When a new console comes out, the company behind the consoles always wants there to be a good collection of launch titles that come alongside the system. These games don't exactly have the best reputation when people look at their quality in hindsight, but at the release of the console people are willing to give anything a shot as long as it takes advantage of some of the new system's standout features.
Ryse: Son of Rome seems like a game that was very specifically made to be a launch title. The mechanics are passable without being anything revolutionary, but the graphics are extremely impressive, making for a very cinematic and sometimes even stunning experience. For a game that has been stuck in development hell since about the time that the Xbox 360's version of the Kinect was released, it's impressive that Ryse was ever released, but is it worth playing?
As a game that often seems to strive to tell an extremely cinematic tale above all else, Ryse's story is stunningly dull. Set in ancient imperial Rome as its subtitle might suggest (though there have been quite a few changes made to history in the process of writing the plot), Ryse tells the story of a Roman soldier whose life was ripped apart by a Barbarian invasion. There are a decent number of interesting moments and characters peppered throughout the experience, but the main character is far too boring to string these high points together. The only thing that drives him is a sense of revenge, and that cliche does nothing to help endear the player to him at all.
When it comes to Ryse's combat, the game looks at first glance to employ a more cinematic version of a God of War style combat system. In reality, Ryse lacks any of the combo-based nuance that you would find in a God of War game. Ryse certainly pretends it has that kind of depth, but despite all the different moves you can make during the course of combat, all you really have to do is beat on enemies until their body is highlighted in a certain color prompting you to hit the according button. If their body begins to glow blue, you are supposed to quickly hit the X button, a green glow requires the A button and so on.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the combat system is those quicktime event-esque button prompting execution sequences don't actually require you to press the buttons. While those canned animations play out, you can actually just place the controller down on your coffee table and watch the animation happen. The only thing that hitting the buttons does is give you extra points.
This combat system has absolutely no variety, which is a very bad thing for something that really creates the very core of this game. Throughout the entirety of the game you are fighting very similar enemies, and with only so many attacks and a very limited number of canned execution animations for the game to cycle through, things get very dull very quickly.
While the combat system is extremely uninteresting, the game is still a perfect launch title for the Xbox One. The game is absolutely beautiful to look at, and many of the cutscenes and combat scenarios are masterfully crafted. If you're looking for a spectacle, Ryse: Son of Rome has it in spades. On the other hand, if you're looking for an excellent gameplay experience that truly feels like it belongs in the next generation, this is not the place that you should look.