Ryse one of the few next-gen console games at E3 that actually looked next-gen, but the brief demo that I played yesterday has left me wondering if this Son of Rome is all looks and no substance.
A common conversation I had with a lot of my fellow E3 show-goers was about how the next gen doesn’t look very “next gen.” There were a handful of pretty games, sure, but most of the launch titles (especially the third party ones) for both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 were barely indistinguishable from the 360, PS3, and Wii U games that were on display next to them. Obviously, developers are rushing to finish their games in time for the launch of the next gen systems, so they didn’t have time to fully tap the power of these new systems, but even with that in mind, there was still a definite lack of a visual “wow factor” to most of the playable Xbone and PS4 titles on the showfloor.
Ryse was not one of those games — this game definitely looks like something that could have only been made on one of the next-gen consoles (or a particularly powerful PC.) There are always dozens of characters on screen, all of whom animate fluidly and are incredibly detailed. There’s realistic reflections on the Roman’s polished armor, and flames cast impressive lighting effects on any objects around them. When Microsoft first showed Ryse off during their E3 press conference, I could hear some of the more cynical audience members behind me talk about how the footage had to be pre-rendered and that there was no way that the scenes in the trailer were from actual gameplay — well, turns out the Ryse reveal trailer was actual gameplay, because the playable demo I got to experience was basically identical to the footage Microsoft showed off.
Unfortunately, actually playing Ryse isn’t quite as impressive as watching Ryse: while the game visuals are as elaborate and impressive as a Roman palace, the gameplay is about as deep as the kids pool at a Roman bathhouse. Ryse is a brawler, but don’t expect that same level of combat depth that you’d see in a God of War game or something like Castlevania or Bayonetta — the fighting in Ryse is much, much simpler. X is your basic attack button, and after you hit any enemy a few times with some quick strikes, the camera zooms in close for a cinematic, quick-time-event based finishing move. Your execution moves are based on your timing during the QTE — press the button too early or too late and you’ll simply finish off your opponent with a simple stab or a boot to the head, but if you time it perfectly, your character will sweep his attacker off his feet and then cut him in half as he falls to the floor.
Ryse’s other big feature is the lack of a block or quick dodge: instead, your character can do a quick shield bash with the A button that serves as a sort of parry. When your opponents attack you, can knock them off balance by timing the shield bash right: the better your timing, the longer enemies are stunned.
The timing aspects of Ryse’s QTE’s and parry moves are nice little touches, but they weren’t quite enough to compensate for how bland the combat was otherwise — every enemy in the demo could be defeated by following the same pattern: wait for them to attack, parry the blow, hit them with a few strikes of the X button, and then finish them off with a QTE. Again, Ryse was a lot of fun to watch, and even though the playable demo was pretty brief, I still found myself wishing that there was more to combat system by my second or third fight.
Of course, this is just an early demo, so there’s always the chance that Microsoft will add more to Ryse before its finish. Hopefully they do, because right now, the combat desperately needs something besides some fancy animations to keep it interesting in the long term — branching combo trees, different weapons, customizable fighting styles, anything really. As it stands now, Ryse is simple, arcadey fun, but it definitely has the potential to be so much more. At the very least, if you’re buying an Xbox One and want a game for it that actually shows off the power of your new system, Ryse looks like it’ll be the most technically advanced game at the Xbone’s launch.
While they couldn’t give me any specifics, members of the Ryse dev team at Microsoft’s booth did tell me that the final game will feature a multiplayer mode based around the Roman Colosseum. It’s currently unknown if the multiplayer will be players vs. enemy co-op or if it’ll be some kind of competitive mode.
Ryse is an Xbox One launch title and will be available alongside the system this November.