Ryse: Son of Rome Review (and why every game doesn’t need to be an Epic)

Back in June of 2013, I did a T.A.O. post on the trailer for Ryse: Son of Rome after seeing the latest trailer from E3. There’s no doubt that the game looked quite impressive visually, and promised more than just a little bit of gore. As the months ground on up to the game’s release, previews of the game were less than optimistic. The most common adjective used to described the game was “Repetitive”, which for someone like me who enjoys seeing the depth that writers and developers can achieve, didn’t bode well. I live for experimentation with abstract ideas and to question my own subconscious. Something as flat as a button masher evokes absolutely no emotional response from me. But alas, Rome is totally awesome and there’s no way that I’m going to allow something like “Gladiator: The Video Game” pass me by!

Still, I am operating on a budget, and I had already committed to an XB1, as well as transforming the basement in to a gamecave, AND already preordering AC4: Black Flag, so a good deal of my cash is already tied up. Well, technically I had pre-ordered Watch_Dogs, but that’s another situation. So, what to do…

Simple, really. I just put it on my Christmas wishlist, and allowed my dearest brother buy it for me! Of course, the wise-ass had to first give me the gag gift of “Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” first, which I would have promptly launched at his head if my parents weren’t in the room at the same time. No matter, I now have the game! Done! After Christmas, I had been able to play it sparingly, since I’ve been simultaneously enthralled with AC4, if you couldn’t tell from my posts. It wasn’t until I had completed both the main Campaign of AC4 and the Freedom Cry DLC that I could really sit down and give Ryse my undivided attention.

GENERAL OVERVIEW
For the most part, the game critics were fairly spot on. The combat system isn’t all that complex, and the levels are extremely linear. The story line isn’t anything groundbreaking, and it was even predictable at times. So let’s take a deeper look at some key aspects, shall we?

VISUALS

Not every part of Rome is gold laced marble
Not every part of Rome is gold laced marble

The graphics, as shown in the trailers, are absolutely beautiful. The diversity of the environments and the level of detail put in to each of the trails, alleyways, and vistas are spectacular. There was one boss battle where I had to keep reminding myself to focus on the combat because the backdrop was so immense! This was when Marius is battling Glott, a chieftan of the Britons, under a giant, and I mean MASSIVE, burning Wickerman. About halfway through the battle, the fire weakens the Wickerman and it collapses to it’s knees and leans forward, so that the battle is now commencing under a burning canopy. The sheer scale of the Wickerman was absolutely amazing, and simply one example of level of environment design that went in to this game.

COMBAT

You'll be seeing plenty of these as you slash your way to Emperor Nero!
You’ll be seeing plenty of these as you slash your way to Emperor Nero!

As shown during the trailer, the combat system is heavily based on QTEs. You’ll get surrounded by enemies, and one will eventually swing and attack on you. Give a timed shield block, and start swinging away. Once you’ve bashed the barbarian enough, you’ll see a skull symbol appear above their head, and you know that it’s time for one of Marius’s many execution techniques! This sequence is what most of the critics reference when stating that the gameplay is repetitive. My opinion on the matter is, simply put, that they’re right. Sure there’ll be a few more agile enemy types who require a little more blocking or evading, but the process is generally the same. A major aspect of the combat is being able to PERFECTLY time your blocks and attacks. you can hit your “block” button early and catch the most basic of attacks, but if you hit that button at just the right time, you can push the enemy back and leave them open for more slashes, and you can even block and do the same with other Tank enemy types who use Heavy attacks. Being able to time these attacks out and counter them properly greatly aided my fights against the bosses later in the game!

Pro tip: Invest heavily, if you can, in “Focus”. Hitting the RB will put you in a hyper mode where you can run up on a few enemies and hack away until you get them in to an execution state. It also causes a knock-back to surrounding enemies, giving you some breathing room when the horde begins to live up to it’s name.

Oh, and the gore. Yes, there’s plenty of it. Not so much gushing blood or spewing entrails, but savage hacking and amputations. THAT, young Roman, you will be doing plenty of!

SCRIPTED EVENTS

Phalanx
Everyone with me! Not like you’ve got a choice!

At some points in the story, you’ll have to hold off legions of barbarians and they push against your troops, or you’ll be leading you troops as they make a push down a narrow bridge or pathway. In these cases, you’ll either be manning a Scorpio (mounted cross-bow) or joining your men in a phalanx. The thing about these events is that they are so obviously scripted. It’s not like you can choose to activate a “Everyone, gather around me and push forward!” command. When these events are to take place in the plot line, that is what you’re going to be able to do, and only that option. There are a few instances where you get to choose where your archers are stationed in anticipation of the horde breaking through the gate, but that’s about it. When it’s time to use a specific weapon or tactic, the game forces you in to it.

DIVINE INTERVENTION
One thing I was not expecting during the course of the game was intervention from actual divine entities. Yes, I saw the Damocles trailer from earlier, but I figured it was to add some time period spice to the marketing campaign. As it turns out, the spirits of Summer and Winter intervene at key moments to add their influence to Marius’s quest. Much like Keanu Reeve’s character in “Constantine” explained how God and Lucifer influence humans.

6 Degrees of History: Keanu’s character is named “John Constantine” in the movie “Constantine“, which is based of the graphic novel series “Hellblazer“. The series, and consequently the movie, deal with the battle between God and Lucifer, the divine entities of Christianity. Emperor Constantine was the Roman emperor who ushered Rome into the center of Christianity, and whose use of the interlocking Greek letters “Chi” and “Rho” became the symbol of Christianity- the “Christogram” which is also seen in countless locations throughout Rome.

The More You Know!

John Constantine: What if I told you that God and the Devil made a wager? A bet for the remaining souls on Earth?
Angela Dodson: I’d tell you to stay on your meds.
John Constantine: Humor me. No direct contact with Humans. That would be the rule. Just influence.

VICTIM OF THE TIMES?
Here’s a little something that I began pondering while I was in the final chapters of the game: Sure this game isn’t the greatest piece of entertainment that I’ve experienced during my years as a gamer, but did it deserve such harsh commentary?” In my opinion, no. What I believe we are currently experiencing in this is an unfair comparison to other epic titles and sagas. As stated above, I have recently completed the latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed series. No gamer would question the depth of this series backstory. The same can be said with several other established series, such as The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, GTA, and Bioshock. These games, and there are certainly more, have such an established backstory and following that most other games simply pale against them. Also, they’ve undergone several iterations, which has allowed the writers to tweak, augment, and refine every aspect of the game’s story, plot development, and combat mechanics. Ryse: Son of Rome is an original title, and Crytek is yet to announce if there will be a sequel.

As also claimed by other critics and users, Ryse is more of a Launch Title that is intended to show off the technical capabilities of the console more than anything else. Which, by the way, it does a superb job of! For instance, AC4 looked beautiful on my screen but there was nothing there that blew me away as far as distancing itself from my Xbox 360. Another reason for it’s shallow gameplay is that in the previous generation, developers have learned the nuances of the consoles and could manage the processing power accordingly. To bring up The Elderscrolls and GTA again, just look at how Skyrim compares to Oblivion, and how GTA:V compares to earlier GTA’s. Just in graphics alone, the difference is amazing! And that’s within the same console generation!

Which brings me to the 2nd half of this post’s title: Not every game needs to be an Epic. So it doesn’t have a main campaign that can give you +40hrs of game play. So there’s no open world exploration. Not every game needs to be on the scale of Fallout or the older Final Fantasy titles. Not every game needs to have the “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” depth of combat mechanics. Not every game needs to create it’s own fully developed universe like Halo. Sometimes a game just has to be a distraction from our typical mundane existence. Sometimes we just want to be entertained for awhile.

Yes, Russel Crowe, I was entertained!

Final Thoughts: While I still feel the Metacritic score of 60 is fair when compared to other epic titles, I still feel that the negative commentary was a bit much. In the end, Ryse: Son Of Rome isn’t the greatest game I’ve played, but it is far, FAR, from the worst! What would help is if there was a way for developers or publishers to stray away from the standard $60 retail for a AAA title. If this game’s price point could have been brought down, maybe to $45 for new, I think the backlash may have been lessened. Oh internet, why must you have so much rage?

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