If there was only one word I could use to sum-up my time playing Ryse it’d quite simply be surprise. Ryse plainly isn’t what you expect whilst being everything you suspected at the exact same time, it’s perplexing. Perhaps the shock comes from the E3 reveal which had it pinned as a quick time event heavy bloodbath, which it is, but not to the advertised incessant degree. Maybe the co-operative demo we were treated to simply isn’t representative of the single player experience even with the combat, Romans and gore all present and accounted for. This curious position means Ryse left the largest impression out of the four demos long after it was over.
As previously stated the hands on demo was a cooperative affair in an arena mode, myself and my partner side-by-side coolly strode into the coliseum adorned in fetching suits of well realised typical Roman gladiator armour ready to raise hell. Our objective was simple, fight through the hordes of crazed barbarians that’d been released into the intricately mechanical ring to oppose us and, do it stylishly as to entertain our bloodthirsty spectators – doing so awarded extra points, and drew enthralled cheers. Trailers for Ryse have been focused on the violent bloody nature of combat and this co-op mode seeks to capitalize on that idea but, the truth is Ryse simply isn’t as gory as advertised. It’s by no means devoid of the gooey red stuff but, standing next to something like God Of War the combat feels somehow less brutal, maybe even tame.
Actual gameplay in both movement and combat is heavy; trudging. Whether your gorgeously rendered gladiator is swinging his sword, raising his shield or just walking everything feels like a slog, almost like the action is going on underwater. Even without the fluidity and speed you’d expect from a muscle bound monster wearing little armour combat manages to be compelling. On the surface it’s standard affair, players dispatch groups of enemies using basic light and heavy attacks – the addition of a temporary block button adds a level of finesse to proceedings too. Catching a blow with a quick block allows you take the tactical advantage by initiating a counter attack.
On top of those basics there’s the standard “finish them” move, when a skull appears over the head of an enemy pressing B will have the player character execute their opponent, following QTE prompts add further flourishes of brutality. The QTE don’t just slam a button in your face via the screen either, instead a colorful aura engulfs a victim which directly correlates to one of the face buttons, red for B, yellow for Y etc. Slitting throats solo is vicious enough but, if your partner is nearby and quick enough the duo team up to take down a foe in murderous tandem. The combat is somewhat reminiscent of an offensive Assassins Creed system whereby lashing out is beneficial and waiting to counter isn’t. The lack of an apparent lock on system is somewhat worrying however, making target selection difficult.
Ryse shows a great deal of potential but, what’s most worrying is, if co-op is indicative of the rest of the game, that it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Quick attacks, slow attacks, parrys and executions are fairly commonplace in the hack ‘n’ slash genre and whilst Ryse’s weighted feel adds a little authentic charm it mostly gets in the way. For all the next generation technology that powers it the Roman antics don’t feel as good as some examples of the genre from this generation. Most notably Ryse will be compared to Greek epic Playstation exclusive God of War, their settings and penchant for brutality make them reasonably comparable but, the sad fact is judging from the small slice on offer God of War excels Ryse.
Maybe though Ryse has another surprise in store yet. It’s proven itself to not be over reliant on QTE as E3 suggested, it features a competent battle system that delivers on promised violence and it presents an authentic coliseum experience complete with roaring crowds. This was an early build of the game and, a co-operative demo at that, there’s a good chance the single player could excel beyond the restrictions imposed in this multiplayer demo. Ryse’s setting, concept and generous brutality really has the potential to be great, for all this demo was a little underwhelming it was the biggest surprise, nothing like I imagined and it’s the one title I still think of now it’s over.
If you missed our hands on impressions with the Xbox One hardware you can find it on the links below alongside other hands on game impressions that will update as they become available. Feel free to bookmark this page for ease.