EG Expo 2013: Ryse: Son Of Rome hands-on impressions

It seems that the strongest hand that Xbox One launch title Ryse: Son of Rome can play, is that its a next-generation visual showcase for Microsoft‘s new console that aims to provide an historical slant of sorts to the spectacle fighter genre.

Far away from the arranged spectacle of the game’s campaign, the co-op based arena mode that I got stuck into at this year’s Expo was a modest, if unspectacular slice of what folks should expect when the game rolls around next month.

Locked in an enclosed space with a human player by your side, Ryse’s co-operatively flavoured arena jaunt has the pair of you violently laying waste enemy gladiators and barbarians while you fulfill objectives to proceed to the next part of the arena.

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The objectives in question roughly demand the same level of grey-matter interaction that would be expected from a gladiator too; each of them in turn presenting no challenge that exists beyond the ken of your sword hand and as such, includes such banal tasks as hitting oil pots to set tents on fire or destroying barricades.

As I had suspected from watching the previously released gameplay media, combat is fairly basic affair; you mash the attack button (X) and use (A) to block or deflect incoming strikes to create a window of opportunity to counterattack. Once your foe has been sufficiently softened up with blows, you can then execute them by pressing (B) which triggers one of the game’s many visceral finishing moves.

In addition to splattering the screen with crimson coloured viscera, pulling off finishing moves and sending your enemies to a gory death also helps to improve your arena rating of the Roman snobs watching from the cheap seats. What benefit a higher or lower rating has however, I cannot say as the demo was simply too short for me to properly gauge the benefit or consequence of a good/shit approval rating.

Augmenting your default equipped gladius and shield, you can pick up spears and other ranged weapons which are essential for doing away with long-range tormentors, but quite honestly, its nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before elsewhere.

Admittedly, while it can be quite satisfying to carve your way through legions of these gladiator types (the strikes, blocks and parries all occurring with appropriate gusto), the actual act of landing a succession of strikes on an opponent was made difficult by a target lock-on system which seemed quite temperamental.

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This upshot of this being that it either didn’t target who you wanted it to, or, had difficulty trying to shake a target that you don’t want to immediately attack; a real problem when a Gaul is trying to make hamburger out of your face with a flail when meanwhile you’ve targeted a far off combatant who is stood around playing pocket pool with himself.

As well as providing a second sword at your side to deal with the arena horde, human players can revive each other should any of them receive too much of a beating with UI elements helpfully indicating where they’ve fallen; something that you’ll no doubt find yourself using a lot as you get rushed from all sides.

Besides the human threat, you also have to mindful of some particularly nasty environmental traps too such as the rotating columns with long, spiky appendages; forcing you to scrap with the enemy on safer, less hostile ground, but otherwise again, this is all basic stuff to anybody who has indulged in the hack and slash genre before.

One of the visually most impressive games of the Xbox One’s launch by virtue of its apparently grandly framed campaign mode, the co-op based arena mode conversely looked like bit of a mixed bag and certainly didn’t reinforce the sentiment that this game would be unachieveable on current-gen console hardware.

Hopefully owing to unfinished code, some gorgeous character models and arena environmental details find themselves let down by some flat last-gen looking textures (trees and foliage specifically) and a hugely variable frame rate that frequently dips far below the 30 frames per second threshold that developer Crytek are apparently striving toward.

Uninspiring and straying away from the epic spectacle that Ryse: Son of Rome is banking on to make its bones at the Xbox One launch next month, the morsel of gameplay on display did little to assure me that Crytek’s inaugural Xbox One effort will be able to rise to the occasion at all.

Published by Microsoft Studios and developed by Crytek, Ryse: Son of Rome will exclusively release for Xbox One as a launch title for the machine this November.