E3: Hands-on: Ryse: Son of Rome

PC World editor Siobhan Keogh gives you her E3 impressions of hack-and-slash action game Ryse: Son of Rome.

NameRyse: Son of Rome
Summary:So far it looks good. It has incredibly high production values, lots of action, and surprisingly complex combat. It may not be God of War, but it'll certainly appeal to fans of that franchise.
Games Info:Developer: Crytek; Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Classification:Not yet rated
Platform:Xbox One
Test Platform:Xbox One

It's hard to look at new Xbox One exclusive Ryse: Son of Rome without thinking of God of War. There's no supernatural malarkey in Ryse - at least none that we've been shown yet - but it's a third-person, cinematic action game where you fight in melee combat in an ancient setting. There are even quick-time events - sort of.

Ryse is set in Ancient Rome in the time of Emperor Nero, around 50-60AD. The game is not historically accurate, however - developers Crytek stressed in a 'behind closed doors' session that the focus was on delivering a cinematic experience, rather than a true-to-life one.

In Ryse you play as Marius, a man who has recently gone from a low-level soldier to a "real leader of men", said Crytek's Peter Gornstein. In the beginning of our brief gameplay preview - all of which was shown at Xbox's E3 media briefing - Marius is rallying the troops to battle after mooring on a beach. As his men rush to meet the enemy, everything starts to go horribly wrong. Archers and catapults rain fiery hell on the team, and Marius has to fight to the top of the catapult tower and take out archers on the way.

There is an interesting mix of combat in Ryse - you'll face enemies one-on-one as Marius, but there are also times when you'll control a full team of men.

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Playing through the hand-to-hand combat was surprising, as it's much more difficult than it looks. Mashing buttons won't get you anywhere, as enemies will quickly learn what attack you're using and start to dodge. And they won't wait for you to finish fighting another enemy before attacking you - you have to move around a lot to deflect and dodge attacks from all sides, at all times.

After hacking and slashing away at an enemy for a while, a button prompt will pop up that allows you to pull off a finisher. These look like quick-time events, and they kind of are - if you hit a button in time then you'll perform an extra brutal move. But if you miss the quick-time event you'll still get your kill. It just won't be as fancy.

After fighting up the beach, Marius and co had to fall into formation and put up shields against volleys of arrows. Get your timing wrong, and Marius dies. You also have to return fire with a volley of spears, which opens your formation up to attack. You won't spawn new men when some die - you have a finite number, and if you let them all get killed then the rest of the mission becomes tougher.

One thing that design director J. Epps pointed out was that while the violence is quite horrific at points - a short sword through the neck here, an arrow in the eyeball there - the game doesn't revel in that violence in the same way a game like God of War does. It's not very bloody, and you won't see a finisher in gory slow-mo. It happens, it's quick, and then the game immediately moves on.

Graphically, Ryse is stunning. Being able to see the gleam in your enemy's eye and the individual hairs on his face is quite remarkable, and we noticed that clothing moves in a very natural way. But one of the things we've noticed the most with this new generation of consoles is that the sheer amount of stuff that's on-screen at once has increased dramatically. There can be 30 allies, and smoke, and fire, and everything's in motion all the time.

While J. Epps did confirm that Ryse will have arena-based multiplayer, Microsoft and Crytek weren't willing to talk about it yet. There'll also be some Kinect support - both voice and gestures - but because E3 doesn't exactly lend itself to a quiet environment, we weren't able to check that out yet.

Ryse is clearly one of Xbox's flagship titles for the launch of the Xbox One, and so far it looks good. It has incredibly high production values, lots of action, and surprisingly complex combat. It may not be God of War, but it'll certainly appeal to fans of that franchise.

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Siobhan Keogh

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