This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X
A Look Back at a Surprisingly Mediocre Game (In a Good Way?)
Was Ryse Really That Bad?
Ryse: Son of Rome was originally released in 2013 at the launch of the Xbox One. It was almost universally panned by critics as a beautiful but shallow title. In our ongoing series of retro-style reviews let us look back at this one and done by Crytek and see if it really was that bad and how it holds up today.
No, It Was Not That Bad!
Ryse was the prototypical big AAA graphical powerhouse launch title. The main issue though is the repetitive gameplay throughout the roughly six or so hours the campaign will take you. It is not bad, in fact, I found it quite enjoyable for the most part it just does wear a bit thin by the end. You have a parry, dodge, sword attack, and shield push attack mapped to the four main buttons. Right Trigger initiates an execution once you have damaged an enemy enough and Left Trigger is for throwing a spear. The D-Pad controls which benefit an execution will give. These are gaining back lost HP, gaining extra experience, causing your next attacks to do more damage, and gaining additional focus.
Focus is used to enter a rage mode in which time moves more slowly for you and you can swing like a madman for a short period of time. It is interesting to look back at launch Xbox One titles and see all the hooks for the Smartglass companion app (now defunct) and the Kinect camera system (also now defunct). You can look up information on the Smartglass app and tell your archers to lob volleys of arrows with your voice! Or, well… you used to be able to. Now you just hold down the right bumper for a surprisingly long period of time to control your men.
Still A Looker
This “ok” gameplay is paired with a graphical sheen that more than seven years later is still damned good. Sadly, the Series X still runs the title at a locked 30fps and 900p resolution but the 16x Anisotropic Filtering helps with the image quality a bit, and on PC the game is still a looker. A big part of this is the facial capture tech that Crytek used. There is realistic looking emotion in the cutscenes that few games have matched to this day. There is a rousing score as well as you follow the plight of your protagonist, Marius Titus. The trope of “tell the obvious big bad your story as you slowly fill him in on who you are” is used to great effect here. Marius has been greatly wronged by Emperor Nero and throughout the course of the campaign, you will travel to the lands of England and back as you fight off the barbarian horde. There are some supernatural twists that I hated the first time through but found myself liking quite a bit when I beat the game again for this review 7+ years later.
The writing is in the “fine” category of generic British sounding Roman storytelling. Voice acting overall holds up well. Marius has a deep, powerful voice that feels appropriate for a “leader of men” in this genre. The barbarian horde has far too few enemy models though. I swear I must have cut the arms off a pair of 1,200 brothers who are either twins or just look damned alike.
Why Was It So Hated at Launch?
I do find myself confused as to why this game was so critically panned at launch. It looks great, the story is solid, the music is good, and the gameplay is passable enough to not drag the overall product down. As the legendary edition is now available on console for Game Pass I do have to say that the light RPG mechanic leveling system is completely broken. Within an hour of playing I was almost completely maxed out upgrade wise. This ties into the multiplayer mode as well.
The multiplayer for Ryse is surprisingly fun. I genuinely enjoy playing through it, especially in co-op. It is a standard horde mode, but it is well balanced enough that I ended up spending dozens of hours playing it at launch. If you have a friend that is willing to give this old game a try then that mode is still a fun way to kill some time.
Ryse is exactly what a launch title in 2013 should have been. It is gorgeous, it does not overstay its welcome, and as it is now on Game Pass it is easy to recommend to anyone who has Game Pass on console. It is also available on PC, but you need to buy it outright there. On the whole? If you have not played this game and you liked the HBO series Rome and seeing the same execution play out 1500 times? This is the game for you!
Ryse was reviewed on Xbox Series X and Windows 10 PC