Sure, being able to control your TV and media apps with your voice is cool. Ultimately, though, you don’t buy a new game console for its amazing powers of Netflix, you buy it for the games. Luckily, the Xbox One has some solid games in its launch lineup, and Ryse: Son of Rome scratches an itch and should be the start of a franchise for Microsoft’s new system. With a classic hack-and-slash feel, some mystical and godly twists, beautiful vistas and some exciting violence, Ryse made me not care that I played a game full of quick timed events, pulling me in for hours of fun.
This is a full-on hack-and-slash, but with a counter-heavy twist. Think Arkham meets God of War and you’re most of the way there. It’s a game made for people who just want to cut the arms off some barbarians for a couple of hours, and don’t mind timed button presses. The good news about these executions is that they’re no-fail, meaning there’s no chance of them not working because you don’t hit the right button – hitting the right button at the right time will simply give you a bonus, allowing you to unlock more executions, health, and focus. That focus meter comes in handy, especially later in the game when you begin to face more shielded enemies, large enemies, or just more enemies in general. There are some tiny Kinect bits thrown in for good measure, all voice control. Whether it’s the newness of the console or just getting too into the destruction, it is pretty fun yelling at your archers to fire on your position.
There are some puzzle solving moments to break up the steady hum of x, y, a, x, x, y, x, y, right trigger. These are usually simple moments – through your spear at this, kick that, but can also lead to some fun moments where you lead your legion directly, marching in a phalanx with shields at the ready to catch the incoming arrows. Boss battles likewise break up what some will think is monotony (but I call “bring on more barbarians”), where you have to dodge, deflect, and otherwise use the skills you learn to take down harder foes.
Going back to the focus meter, it’s basically a break-the-fighting-mechanics-and-make-me-invincible when full. Activating it slows down time and stuns every enemy in your immediate vicinity. They then cannot block your attacks, and it is very easy to set them up for some nice double executions.
Look, this game does not take a lot of skill. It’s not going to make you think. It won’t wow you with its unique execution (though it might with its unique executions), but it is fun to just chop and stab your way through swathes of enemies sometimes.
The story here is a simple one of revenge. You play as Marius, a soldier in the ancient Roman Empire. You come up through the ranks, and after a tragic moment, have to plot your revenge. The story takes some crazy twists and turns, and ultimately sets you against some of the most powerful men in Rome.
Okay, okay, it’s fairly formulaic and if you’ve seen one Roman war movie, you’ve likely seen them all, but it’s full of enough fun moments and nods to history (and some smacks in the face of history, too!) that it should keep you from being not entertained.
This is one beautiful game. It’s exciting to see what first-party developers are coming up with on both sides of the proverbial fence, here at launch, as they’re only going to get better. From the glint of steel to the spray of blood, from beautiful Roman vistas to the wilds of cold olde England, there’s never a shortage of pretty, pretty pictures to look at as you play Ryse. The audio, especially during battles and in surround sound, makes you feel like you’re standing in the middle of Gladiator. Slashes sound heavy and juicy, making each attack feel stronger and more visceral. The cutscenes mask the Xbox One’s already notorious loadtimes, loading the next level in the background while the expertly rendered video dishes out the exposition. That’s great on your first playthrough, but can get a bit tedious if you go back to play a chapter a second time.
There are some people who find hack and slash games boring, and they can simply step aside for those of us that love them. Ryse: Son of Rome isn’t an award winner, but it is a lot of fun, and really, sometimes you just need a distraction. For a game to zone out to while enjoying some gorgeous presentation on your new console, I consider Ryse a buy for the Xbox One at launch.
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Newsarama Note: There is a co-player two-player mode to Ryse that we were unable to review before the embargo lift. Once we've had ample time for impressions, we'll update this review and adjust accordingly.