With the Xbox One celebrating its birthday in November 2014, the new console generation really feels established. We at GamingExcellence might have been too poor to afford to immediately jump on the console upgrade when the One released but now that we have one we thought looking at where it started would be fun. Microsoft recently released collected editions for numerous launch titles that contain the game itself and all of the DLC in one well priced package so this is fortunate timing!

When Ryse: Son of Rome was initially announced I thought it looked phenomenal. Then we got our hands on it and saw that the game was basically just one long running stream of quick time events. I hate quick time events with the passion of a thousand burning suns so this was obviously a put off for me personally. With that said it was obvious at a casual glance that Ryse looked absolutely amazing and Crytek is known for making gorgeous, fairly simplistic games that still manage to be really fun to play so it really felt like the game really deserved a chance.

Ryse starts in a rather different than one might expect: a Roman emperor is running through the halls of his palace while debris falls from the ceiling. The palace is clearly under attack and this is prompting him to have a breakdown, alternating between begging for help and praying to a statue… that starts to bleed from the eyes. It’s a surprisingly well done scene that sets a very eerie mood. Then he bursts out into the open and the scope of the attack can be seen – a vicious battle between barbarian invaders and Roman soldiers battling in all of its gory glory.

Then you’re dropped right into the action as the game slowly provides your tutorial. Controls are fairly simple with two different sword attack buttons, one for shield bashes, one for parrying and one for activating your finisher attacks. This is the entirety of combat which is both a good and really bad thing – Combat is simple and easy to master since it’s all based around these four buttons. You can even bounce back and forth between enemies as you attack so that you can keep them off balance and unable to attack before pressing the trigger to start finishers, which can be done to up to two enemies at once.

So on the bright side, the combat is really responsive and allows you to mow through the enemies with ease after only a little bit of practice. On the not so bright side is the fact that this gameplay element never changes or evolves. You’ll always be using the same sword, performing the same combo attacks and even the same finisher attacks. It’s just far too static to really hold someone’s interest for very long. The developers tried to add in some variety by adding small throwing spears to combat archers, or even just down enemies from a distance, and there are a few really awesome set pieces, such as forming up a shield wall to protect yourself from an archer formation, but these are too few and far between.

When you pair up this somewhat repetitive gameplay it’s easy to see why the developers went for a shorter game. Ryse clocks in at about six hours or so and it’s pretty easy to see how that would be disgruntling to those expecting a great single player experience. However one should approach the game the way one would something like Halo or Call of Duty: a single player experience with a strong but short storyline followed by a very strong cooperative multiplayer component.

The online mode is presented as a gladiatorial coliseum event. You step into the role of a fresh gladiator, armed with a glorified diaper and a cheap sword and shield and expected to earn a name for yourself. Killing enemies, completing objectives and, most importantly, surviving your mission will earn you gold to purchase the potions and gear needed to perform in the harder events. The game even changes your focus abilities from the four you can choose from to one that is determined by your deity of choice (i.e. Mars makes your attacks stronger, Jupiter slows your foes, etc) which makes for some interesting strategies between you and your partner. See, while you battle your foes you are also basically battling the arena and trying to deal with the crowd.

Firstly the arena is almost like a futuristic piece of tech. It has plates and layers that move and slide, creating new areas and objectives. You’ll walk through what looks like a flower garden, kicking enemies off the ledges and having fun only to have to go through a door into what appears to be a barbarian city of grey stone and wooden platforms. Finish that and then you end up having to run down a ramp into an area with flaming oil slicks while enemies guard switches you need to step on to stop the enemies from respawning. Some of these missions and objectives are pretty creative and incredibly hectic which is a blast to experience.

Secondly you’ll need to manage the audience’s mood by delivering a wide variety of kills or pressing the button to show off. If their mood gets too sour they’ll begin pelting you with debris which is intensely distracting but if you keep them pleased then you gain more experience from the level. So you need to keep the crowd on your side which does require some strategizing since you gain more from the more unique executions, like ones done with your partner or killing multiple enemies at once.

What would have held Ryse’s multiplayer back when the game first released was a lack of variety. With only a few maps to choose from it’s easy to see how players would have gotten bored with it pretty rapidly. Sure it’s fun doing these levels but you reach a point where the missions start repeating and the map variety begins to wane. However since the original release a number of downloadable content packs have been released that has added to this mode greatly and you get all of these in the Legendary Edition so they have a very positive impact on the experience.

While there is the usual string of plain maps, character skins or equipment there have been some pretty awesome additions. The Mars’ Chosen Pack added in a survival mode where you can only regain health via killing enemies and executions while your health drains slowly over time. These things get crazy in a hurry since you’re always scrambling for health and it makes ever little mistake feel like a huge punch in the gut. With a good partner this ends up being a lot of fun although a bad partner can make it really agonizing. What’s very interesting is that the map you choose has a huge impact on how you play this mode. For example Firestorm has huge swarms of enemies – if you don’t want to get overrun you need to watch your partners back or find choke points to block them. Trying it without the slow-down focus power is also madness. Dockyard is a very open map that has archers and indestructible catapults constantly pummeling you which makes for a bad day.

The other notable piece of DLC is Duel of Fates. This brought in a number of additional multiplayer objectives such as lighting wicker men on fire or defending the Emperor. It also has an incredibly tense new Survival map called Island which gives you almost no space to fight and really forces you and an ally to work together in some really exciting combat. Playing this with a friend has led to times where we basically had to turtle up and go completely on the defensive give our partner time to heal via executions since the tight quarters led to them getting hurt badly while they desperately used their focus power to ensure they killed the enemies before their health drained out on its own. Tense, and very exciting, times.

While Ryse looks amazing and the voice work is top-notch it’s also about what you’d expect of a game at this point. So it’s easy to see how a short campaign and the initial state of the multiplayer could have disappointed people. But as time has gone on Ryse: Son of Rome has really matured into a fantastic gaming experience. Of course it has its flaws and even now some of the issues with the game are off-putting but overall it brings a lot of quality content to the table. While it can be hard to find the time to play it in this busy year of releases if you get the chance you should take it, it’s a solid experience that’s well worth your effort.