel like they passed up an opportunity to be really horrifying.
You defeat Glott & save Commodus, who in turn murders Oswald as a warning for all the people of Britannia that they should not mess with the might that is Rome. This, of course, causes the Britons to revolt, Boudica to escape with the help of Aquilo (the roman god of the northeast wind & bringer of winter) & leads to the roman legions retreating to Rome. Marius stays behind to defend the remaining boats & is slain as they set sail away from Britannia.
Fear not, though, because you are saved by Summer, the spirit god of, you guessed it, summer. She throws the Dagger of Damocles into Marius’ hand, bringing him back & tasking him to become Damocles, the legendary herald of Nemesis, the goddess of revenge. Back in Rome, you make your way to your former family villa, becoming an outlaw in the process. It is revealed that Aquilo is playing a game with Summer & that Aquilo lead Nero to believe that Leontius, Marius’ father, was vying to unseat Nero & become the new emperor of Rome, thus sending a small number of Britons to lay siege to the city with the intention of killing Leontius.
You forge the classic black armor of Damocles, showing up to a brothel that Basillius (Nero’s youngest son) runs for his friends, & demand to be placed in the gladiator games that would have you face off with Commodus, if you survive them. This causes you to have a battle with Basillius’ gladiators, besting them all, killing Basillius & heading to the Colosseum to track down Commodus, who has put on several games to commemorate his triumphs in Britannia.
With the death of Commodus comes Damocles being an outlaw, but you are saved once again by Vitallion, who tasks you with defending Rome from Boudica & her armies. You do so, defeating Boudica but losing Vitallion, and you are suddenly back where the game began. You kill Nero but must fight your way through the whole of the Praetorian guard & are mortally wounded before impaling Nero on a three-story tall statue of himself, with you falling to your death to end the game.
The fighting system, although seemingly simple, provides a few challenges as you progress through the game. When an enemy is close to defeat, the player has the option to initiate a quick time event (QTE), enabling Marius to complete a finishing move, which will give a bonus of either Health, XP, Focus, or Damage. Focus is when you hit the ground with your shield, stunning anyone who is within a certain radius, slowing them down & speeding you up. This comes in handy when surrounded, which happens almost every battle.
We, as gamers, seem to be in the golden era of combat; there really isn’t many developers can improve on, with the Arkham series of games, along with Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor & Shadow of War. Ryse, Son of Rome fits nicely in with these. The smoothness of the battle system is key, with the ability to either time the perfect block/parry or roll between one foe and the next, the developers have given you endless amounts of options on dispatching enemies. As Marius progresses & continues to level up, the player is allowed to purchase finishing moves with either Gold or Valor, which you gain from battles & completing QTE’s without errors. Gold is almost impossible to gain, naturally, a bug they still have not fixed when I played it. Gold is free to purchase in the Microsoft store, though, so it is easy to just spend it all on upgrades & then downloading some more.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is just an extension of the Colosseum level, where you are matched against other players in either private or public rooms. Here, you are not able to just buy your way into greatness; the better you do, the more levels you unlock for purchase. I did not play multiplayer much since I could not get that many people to play with me when I was online. It was interesting, though, & may go back to it if I ever run out of things to play.
The graphics are crisp, to say the least. From lighting to shadow effects, all these aspects are great. As stated above, Crytek really know their engine, & they show it off here with Ryse. The vistas are beautifully detailed, especially the many times you can look out at Rome (usually at sunset), or any of the wilderness areas. The sound mixing is well done, especially in the “Edge of the World” level, where you are shrouded in darkness as you look for the emperor’s oldest son. I was playing through the game with my XBOX wireless headset, & I can literally hear the footsteps running up behind me when enemies were about to attack. I highly recommend a headset or headphones when playing this (or any) game. Outro w/
Although released as a launch game for the XBOX One in 2013, Ryse: Son of Rome is still one of the most graphically impressive games on the system to date. The lighting is spectacular, along with the fluid motion of the main character & enemies that is seamless during gameplay on any Xbox you play on. Although, at times, the battle system & camera angles make it more of a slog, with some of the battles lasting a little too long (just because the battle mechanics are little shallow, & the enemies just seem to pop up out of nowhere), it does not stop it from being enjoyable, & my hopes that they make a sequel or prequel with the same game mechanics are still alive & well. I would highly recommend this game if you have not played it yet, or if you have & never finished, especially if you have Game Pass.