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Originally released as one of the launch titles for the Xbox One in 2013, this third person hack and slash adventure sees you playing through the life of Roman centurion Marius Titus as he joins the Roman Legion seeking revenge against the Celtic barbarian hordes currently laying siege to Rome and who he believes are responsible for murdering his family.
Despite being a launch title, something which can really work against a game, especially with developers still discovering the limitations of a new platform, Ryse: Son of Rome still looks fantastic as you battle your way through the barbarian hordes, laying waste to the city through to the forests of Britain and a memorable showdown in the colosseum. Of course if you’re thinking that this all sounds close to the 2001 film Gladiator, you’d be pretty much correct as the game follows a vaguely similar plot as you battle Barbarians and attempt to topple this alternative vision of the Roman empire under the rule of the corrupt and devious Emperor Nero and his sons Basilius and Commodus.
While the campaign might be short, it is still a satisfying plot that brings a great variety of environments for the player to battle through, though which sadly can’t also be said for the variety of opponents which Marius faces as generally, his opponents will be one of seven standard enemy model types. We do get a variety of interesting bosses scattered throughout the game however such as Boudica and a barbarian leader you battle in the shadow of a gigantic Wicker Man.
While on the surface, this could be seen as a God of War clone such as Heavenly Sword, which this really isn’t thanks to a surprisingly in-depth fighting system that requires players to utilise strikes and counters to break the defence of their opponent and land hits. This means that the game is far from a straightforward hack and slash that it might have appeared to have been on first appearances. At the same time, players can choose to either increase their fighting strength or recover their health during combat, and also opt to gain more XP points from each foe killed. You will often find yourself switching between these options depending on the situation facing Marius to maximise their effectiveness.
The real draw though is with the gory executions. These can be performed once Marius has worn down an opponent and while you can just kill enemies normally, chances are that you will use the option for executions regularly, especially when you can easily pull off double executions if you feels like dancing around your opponents to wear a pair down to initiate this. Once triggered, executions play like mini games were you have to hit the right coloured button when prompted. Hitting the right button quickly enough rewards you with more XP points while pressing the wrong button refreshingly doesn’t equal a fail but instead just award fewer points. It’s unquestionably a fun thrill to trigger these executions as Marius lops off limbs, stabs opponents or just hits them with his shield, which despite having the potential to grow stale after the first dozen times somehow remain fun throughout.
Over the course of the game, Marius’s stats and executions can be upgraded via XP points he collects from slaying opponents. These skills can also be upgraded by paying with gold, or to be more precise, actual money as the game offers you the option of just buying the upgrades you want, but honestly this shouldn’t be an option that is required as the difficulty is never to the point were it punishes you for not have high enough stats, which also makes it confusing as to who would be taking the option of handing over their hard earned bucks to boost their stats?
The main issue with the game however comes with how shallow the actual gameplay element is. For the most part, it’s just a case of battling from Point A to Point B and the game does try and mix thing up with siege segments as well as teaming up with your regiment to form armoured formations to take out archer positions. Yes, there might be a lot of action happening on the screen, especially during the levels which take place during sieges but overall the game just suffers from sheer repetition which makes it hard to tackle in one sitting despite the short length and as such is one best played like how Marius leaves his enemies … in chunks. But for good fun and gory kills, and it’s what to play.