If nothing else, Ryse: Son of Rome is definitely a gorgeous game. Everything from the dynamic lighting to the character models are nothing short of spectacular. Characters look incredibly realistic, right down to the beard stubble and skin pores, and I imagine that the PC edition's 4K graphics support would bring an even higher sense of fidelity. The main problem is, outside of the graphics, there really isn't much to say about Ryse. Our review of the Xbox One release didn't have a lot of positive things to say. Apart from the super high resolution graphics (which require some pretty expensive hardware to see), and replacing voice commands with simple button presses, Ryse didn't pick up many improvements as it transitioned from being an Xbox One launch title to high-end PC game.
The story follows a Roman soldier name Marius Titus, who goes on an eight chapter revenge quest against those that murdered his family. He rises to the rank of centurion by leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, and later uncovers the truth. There are some supernatural elements loosely tied to the plot, but they neither add nor detract from the story. Although the plot is generally enjoyable, with very good voice acting and (of course) superb graphics, I imagine that many will figure out the ending fairly early on.
Fight like a Roman
When all is said and done, Ryse: Son of Rome is a game, not a movie. While it's great to look at, it's not a ton of fun to play.
When all is said and done, Ryse: Son of Rome is a game, not a movie. While it's great to look at, it's not a ton of fun to play. Almost the entire game is made up of the same 30 second combat loop. Block, shove, strike, execute, repeat. Executions come down to completing some two-button color coded quicktime events, which charge up secondary skills like regenerating health or filling up the focus meter. Focus temporarily freezes time so that you can quickly take out a group of enemies before they have a chance to move. However, executions are not contingent on completing the quicktime events accurately. An execution move will finish even if the player messes up all the button presses. Completing them correctly just earns a better score.
Executions are so easy to pull off that they soon start to lose whatever charm comes with decapitations, severing limbs, and stabbing barbarians through the heart. The fact that most enemy models are identical copies of each other underscores the sense of repetition, and sometimes they'll clip into each other, which severely undermines the fantastic graphics. Even as new enemy types appear, there very little variation in the combat. There aren't any lengthy combo moves to unlock and master. Thanks to the easy combat system, the upgrades that do exist, like a bigger health or focus bar, can all be purchased midway through the game. The ability to carry additional spears is probably the weakest upgrade, since you only get them at very specific points of the game, and they're often inexplicably removed from your inventory. There's even a sequence where I'm in a room of spears, and I couldn't pick a single one of them up. It might be senseless to upgrade such a conditional skill, but I did so because I had an overabundance of points.
Challenge comes from the fact that enemies will try to surround you and attack at once, which does more to emphasize the gameplay deficiencies than provide a decent challenge. You can only block one foe at a time, even when they strike at the exact same time from the same direction while clipped together. The camera also has a tendency to swing into bad positions so you can't see enemies that are running up behind you, and it will occasionally block executions with the main character so you can't see what color is flashing. What makes matters worse is how the game makes it difficult to disengage from combat. There are some sequences where you have to stop a specific individual or complete objectives, which is made difficult by how your character is always slows down to turn and face the mob of guys trying to surround him.
Bosses don't do much to mix things up. They generally have more health and specialize in heavy attacks, which can only be blocked with well-timed button presses, but they end up being more annoying than challenging. They're immune to focus mode, and will sometimes get hits in on your even when you dodge and the move doesn't really connect.
Fight like a Gladiator
The PC edition of Ryse includes all the extra content that was originally separate downloadable content packs on the Xbox One. These DLC packs are all comprised of maps and character skins for the multiplayer mode, which puts players in the role of a gladiator fighting through different scenarios in coliseum. Gladiators will have to complete a series of changing objectives while cutting their way through a sea of endlessly spawning enemies. If fighting with others isn't quite your style, there is a nice selection of solo modes.
Although there are number of unique unlocks like armor and weapons, the gameplay is almost identical to the campaign mode and suffers from all the same problems, except that you get to share them with other players. Players can only have one execution benefit, but it's difficult to imagine why anyone would choose a skill other than health regeneration. The multiplayer is a nice try at extending Ryse's gameplay, especially since the campaign is so short, but the boring combat takes away from whatever bargain value it might be.
Veni, Vidi, Reliqui
If you already played Ryse: Son of Rome on Xbox One, the PC version doesn't offer anything that you haven't already experienced. New players can look forward to a gorgeous game, with a short so-so story, hamstrung by a boring combat system. There are some definite advantages to playing on the PC, such as being able to use the mouse to precisely aim the ballista. There are also some nice moments where you get to command a small squad that needs to make its way across a deadly gauntlet by switching to a shielded mode to avoid arrows. But these breaks from combat are rare, and they also become repetitive. While it is possible to effectively play the game using a mouse a keyboard (you'll have to learn to associate blue and yellow flashes with left and right mouse clicks), it's clear that Ryse was designed for a gamepad. I found that the best strategy was to use a gamepad for fighting and the mouse for aiming ranged weapons.
Ryse is a decent game, given its length, but it's one that is certainly more fun to look at than it is to play. If you're looking for a game that will push your gaming hardware to the limit, then Ryse certainly fits, especially if you're itching to game on 4K hardware. Otherwise, there are better ways to pass the time.
This review is based on a downloadable PC code provided by the publisher. Ryse: Son of Rome will be available on October 10th for $39.99. The game is rated M.