Ryse: Son of Rome
If you’ve ever watched Lost, you’re familiar with the character of Desmond Hume. The former monk was stranded on the series’ mysterious island, and was tasked with repeatedly pressing the same series of buttons on a keyboard for weeks at a time. Why he had to do that is still pretty confusing to me (as is the rest of the series), but I was reminded of Desmond’s task for the duration of my time with the demo for Ryse: Son of Rome. I spent two hours with the Xbox One title, but it felt like I was entering random numbers into a computer rather than actually playing a video game.
It’s clear what Microsoft and developer Crytek are shooting for here. At launch, they want a big budget, epic action game that clearly demonstrates next-gen visuals. Ryse is undeniably pretty, but that’s about all it had going for it in this demo. After a painfully generic story intro, the game began teaching me similarly uninspired combat mechanics. While it tries to sound like an in-depth action game with familiar elements like perfectly-timed blocks and focus meters, the actual experience is anything but deep.
I’m hoping that later levels introduce some more difficult enemies, as the dozens of encounters I had consisted of all the complexity of dialing phone numbers. Almost every fight started with me hitting the attack button a couple of times, then pushing the enemy in an effort to stop him from breaking my combo. Then, I’d continue attacking until he was weak enough for the execution sequence. Once this occurs, the game slows down and the enemy flashes various colors. You press the face button of the appropriate color, and your protagonist Marius dismembers or murders the foe in dramatic fashion.
It’s so basic and predictable, I began testing to see if I could get past most combat situations with one hand. With my left hand completely off the controller, I was able to slice and dice through tons of enemies simply by inputting the same sequence ad nauseum. On a couple of occasions, the game would shift to sequences that involved me defending an area with crossbow stations or ordering my men to block arrows with their shields. These were somehow even less exciting than the tedious swordplay.
When I sat down at the Ryse: Son of Rome station, I was a fairly blank slate when it came to knowledge of the title. I knew it was developed by the talented team at Crytek, and I knew it was gorgeous based on the videos I had seen at conventions, so I was prepared to be impressed. What I didn’t expect was a desire to get up and leave the demo about ten minutes in. I stuck it out in hopes that it would prove itself a deeper experience over time, but its only success was ensuring my wallet will be $60 heavier when the Xbox One launches.