What should have been – Ryse: Son of Rome

Rome needed a son, but got a soldier.

I’m not going to lie, like many, Ryse: Son of Rome was probably my most anticipated launch game for the Xbox One – being developed by Crytek, I was certain Ryse was going to be a beautiful expearience, crafted with impeccable finesse and care, and I wasn’t wrong – but a game is so much more than how it runs or what it looks like. It leaves me wanting more. And it seems that some decisions made through the process have lead Ryse to drown in its own reflection…

…And so my observations bring me here – the idea of a do-over; the answer to the burning question “How did Ryse miss the true essence of Rome?”

Marius

Marius

Rewinding back to Assassins Creed 3, a terrible, convoluted, ill-paced game, it did something interesting and I will give Ubisoft their due credit; it was in the early hours of play, this one aspect of playing someone’s life, watching them grow into who they were to become – the gradual revelations; the Why’s and How’s’ needed to understand one’s motivations and fears…It all would’ve worked well for Ryse and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see Marius unfold.

When you start by drawing a soldier you have already written half of his story.

The limitations that come with classifying your protagonist from the very beginning are dire, and will eventually restrict the story at every corner. A soldier will always be a soldier; There’s a subtle charm that comes from telling a story from the very beginning and Marius deserved that. Tales of vendetta and revenge – clichéd, have all been done to exhaustion; we’ve seen them time and time again with similar heart and end. With an absence of depth in Marius and his back story, I soon came to realize I couldn’t relate to him because whatever was – was.  Where I yearned to see from his eyes and hear from his ears, I was simply put in his shoes…And all I had hoped was to know more of the experiences that defined Marius; people he met through his years, moments that changed him, made him and broke him; a young eight year boy oblivious to the greatness that lied ahead,  wandering through the roman countryside in search of his lost pet dog – a pompous teen exposed beyond the comfort of his father’s walls, frightened by his very own city plagued by disease and squalor – the journey to his very first battle in the lower ranks where he met his first and only true comrade…sadly, Marius needed no discovery.

Roma

Roma

Rome is not one road, there are worlds within a world, stories within stories.

I take this generation’s promise of living worlds seriously and Ryse: Son of Rome while exceedingly gorgeous fails in possessing much life and that is mostly due to the linear approach of the gameplay. While I have no objection with linearity and quite frankly like the idea of a one true end, it seems to fall short of the ambition demanded by such a subject matter – to be clear what I’m referring to here is the relationship of the map and the story, where a singular path is considered to be the best suited approach for a cinematic experience it hinders a story so “Personal”. It’s an awfully safe approach, and some even may consider it lazy and dated. Crytek’s story deserved to trail a hybrid of a hub and linear map much like Square Enix’s Tomb Raider. It was a missed opportunity to embrace Rome for what it truly was – an Empire. Exploration, puzzles, and a world teeming with wildlife would’ve only helped with immersion and increasing playtime.  It worked excellent for Tomb Raider, and would’ve worked just as well here. Opening up the map would’ve further allowed for the addition of viable side quests; present and detailed NPCs could’ve brought forth interactive and relevant elements that would have aided in our quest to interpret Marius and understand his incentives; Marius pursuing a mythic sword touched by the god Vulcan himself, deep below the surface he made his way through trap infested catacombs – a farmer’s boy weeping on Rome’s cobblestoned steps, scared by the thundering storm above in the night sky, hoping that someone would take him back home – A choice, to save a whore of Rome being beaten and raped by guards outside a brothel walls; instances of moral greys that would’ve made our hero whole.

Structure

Considering Ryse takes pride by taking inspiration from film and television I would’ve been happier with if it was structured in an episodic format the likes of which we saw in Alan Wake, correlating with the chaptered format quite well. This method eventually would’ve made room for more interesting twists and turns in the story and the delivery of cliffhangers after every chapter would’ve accounted for a more rewarding play through – It’s a simple idea that demanded more creativity from the writers inevitably engaging us through much needed suspense.

Playtime

The action-adventure genre is unforgiving; there are so many elements that need to come together at the right time through your journey. In this day and age six hours is far below adequate to tell a tale of “Epic” proportions – no excuses. For something that is riddled with such prospect for grandeur the playtime is underwhelming. When a title has so much riding on intensity alone it should end when you want to see how it ends. Ryse tirelessly follows a formula that goes from cut scenes to fill in the blanks straight into combat and this was done over and over. And the due to the constant brutal pacing it misses those vital carefully crafted, quite moments that would have brought forth a more balanced play through, avoiding that sense of tedious repetition.

Combat

Let’s be honest, swords and shields will only get you so far. For a game that looks incredibly pretty with unmatched visual fidelity it lacks variety in every aspect of the combat – which goes further and extends to enemy models and types, you’ll find yourself fighting the same enemy over and over again which is unacceptable… Going deeper the game just tries so hard to tell you what to do; you have to play it the way it was intended, you can’t pick and choose your own play style. Marius should’ve been heavily customizable throughout the progression of the game – armor, weaponry; the works. And even though there is an upgrade system present in the game, its clunky – not thought through and basic, leaving you feeling frustrated rather than rewarded – seemingly at some point you’d wish you got some virtual tangible reward for your performance, but nothing. Where perks and executions are exciting and welcomed they don’t make up for missing that true combat progression.

Mythology

Realism for the sake of Realism is like color without contrast…

With the medium of video games you have freedom to tell a story from more than one perspective and that’s one thing that should never be given up for the sake of realism. Subtlety in fantasy is always appreciated, but there are countless creative ways that help in enticing of the player; Descending into Marius’s dreams where Mercury would appear to guide him – stumbling upon a strange moonlight waterfall in the forest where Venus appears to be saving dying soldier in love – A glimpse into the high heavens, the ensemble of Gods convene to right the fate of Rome – Simply put Ryse deserved more mystery and that lure that comes from the rich Roman mythology.

Romans

Drama is essential in telling a tale of an Empire. Crytek’s success in character modeling and animation do not go unnoticed, motion capture is the future, and it is here – however Ryse’s aspirations failed to materialize- taking cues and following formulas from tv and film it fell short of the pizzazz those sources offered in abundance; key players. Ryse needed a bigger cast, even if  it was to tell the legend of one hero alone. Marius’s and Marius’s Rome were to be, just, a piece of the puzzle.

There is a bigger story to be told in Rome and Rome has higher expectations.

Ryse is a great game for a launch, but it’s no feat. Its biggest flaws are the ones that were baked in by design – it’s a strangely curated experience that refuses to let you feel in CONTROL. The developers have chosen to hold your hand and guide through Marius story which happens to be in Rome, which happens to be about revenge, which happens to well, just happen. While still enjoyable it lacks the richness and the details that would’ve truly brought the story of Marius and Rome to life. I do think that Ryse has the potential to be awe inspiring and an example of great emotive storytelling, but unfortunately Son of Rome holds back on ideas. While revenge, corruption, politics are great subject matters – they need to come forth naturally and intervene into a strong foundation. It’s not easy – and maybe our expectations were too high – who knows maybe the in the future, maybe Crytek can revisit Rome with more conviction and passion.

K

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