IN EVERY NEXT GENERATION CONSOLE RELEASE, the launch games lineup is a key factor deciding whether the games machine will sink or swim in the increasingly competitive market. For this reason exclusive IP is worth its weight in gold for game console makers. Aware of this, Microsoft has worked hard to create and secure a number of exclusive launch titles for its soon to be released Xbox One.
One of the biggest and most interesting of these is Roman themed brawler, Ryse: Son of Rome. We've already heard a lot about Crytek's Ryse multiplayer, which is set to see you take the stage as a gladiator battling in a constantly evolving Colosseum. However, so far we haven't heard much about its single player campaign - that is, until now.
Jumping into the Ryse: Son of Rome single player at an exclusive preview event, we got a chance to try out the first two chapters of the bloody, sword swinging brawler. Kicking off we found ourselves take the role of Roman General Marius as he attempted to repel a barbarian horde from Rome's central palace.
We found Ryse: Son of Rome combat uses a brawling mechanic that we could best describe as a mix between Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series. Ryse: Son of Rome offers you four basic options. You can swing your sword using the X button, bash an enemy with your shield using the Y button, block an incoming strike with the A button or roll away using the B button. At a glance, this makes Ryse: Son of Rome seem dangerously close to a basic button basher.
However, after a few rounds of fighting the barbarian hordes, we found that there is a lot more to Ryse: Son of Rome's combat. For a start there's a big emphasis on making a kill as bloody as possible using the game's execution mechanic. The option to execute an enemy fighter appears after you've inflicted a set amount of damage to the enemy and can be activated using the RT key. When activated your character enters into a pre-scripted animation that requires you to press the X and Y in a specific order and timing. How brutal the kill is depends on how big the combo of attacks leading up to it was and how accurately you follow the animation's commands. Brutality ranged from the basic slitting of our enemy's throat to full on dismemberment.
Playing the game we found that the more brutal animations looked really cool, if a little like segments from the movie 300 or TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Past their visual allure Ryse: Son of Rome entices you to work to get better executions using experience. Ryse: Son of Rome has an RPG character development mechanic that lets you upgrade your character's abilities using experience and gold. Experience is earned by killing enemies or completing mission objectives. More brutal kills earn more experience, meaning that if you avoid button bashing and play skillfully you can level up more quickly. The upgrades we saw were fairly far ranging, including everything from unlocking new combo attacks to increasing weapon damage.
Ryse: Son of Rome also features a squad command feature that adds a more strategic element to the basic fighting mode. During our time with Ryse: Son of Rome we saw only the most rudimentary elements of this when tasked to defend a gate against an incoming horde of enemies. The section saw Marius take command of the troops, letting us set up where we wanted them positioned and then order them to do specific tasks. For example, we could command our archers to fire at an incoming group of enemies by holding down the LB key. We didn't get a chance to try more developed sections of the strategic command element but have been told that they get significantly more complex as the game progresses.
Graphically we have to say that we were seriously impressed with how good Ryse: Son of Rome looks. Running on the Xbox One, animations were wonderfully smooth and the slow down execution sections of the game did a wonderful job highlighting the brutality of the kills - in one section we got to see Marius slice off a barbarians, arms, legs and then head in slow motion. It was awesome, limbs literally flew.
The lighting and particle effects are also impressive, with the legionnaires' armour offering dynamic reflections across the map and fire and smoke animations looking leagues better than any we've seen on present generation consoles. Ryse: Son of Rome is also able to display and animate far more controlled characters than we expected. During the siege section of gameplay we literally saw hundreds, if not thousands of individually animated and rendered rampaging barbarians assaulting our defences, a task that would be beyond the Xbox 360.
Summing up, our opening hands on time with Ryse: Son of Rome left us very impressed. The game brims with potential, featuring what appears to be a subtly deep brawler combat mechanic that's balanced with strategic squad command elements. Add to this its awesome graphics and we can't wait to have some more time with the bloody Roman fighter.
Check back with The INQUIRER later for a full review of Ryse: Son of Rome and the Microsoft Xbox One. µ