The number of Xbox One exclusives is slowly fading away as titles such as Dead Rising 3, Super Time Force, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and now Ryse: Son of Rome have made the transition to PC. While Crytek is mainly known for making shooters that take place in tropical or futuristic settings, the German studio is taking a crack at history. Going back nearly two millenniums, Ryse takes us on an adventure filled with nothing but bloodshed and misery that befalls the inhabitants of Rome and Britannia. It’s time to pick up your keyboard & mouse, and do the Emperor’s bidding, no matter how cruel and disgusting it may be.
The story of Ryse is loosely tied to Roman history as it takes place in early AD when Nero was the Emperor and Britannia was at war with Rome. This is by no means to be taken as a history lesson but an act of fiction, just dramatized with some events from the past. The plot revolves around Centurion Marius Titus as he recounts his rise from a simple soldier to a high ranking officer. After his family is brutally murdered, Marius swears vengeance against the barbarians of Britannia and joins the fourteenth legion with Commander Vitallion. The story itself has many intriguing setups, and because this is a wartime game, there’s a plenty of exciting scenes, filled with explosions and gut-wrenching brutality. Unfortunately, the story is far too short for its own good and doesn’t flesh out anyone besides Marius. There’s more at play in the world, with even gods manipulating humans like puppets, but it’s passed off as a side thought more than it should be. This hurts even more considering how well all of the scenes are acted, even if the script can be cringe-worthy at times.
Combat is very easy to understand as it’s something that doesn’t necessarily change all that much as the story progresses. This is unfortunately the biggest issue Ryse: Son of Rome has as the repetition can come at an overwhelming rate. Enemies will begin to vary in attack patterns halfway through the game, but it all really boils down to the same shield and sword, deflect and attack gameplay for six to seven hours. Battles can become a bit tense when they throw larger groups of enemies that can attack multiple times and deflect with little effort, but there are still very few variations to put up much of a challenge. Players will be able to cycle through different execution rewards, replenishing focus (which acts as a special ability) or health during combat, and racking up a nice combo meter does net additional XP to purchase execution-related skills. Unfortunately, all of this is far too simple and lacks any depth, ensuring almost every encounter will end the same so long as the player learns how to swing a sword and deflect an attack.
It doesn’t help that almost every combat scenario is just Marius jumping over a ledge and entering a virtual arena where he has to defeat a certain number of enemies before moving on. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same enemy types for the majority of the story. The player will slay what seems like thousands of barbarians, some Roman guards and a few giants, which are just larger men that can take more of a beating. It would have been to Ryse’s benefit for both the main campaign and multiplayer if there were animals that would join in the battle. Whether it would be lions, bears, or less deadly creatures such as goats to act as distractions, the introduction of anything other than humans would have changed the dynamic of combat drastically, and created far more creative and diverse scenarios. There are elephants in the later part of the campaign, but they are underutilized and are simply a tool for the story. In addition, the bosses also don’t require any strategy to defeat. They will have more precise attacks to deflect, but if the player wants to play it safe, the roll button can be used to defeat them without being struck. It boils down to attack two, maybe three times, either deflect incoming attacks or roll out of the way, and then repeat. There’s no variance or strategy established, making the seemingly exciting boss battles stripped down disappointments.
The PC version is in itself the most complete package of Ryse: Son of Rome players can get, if they’re willing to dedicate their time to the multiplayer component. For the lowered price, this is somewhat of a value as it includes the core game and all of the downloadable content released post-launch. This includes The Coliseum Pack, The Mars’ Chosen Pack, The Duel of Fates Pack and The Morituri Pack. These add five character skins, eleven arena maps, and all the survival challenges. The multiplayer component is more of a cooperative experience than anything a team of two will battle through waves of enemies to secure victory and entertain the coliseum. The combat, while flawed, can be enjoyable at times, and the multiplayer helps expand upon it lightly by adding new variations and challenges. The idea of traps, which were completely exclusive to the beginning of chapter 4, gives each of the maps strategy that wasn’t seen in the single player. Having three different modes to play through – Arena, Survival and Round-to-Round – is a nice bonus, and with a strong variety of maps and gladiator customizations, the multiplayer mode is a little more compelling progress-wise than the campaign.
It can’t go unmentioned what Crytek has done to improve the PC version. It has been less than a year since Ryse: Son of Rome made its debut on Xbox One, and it still remains one of the best looking games to date. Unfortunately, its transition to PC doesn’t go leaps and bounds past its console counterpart. That isn’t to say it’s a bad looking game as this is a visual spectacle for the eyes, but besides more potential resolutions and a higher frame rate, there’s not a lot that has changed. Ryse: Son of Rome supports up to 3840 x 2160 natively, although the various cinematics are rendered at a lower resolution, and the frame rate is unlocked to a system’s capability. There’s a bevy of graphical settings to be selected, but oddly enough, textures are always set to very high and motion blur will always revert back to “Enabled” when restarting. For those not looking to go deep into the advanced graphical options, there’s always preset settings that can be selected, ranging from low to high. Because of the already simple commands, the new set of controls work well, with the main attacks being assigned to LMB and RMB, and the deflect action to the Space Bar. Those who wish to play with a controller can do so, but know the keyboard and mouse controls are perfectly fine for Ryse.
If you played Ryse: Son of Rome on Xbox One, there’s little reason to return on PC. It may contain higher resolutions and a more flexible frame rate, but otherwise it’s substantially the same game. Newcomers should only come for the gorgeous visuals as the gameplay and story don’t quite live up to their potential. The multiplayer actually shows off the mechanics better than the main campaign, but it would have benefited having more than one additional gladiator companion. Ryse: Son of Rome has the visual fidelity of the future, while its gameplay and storytelling are stuck in the past.
Version Reviewed: PC