Ryse: Son of Rome
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2014-01-12 Xbox One Action M (Mature) Crytek / Microsoft Studios

Don't have a tablet to help you locate all the collectibles? Use our guide to find all the scrolls, vistas and chronicles, and while you're there, find out how to earn an easy 150 gold to get that first gladiator booster pack faster.

"Rome is civilization. Rome is order. Rome is power. And out here, WE ARE ROME!"

I was in awe when I first saw the Ryse trailer at Microsoft's media briefing at E3 2013, I had to have it. Even after the show, when asked what games I was looking forward to the most, my answer was The Witcher 3 and Ryse. And while the first was expected, Gil reacted to the latter with a surprising "Ryse? Really?!" as if it was the last thing in the world I would find remotely interesting.

I received my copy just after Christmas, and all I kept thinking was "please don't suck..." , because I was so looking forward to it that I never even considered the possibility of disappointment. Luckily for me, it didn't take long to realize I had fallen head over heels for Ryse: Son of Rome.

I can't describe the story without giving some of it away, but to sum it up, Ryse tells the story of Marius Titus, a legionnaire who sees his family murdered by barbarians, and his subsequent efforts to avenge their deaths. As it turns out, the barbarian invasion isn't quite what it seems, and the plot thickens as you uncover the political intrigue surrounding the emperor.

You can choose to play the Campaign in one of four difficulties: Recruit, Soldier, Centurion and Legionary (the last is unlocked by completing the game in any other difficulty). Ryse puts you right into the action as barbarians invade Rome. You get a crash course on the basic commands: breaking enemy guard, attacking, blocking, dodging and executions, and take control of Marius as he attempts to protect the palace.

The combat is as violent as entertaining. At first, I figured I could get away with button mashing, but soon learned otherwise. Blocking and dodging are absolute must-haves and combat is much more efficient when you pay attention to your enemies' movements.

You can dodge/roll out of the way of strong attacks, block normal attacks as enemies attempt to hit you, push them back and attack. Attack enough to wear them down and a skull icon appears above their heads, indicating an execution.

Executions are even more brutal and entertaining. The QTEs no longer show what buttons to press like the demo did at E3. Instead, your enemy will flash in the color of the button you must press, which is less distracting and lets you enjoy the moment more. Except sometimes the camera angle won't let you see the opponents nor the colors at all...

You are invulnerable to all other enemies while you do an execution, which was a surprise, since I expected someone else to attack me while I was executing another. You can get a Focus, Experience, Health Recovery or Damage bonus when the execution is completed by pressing the respective direction on the D-pad. You don't have to execute every single opponent though, you can just keep attacking them after the skull icon appears to kill them. However, you will need to perfect those executions while playing on Legendary, as they will become precious to recover health or obtain the boosts you choose - but you will only get the boost if you get all the buttons right.

While stabbing, dismembering and stomping on heads was pretty entertaining, I really took a liking to the environmental executions, which aren't all that easy to perform because you can't predict enemies' movements, but are a lot of fun to watch. Impaling, drowning and throwing guys off cliffs/walls/platforms were the best.

Every successful hit or block earns you experience, which is added up and shown on screen as it happens, and these points are used to customize your skills. You can make Marius a more effective fighter by unlocking attributes and improving his skills, carrying capacity, different executions, length of focus and so on. Focus is particularly useful when you find yourself outnumbered, since it slows down everyone around you and you can concentrate on taking someone down faster. Most bosses are immune to it though, and some will also use it against you.

Aside from the regular solo combat, there are moments where Marius will command his legion, and it was by leading my first formation that I fell head over heels with Ryse. I can't get over how awesome that was! I loved how everyone marched with their shields down, then took cover under them as a rain of arrows fell from the sky. I loved how you can aim and throw spears at the enemy and take them down from a distance. And I especially loved how if one centurion fell, everyone shifted to close the gap. It's perfect! And it's what I remember from descriptions in my 5th grade history textbook, of how efficient and nearly undefeatable the Roman troops were using this process. To see it was just awesome, to command it was so much more, and I only wish there were more opportunities to use it in the game.

However, don't go looking for actual facts in Ryse, though. While the game is based on actual Roman history and lore, it is a piece of historical fiction.

There are other occasions where you voice commands to your troops while fighting on your own. You can tell your archers to cover you, shoot a fire volley on a group of enemies, or order catapults to fire. The siege moments are quite interesting and let you man a crossbow turret, shoot explosive barrels or cauldrons full of burning oil to stop incoming attacks. These offer a break from the combat gameplay, but at the same time, I was constantly wishing I could just get in there and kick some ass, instead of aiming arrows.

Ryse seems to encourage you to look around and explore, but it is actually a linear game. There are a few choices in terms of how to proceed during a certain battle/siege, such as choosing your position and the position of your archers or soldiers, but none of it influences the direction of the story, only the strategy of the battle.

The campaign itself takes about 6 hours to complete, without spending time to look around for all the collectibles. There are several scrolls (found on bodies), vistas (shields) and chronicles (pots with documents) to find. The objects glow green when you approach them and while some are obvious, others are hidden off the main path. You can view your collectibles in the respective tab in the menu for artwork, music and bits of extra story.

I've tried using the companion app to help with finding the collectibles as I go through, since SmartGlass works on Android, but most of the time the app just doesn't respond when accessing the Timeline. When it works though, it's great. The Timeline tracks your progress in whatever chapter you are currently playing, showing where collectibles are and even giving you an option to see a short video for the exact location.

The app is basically a port of the Ryse in-game menus, where you can check achievement completion, strategies, highlight videos, equip your gladiator, read news and check leaderboards, even when you are not playing the game. And when you have all the collectibles, you can browse the gorgeous art that comes with some of them, the music that is unlocked by others, and you even get to read comics that offer more story that ties in with the game.

While the campaign is fairly short, the multiplayer in Ryse offers a lot of replay value. In the Gladiator Arena you can play co-op rounds with a friend, go head to head with someone else or go solo and see how long you can last. The Colosseum offers enough enemies to keep you busy and dynamic environments that throw different challenges and obstacles at you. Winning rounds awards you with gold that you can use to purchase booster packs. Microtransactions are an option, and I can see how some may actually go for it, considering how long it takes to get an initial decent sum of gold. Earning gold through matches is based on a number of things, such as pleasing the crowd, combos, perfect hits, executions and number of kills.

Ryse: Son of Rome is a feast for the senses and certainly stands out as a good example of what the Xbox One can achieve. On my second playthrough, I was stopping everywhere just to admire the details in the scenery.

The artwork, graphics, lighting and particle effects, gorgeous cinematics, fantastic detail, facial expressions as detailed during gameplay as in cutscenes. Marius' emotions through facial expressions extend his sorrow, anger, determination and frustration to the player. Not to mention that the characters look like their actor counterparts!

The motion capture is truly amazing (Summer's awkward breast physics aside), even in something as subtle as a banner flying in the wind.

It is a lot like watching a movie, and when given the chance, I looked around the environments as much as possible - found a fantastic view of the Colosseum in the distance, right after walking through a pile of corpses (quite the contrast there). Add to that an epic soundtrack, well-written dialog and top notch acting... bravo!

I've not been this much into a game in a very long time, but from the moment I lead my first formation, Ryse: Son of Rome was added to my list of favorite games ever. I've since beat the game three times (as of this writing, now going through Legendary), and I can honestly say I was in tears for the entirety of the last gameplay sequence. Call me lame, hormonal, whatever you want, but that was anything other than what I was expecting. Improba vita, mors optabilior, I suppose.

It is easy for me to enjoy Ryse for what it is. I was quickly involved in the story through gameplay and in the gameplay through the story. For those six hours I was Marius; but for the last few minutes I was an unwilling participant in his fate, and was left wanting more. And that is my only complaint.

Special thanks to Robert Sauer and Microsoft for providing a copy of the game and Season Pass.

Read more about Ryse: Son of Rome in our Mars' Chosen DLC review.For more behind the scenes information, read our interview with Marius Titus, a.k.a. John Hopkins.

For more videos of Ryse: Son of Rome browse the playlist below: