Ryse Son of Rome tells the story of Marius, a roman soldier who seeks vengeance against those that destroyed his family. Marius himself tells the tale, and through his own words you get to see and experience the horrors of war.
Ryse’s story is a basic one, and built around a simple premise; Revenge. Having seen his family murdered, Marius joins the 14thLegion and takes the fight to the Barbarians. You actually start the story out as a General leading his soldiers in the defense of Rome as the Barbarians attack, and after that tutorial level is completed you are whisked back in time to when Marius just starts out in the Legion, from there the story takes you from the streets of Rome, to the beaches of England, the dense forests of Northern England and then back to Rome.
It is through the course of this campaign that you see that Ryse’s story is just a shell to move you from one location to another, without any real investment in characters. Each of the characters, of-which excluding Marius takes a fairly predictable route, save a single character, and that feels like a wasted chance to really have fun with them.
Let’s get this out of the way now. This game is fantastic to look at, in fact that may have been the entire reason that most people purchased the game. If you wanted to show off your brand new console, this would be the game to prove it. The character models are amazingly detailed thanks to in part of the brilliant motion capture performances of the actual actors they used. The words are vibrant and colourful, where they need to be, and in the other parts, bleak and disgusting.
Having Marius slug through the muddy and bloody aftermath of a body dumping ground will make most people squirm in discomfort. The enemy models are well crafted, with each being easy to distinguish from the others, there is no mistaking a simple lackey against a more powerful shielded guy. It is here that the bad guy template is ended, as you will fight the same guy over and over again, as each of the opposing armies only has one look for each type of fighter. There are even times when you will be fighting 3 or 4 of the same guy and it can get a little confusing when they all mix together.
The sound of this game is just as impressive as the visuals. Each clang of the sword onto shield or stone reverberates with a satisfying thunk, thud or twang. The sound of arrows being let loose by both sides and tearing through the sky can put the hairs up on the back of your neck. And the sound of lines of Roman soldiers marching in formation is loud and brash, and you can imagine why this would intimidate many back in the day.
Sadly this is where the game falls apart. While there is nothing wrong with the concept of the fighting (think of the recent Batman games, but with a simpler system and you’re there), however it just does not expand beyond that. Each enemy will have a pattern to their attacks, and once you know it, you just need to decide to either block/deflect the hit or strike first, then you just keep spamming the attack buttons until you can trigger the series of quick time events that allow you the ability to recover health, focus or increase damage.
Once you start the QTE, the relevant bad guy will get a blue or yellow outline around them, indicating which button you need to press, but even that does not mean anything. You can simply press the same button each time ignoring the colours and you still get your kill. Or should you choose you can also just leave the sequence to play out on its own, and yep you still get the kill. The only reason you need to do button combination correctly is to build multipliers which allows you to get one of the aforementioned bonus, health, focus, damage or xp back quicker.
There are times when you will take control of your legion and lead them down very narrow corridors, raising shields to protect yourself and your men from the incoming arrows. Or even a few times when you can use a giant crossbow, which does not take time to reload, or time to prepare a shot, so it feels like this is a little cheat, thrown in by the developers. The Kinect voice commands work from time to time, and they do feel like you are doing something other than just mashing buttons. Sadly you can’t use them them you want, only when the game allows it.
There is a multiplayer component, but it suffers from the same level of combat awareness as the main campaign. And while the always changing arenas is impressive, it does not add anything to the overall experience.
Ryse Son of Rome is a visually impressive beast, but that is the only really selling point of the game. If you can overlook the repetitious and shallow gameplay, you can find a pretty enduring little game, but even the most lenient of gamers will find themselves hard pressed to join the Legion on this fight more than once.