Ryse: Son of Rome is a Hack and Slash set in a fictional universe in where a giant horde of barbarians have fought their ways into Rome itself. You play as Marius Titus who is a centurion defending Rome and guides his emperor into a safe place then Marius decides to tell him his life’s story for some reason. We are transported back in time when Marius has just become a Roman solider and is visiting his father in his villa. After a quick sparring match with your father, things quickly go wrong and events unfold that kick off the barbarian uprising. You will be searching for vengeance from then on and will spend most of this game fighting hordes of enemies. Which is where the game falls flat on it’s face and is made unenjoyable due to a bad combat system. You have a button for shield bashing through their guard and one to attack with a sword. Switching between the two makes it harder for them to dodge, allowing you to get bigger combos. Combos are broken when you are hit, though enemies start moving in slow-mo when they are about to attack so it is insanely easy to press the block button on time. You can also roll but it is made useless due to you being able to block even heavy attacks if timed right.
Damaging an enemy enough will allow you to preform a QTE execution in where they glow in the color of the button you are supposed to press and are violently killed in slow-mo. While awesome the first few times, it quickly gets old since there are few animations and it interrupts fights due to being invulnerable all throughout while the other enemies just stand by and watch their friend meet a violent death. You will be able to switch from one of four perks that grant you different benefits like dealing more damage or healing yourself after each execution. Even if you press the wrong button during the execution, it will continue the animation regardless and the only downside will be that you get a bit less points. It is like an incredibly boring game of ‘Simon Says’ where you can’t lose. While you don’t have to do executions that would result in having to hit the damage spongey enemies some more, instead of quickly killing them off. Sounds like a minor complaint but after so much non-stop “action” I just wanted the fights to end as quickly as possible due to the boredom they bring. I never felt even slightly threatened in a game with a ton of savage barbarians wiping the floor with your once great Empire. That is mostly caused by how over powered you are, enough that it makes you think why does Rome even have an army when they can send Marius to murder all their enemies while not even breaking a sweat.
That may as well be the case since all your fellow Roman allies are useless in battle. They will not help you in any way, shape or form and will more likely than not get dominated by a tribesman with neither armor or training. At times you will be able to “command” them to form a defensive formation and make your way through a volley of arrows. Sounds a lot cooler than it actually is, you will pretty much be slowly walking in a straight line and blocking when arrows approach. Another form of “commanding” your units pops up sometimes where you can pick one of two options like telling your archers to shoot an approaching siege tower or to shoot the catapults that are pelting you with stone instead. The only way I can see someone losing this game is by not defending their legion well enough and their health bar depletes. For ranged attacks you can carry a few pilums that will kill most enemies in a single hit. You can take your time and aim it or you can quickly throw it mid-fight which is far more likely to miss your target. The game randomly takes away your pilums after story sections and it frequently results in you having to collect more just in case you ever want to use them. No real need to since Marius is so overpowered but it is the only other weapon in the game so you may as well break up the monotony of your normal sword & shield. Turret sections are also present in this game and they come in the form of a ballista that automatically reloads itself somehow.
Getting combos and performing executions will net you points which can be used to buy more execution animations, carry more pilums or to increase your health. Strangely enough you will be able to afford every single one of them by the second level and the very last upgrades well take you the rest of the game to unlock simply due to not being level 7 or you can easily afford those to. I’m guessing it has something to do with the included dlc that comes bundled with the PC version. Bosses are pretty much the same as regular enemies but with a new skin and much more health. You deal with them by blocking their attacks at the right moment to break their guard and slowly chipping off their health. They are no fun to fight though the set pieces in where you fight them are impressive to say the least. One boss in particular took way to long to finish off. Every time you deplete his health bar he would get back up in a “haha not dead yet!” manner, time and time again.
Story is forgettable and uninteresting for the most part. There is a few cool parts when they show things from the barbarian’s point of view but never amounts to anything. The story feels a bit jumbled since you are playing through what is a tale of Marius’s life and are traveled from one location to another instantly. It’s not a bad story and it does it’s job but don’t go into this game expecting a engrossing tale. Or a decent ending for that matter, I can’t state the reasons why it is awful but it comes off as totally unnecessary and dumb. It is really best to turn off your brain and treat it like an action film all throughout. Characters themselves are memorable and excellently voice acted. Where Ryse really shines is in the graphics. Everything looks stunning, from the slums of Rome to the carefully animated jiggle of a fat barbarian’s man boob. I mainly purchased this game as a benchmark test of sorts and in that regard it did not disappoint. Every level is filled with cool set-pieces to awe at and you can’t help but just stare at everything for a while even if someone currently wants to rip your face off. Enemy variety is really low and since each character is so detailed and different from one another it is very noticeable you are fighting the same batch of enemies over and over again. Unfortunately the levels are all extremely linear and inconsistent. At times Marius can leap very high into the air and at others he can’t vault over a waist high fence. That leads to feeling a bit of confusion as to where the game wants you to go next though they do put a giant cursor to point the way if you take long enough.
In addition to the campaign there is a gladiator mode where you and another player can fight side by side against enemies. What is rather cool is that you start off with simple loin cloth and a helmet but as you win matches and money you can purchase more and more items to customize your gladiator. Before the start of each match you can pick which of four gods is your patron for different benefits like extra damage or better aim. During matches the crowd will either grow bored or hyped depending on how well you do and it is in your best interest to keep them entertained as you get a nice cash bonus for your troubles. Sadly this mode felt boring as soon as I tried it since it is still the same combat mechanics from the base game with executions animations and all. After 6 hours of a campaign where you spent the huge majority of the time fighting I’ve had enough of this game’s terrible combat by that point. When all is said an done Ryse: Son of Rome feels like a heartless game with amazing graphics, animations and music but fails to have either an interesting story or fun gameplay. Unless you want a tech demo this is a game you can safely pass on.