Adaptability is key to becoming a good soldier, and that sentiment is at play in Crytek’s bloody Roman action game, Ryse. Players battle in third-person using a sword and shield, but a selection of perks activate various enhancements like life regeneration and boosted damage. We sat down with Crytek at Microsoft’s office in Cologne, Germany for a hands-on session that gave us a closer examination at how the four key perks affect combat.

Crytek has made some changes to the core combat since we last saw the game at E3 2013. The basics of combat are straight-forward. Players deal out damage with shield bashes and sword slashes, and mitigate attacks will well-timed blocks. Dealing enough damage to an enemy opens up execution opportunities, which is where we saw the first change. Instead of gaudy button prompts for the bloody, slow-motion kills, enemies are outlined in the color of the corresponding face button. Enemy AI has been tweaked as well, and now enemies close in more tightly around players to apply extra pressure. The camera also now automatically prioritizes your next target, favoring weakened foes to let you chain together executions. The autonomous camera frees you use to focus on the fast-paced action. Crowd control feels similarly paced to Rocksteady's Batman games. I appreciate that blocking with your shield interrupts any animation you're currently in. 

Performing well in combat earns you additional executions to weave into combat. Executing the axe-wielding thugs activates special perks, which help you perform better in combat, leading to more XP and subsequently more unlocked executions. The four main perks, which all have varying levels of upgradeability, are:

  • Bonux XP: Earn even more experience points during combat
  • Damage boost: Weaken enemies with your basic attacks more quickly, leading to faster executions
  • Focus Meter: Build up your focus meter, which can be triggered to slow time while your attacks speed up
  • Health Regen: Executing enemies refills your life

At this point in development, combat in Ryse feels on par for the genre, but the perks add some needed flavor to the formula. Whether or not it remains engaging to battle barbarians over the course of the entire game depends on how satisfying it is to unlock new executions. Another concern is that thanks to the over-the shoulder perspective, the main character sometimes obscures attacking enemies. Ryse launches this Holiday alongside the Xbox One, so Crytek still has times to tweak the perspective and further polish the combat.