by Brian Robbins

 The problem with new consoles is trying to find a game to showcase your expensive purchase. With Ryse: Son of Rome, developer Crytec tries to make the decision easier for you. The real question is should you bother? When this game was first announced in 2010, people were mildly optimistic. Originally it was set to be a Xbox 360 game that would showcase the new Kinect peripheral. After that E3 showing we never really heard about it again, until the announcement of the Xbox One. With negative buzz surrounding the game, can Ryse: Son of Rome warrant a purchase along with your new Xbox One?

In Ryse: Son of Rome, you play as Roman soldier Marius, who is a fairly bland character in the beginning of the game. He witnesses his family being murdered by the barbarian horde and the plot rolls on from there. It was a fairly short campaign, clocking in around eight hours or so (that’s if you decide to try find all the collectables) but the story was surprisingly engaging. It was a serviceable mash up of Gladiator, Game of Thrones and even a little bit of 300. Mildly predictable but the acting of all of the characters were superb, and even the boring Marius evolves into a likeable lead towards the end of the game.

One of the first things you’ll notice is how gorgeous the visuals are. This is one of the prettiest games for Microsoft’s new console. Developer Crytec has some experience with great looking games with their Crysis series. If you have a 1080p enabled television, Ryse: Son of Rome will reward you with some of the best looking graphics you’ve seen in a game. The lush forests and the fire effects were the highlights of this title.

When they finally showcased this game at this year’s E3, it looked impressive except that the gameplay was held back by constant quick-time events. It seemed that it pulled the player directly from the experience and ever since God of War, quick-time events have been a tiring staple in action games.

 After the initial backlash the developers received, they decided to change the overused gameplay mechanic. What replaced it was more or less the same. Basically, when you initiate an execution with the right trigger, the enemy is highlighted in either yellow or blue indicating which button to press on your controller to eliminate the foe. The problem is there isn’t any real punishment for messing it up. After about an hour of constantly executing those pesky barbarians you’ll more or less see all of the execution animations. It got tiring but luckily you always had the option to ignore them.

Another big gripe was when the game places you into turrets. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself shifted into a first-person camera angle and you will then be forced to fire bolts from a mounted crossbow. These sections weren’t fun and was just an excuse to get you a higher kill bonus. There are also sections of the game where you’re in charge of leading a shielded group of Roman soldiers. This was entertaining and seemed to fit the setting more than a random mounted turret section.
Other than the quick-time events and the turret sections the game relies on flashy sword and shield hacking and slashing. This is finally where the game shines. Marius is quick, strong and the game really delivers on the fact that you’re a Roman all-star. My favorite aspect of the combat wasn’t actually attacking an enemy, it was blocking them with Marius’s shield. With a quick tap of the A-button you can deflect their strikes. It felt satisfying when you laid waste to a group of enemies without a scratch. You’ll also earn bonus experience points. Also, if you continue to do well, you’ll earn focus which with the press of both bumper buttons can slow down time and make you into a even more efficient killing machine.

You can upgrade Marius at any time during the single player portion as well. By the end of the campaign you should be close enough to fully upgrade him. There was even an option to use micro-transactions to improve your character. Don’t bother with that, like I said, it’s quick enough to upgrade him as you progress through the story.

Luckily, there’s one more major feature to Ryse: Son of Rome other than the campaign. That’s the Gladiator mode, which is basically just Co-op. It’s limited to just two players, and unfortunately can’t be played with another person on the same console. It’s Xbox Live only. In this cooperative mode, enemies will rush at you and you also have different objectives to accomplish as well. Think of it as Horde mode from Gears of War 2 or Firefight from the Halo series. Just don’t expect to beat up your fellow Gladiator partner.

Just like in singleplayer, you can upgrade your multiplayer character. Only this time, it’s with gear. It’s interesting because all of the gear has different stats but at the same time, it can be frustrating because every time you level up, it randomizes what equipment you unlock. Nothing outstanding mind you but the co-op mode does have some sort of depth which is a nice addition.

The main question you’ll undoubtedly have is should you buy this game? The answer is, yes but not right now. $60 is a steep price for Ryse: Son of Rome. The singleplayer portion of the game is a bit short and shallow. I would compare it EA’s Lord of the Rings games for Xbox and Playstation 2. The game is a blast in short bursts but it does have some extremely obvious faults. Even with the added cooperative mode, the game just isn’t worth the price of admission. Hopefully, this isn’t the last Ryse game and if given the chance I’m positive Crytec will make a stunning sequel. Wait for a price drop or a used copy and you’ll get your money’s worth.