Ryse: Son of Rome may have been a gorgeous launch title for the Xbox One, but it didn't start that way.
For those that don't know, Ryse was originally a title for the Xbox 360 that would take advantage of Kinect and offer a visceral first-person story through the point of view of a Roman soldier. What we ended up with keeps the visceral, some of the Kinect aspect, and moves to a third-person viewpoint. Through the game, you play as Roman Centurion Marius Titus as he rises through the ranks of the Roman Legion to eventually become one of it's leaders. The campaign is told through flashbacks while Titus regales a person of high status with his tale of how he came to help that person. Murder, betrayal, redemption, and mythology all factor heavily into the story. It's certainly a good story, and I feel, one with a satisfying conclusion, but in the end it becomes a backdrop to the so-so gameplay.
The core of Ryse: Son of Rome is combat, and compared to similar systems like Batman: Arkham City, it feels stiffer, but still satisfying. Among Titus' repertoire are light and heavy slashes, stuns, parries, dodge rolls, and executions. Unfortunately, after you are initially taught how to execute these actions, the combat doesn't grow from that point. However, you can earn bonuses for chaining multiple executions together. Executions specifically are quick-time events where you press a button based on the color flashing from an enemy. These executions are also impossible to fail. Why? The game literally doesn't let you fail. If you hit an incorrect button, the animation continues, and you are only given a minimal player-determined benefit. Save for a few moments of commanding a group of Centurions, or using a ballista, the combat repeats aplenty. Ryse does offer multiple difficulties, and they do affect achievements.
Speaking of achievements, most of those in Ryse are easily obtained and the game absolutely holds your hand while doing so. Most achievements are tied to the game's story and normal progression in two varying difficulties. Some of them are skill-based, but still some are for collectibles. Now. here's where the hand-holding comes into play. If you have the Xbox app downloaded onto a smart device, Ryse updates a second-screen experience in real time and will show you where the various collectibles are complete with videos to guide you. Personally, I found it extremely helpful and unprecedented.
Design and Art Direction are astounding throughout Ryse's campaign and in the multiplayer maps. It's clear early on that great care was taken to ensure that environments all felt cohesive in visual and audio fidelity. The sounds of war are present throughout, and the Beach level seen in demos of Ryse is particularly an audio showcase. Models are highly detailed throughout, and appear full of life in all cutscenes. More than any other part of Ryse, the visual and auditory aspects consistently stun. The only thing holding back a perfect audio score for me is the musical score, which is awfully forgettable.
Ryse does have a multiplayer component that I feel works well, and better than a competitive version would. In it, players take on the roles of gladiators in the great Colosseum of Rome. Players cooperatively take on waves of enemies and fulfill different requirements to relive glorious battles for the crowd in the stands. The mode does offer some customization, as the more rounds you survive, the more gold you will earn, which can unlock gear that players can wear and alter stats. For the most part, it's more of the same combat as the single-player campaign offers, however, it is bolstered by Focus attacks that you can pick an associated Deity for. But, if you want to finish all the achievements in the multiplayer for Ryse, be ready for a long haul. You will be tasked to hit level 200(!). That's an awful lot of Colosseum rounds, and ends up being the sole cause of difficulty among achievements.
Is Ryse worth your money? Depends on how much you enjoy hack-n-slash titles. Ryse is enjoyable, and positively beautiful to look at, but the longevity of Ryse is dependent on how much repetition you can stand. However, at the time of this writing, it is a Games With Gold title, and as such I say: Why not fight for the glory of Rome?
Achievement Difficulty: 3/10