E3 2013: Ryse: Son of Rome Preview

June 24, 2013

Among the list of new intellectual properties announced at this year’s E3 was Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome, a third person action game that will be exclusive to Xbox One and published by Microsoft. If Ryse looks somewhat familiar, it’s because the game was first revealed as a Kinect-driven experience during E3 2011 under the title, Codename Kingdoms. Since then, Ryse has undergone a number of changes, perhaps most notably, a deviation away from Kinect to a more traditional, controller-based layout. Now scheduled as a launch title to the Xbox One, Microsoft is hopeful the game will have a similar impact to the new system as Halo and Gears of War did for the Xbox original.

In Ryse, players control Marius Titus, a Roman soldier seeking justice against the Barbarian army who slaughtered his family. Marius’s tale will span from early beginnings to his exploits as a Roman general and, as is the case with God of War‘s Kratos, we expect the theme of vengeance to play prominently throughout the game. At E3, Rocket Chainsaw saw a seven minute demo of Ryse, which featured the game’s third person combat and impressive cinematics.

The demo begins with the Roman army storming a Barbarian stronghold. Marius delivers a stirring speech to his contingent; just one of hundreds as a battalion of Roman ships line the Barbarian shoreline. Disembarking, the player runs forward while war machines rain down havoc on the exposed soldiers. The scene conjures up an image of the Normandy Landings of WWI as the Roman army runs headlong into arrows and flaming ballistics, only to be cut down. A fireball streaks overhead and demolishes the mast of a Roman ship. Soldiers fall left and right, and Marius observes one screaming in agony, an arrow protruding from his eye. A chunk of flaming debris lands inches short of Marius and, caught in the explosion, he is rendered temporarily disorientated. Marius looks on as his comrades continue to fall and an ally ship reaches the shoreline, completely ablaze with soldiers still on board. Marius rises to his feet and we see our first glimpse of combat.

Marius’ moveset consists primarily of sword swings, blocks, and parries which are assigned to the X1’s face buttons. Combat employs a distinct timing and feel similar to the Batman Arkham games; button-mashing is always possible, but developing a rhythm will allow players’ to keep the action seamless and free-flowing. When an enemy is worn down, Marius can also perform brutal executions as indicated by successive, on-screen prompts. These appear as drawn-out quicktime events at first glance, but are optional or absent entirely on higher difficulty settings. Missing an indicator yields the player less rewards, such as health or experience, but the execution still plays out.

After a brief showing of basic combat, Marius issues an order and the Romans band together to form a defensive “turtle” position with their shields facing outwards. In this position, the player inches forward safe from enemy-fire, breaking intermittently to throw a volley of spears, before re-forming and inching further. With the Barbarian archers eliminated, the demo then skips ahead; the fighting has progressed to the ramparts of the enemy tower, and the player makes a stand as his comrades attempt to sabotage a troublesome catapult. During this encounter Marius calls in an arrow storm for assistance, which plays out similar to the summon ability in Assassin’s Creed. While in this instance the player actives the ability with a bumper press, simple orders like this are possible with the Kinect’s voice commands. The demo then reaches a close with the enemy catapult destroyed, and a long pan-shot of the blood-soaked battlefield

On first impressions, Ryse strikes a notable balance between God of War and Call of Duty, whereby the game hosts a linear and explosive campaign, but is grounded in an ancient setting. The game looks solid in it’s execution, though the combat at this stage seems to lack the fluidity it’s trying to aspire to. Whether or not you’d call them quicktime events, Marius’ executions are too frequent and abrupt to feel natural, while non-engaged enemies tend to stand still while the various animations play out. Crytek is hoping, however, to include over 100 executions for the player to learn and perfect, so the emphasis on variety could alleviate some concerns.

In terms of presentation, the framerate is smooth despite a plethora of soldiers on-screen, and the visuals are impressive across the board, from the billowing smoke effects as fire consumes the battlefield, to the intricate detail on the soldiers’ armour. If you’ve played a Crytek game before, then you can expect the same level of graphical fidelity with Ryse. Likewise, the sweeping soundtrack is befitting of the game’s epic ambitions, while smaller details like the subtle, metallic chink that accompanies character movement is a welcome touch, too.

Crytek has proven themselves time and again on the visual front, but Ryse‘s gameplay leaves a little to be desired. There’s still several months before release, so if Crytek can fine tune Ryse‘s combat system to match the competency of its visual presentation, the Xbox One should have a compelling exclusive title for it’s launch roster.

Expect Ryse: Son of Rome to launch with the Xbox One this holiday.

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