Review: Ryse: Son of Rome

The Xbox One’s launch line-up doesn’t present any titles which we would expect to redefine their host genres, but there are a number which work to set a new standard for visual fidelity. Ryse: Son of Rome is one such title, ably discarding all that was seen as progressive on the Xbox 360 and replacing it with the kind of quality once thought near-impossible for home videogame systems. Ryse: Son of Rome doesn’t push the envelope of gameplay design quite as far, but then, we can’t have everything.

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It’s a shallow scrolling beat-‘em-up videogame. A keen comparison would be Conan on the previous-generation consoles, or a slow placed God of War without the puzzle solving. It’s not a smart videogame, nor is it one which commands you to invest in new hardware early on, but it does provide an entertaining action experience for those who have already made the decision to purchase an Xbox One console.

The combat is based largely around positioning and timing as opposed to flair. This isn’t DmC: Devil May Cry, but rather more closely related to Killer is Dead. Short, simple combos must be played out while you cover your rear in prevention of being exposed by any of the other four enemies currently engaging you in combat. It’s a case of juggling: three-hit combo, parry, dodge, counter and so on. Once an enemy is but a few blows from death a symbol will appear above their head informing you of the opportunity to initiate an execution attack. The camera zooms and all of a sudden it’s just you and that one enemy, glowing yellow to prompt a Y button press or blue for X. Falling to follow these prompts will still result in their death, but managing to deliver the correct input will boost your health, XP gain or focus.

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Your focus meter is clearly a lukewarm mechanic to add some variety to the combat. A quick press of the right should button sees Marius – the player character – slam his shield into the ground. The colour filter changes and for a few seconds every enemy on-screen is nothing more than meat ready for chopping. It allows you to use the above technique for regaining health when you run low, or simply clear the field a little easier.

The combat is enjoyable, though the frequency at which the videogame relies on the kill-all-to-continue mechanic while continuously flooding the area with fresh enemies can get pretty tiresome. It’s clear that many aspects of Ryse: Son of Rome were rushed in order to meet the deadline – a shocking result given the length of it’s time in development – but one area in which Ryse: Son of Rome has not been limited is it’s production values. Ryse: Son of Rome is arguably the best looking videogame we’ve ever seen on any home format.

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The skin textures and facial animation go far above even the best of next-generation releases, excelling anything else on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 by a clear mile. The background and environment detail is also of a very high quality, but the occasional poor presentation of flames far off in the distance is disappointing given the simply amazing foreground. It’s unlikely that you’ll genuinely care about any of the characters in Ryse: Son of Rome, but the fact that their stories are presented with such a direct relation to the actors that played them is nothing less than astounding.

Ryse: Son of Rome features a co-operative gameplay mode in addition to the campaign, but this aside is literally that: an interesting second volley as opposed to a primary concern. The use of Smartglass to create and share assets – including entire levels to challenge other players online – is the most interesting aspect of Ryse: Son of Rome’s multiplayer component, but it’s unlikely that the videogame will develop the online community needed to make full use of such potential. Instead we’re likely to see Ryse: Son of Rome laying the groundwork for other Smartglass titles to capitalise on.

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Ryse: Son of Rome is an inelegant videogame but a perfectly pitched launch title. It’s gameplay is delivered in a familiar package aimed at an audience already well versed in the genre, and it’s credentials as a impressive use of next-generation capabilities can not be questioned, in terms of visual clout at least. It’s a start from which the foundations of not just a new franchise, but indeed a whole string of releases will not doubt be based: it’s the use of technology that’s important, and the videogame is a perfect showcase of that. Xbox One owners could do far worse than picking up a copy of Ryse: Son of Rome to show off their new console with, but as time goes on they will surely be able to do far better also.

Score : 6