I'm Marius Titus and I'm a high-definition, next-gen whirling dervish of destruction, spinning in a blur of reflective armor and incredible lighting effects. I block a barbarian's photorealistic axe with my shield and slash into his well-textured gut with my sword, casting particles of blood across the high-polygon ground. When I've slashed him up enough, a skull appears over his head and I'm prompted by flashing colors to execute him, cutting off his arm, then his leg, and then stabbing him through the neck as he screams (or, rather, gargles my steel).
If I'd have missed the button prompt, it wouldn’t have made a difference; the execution would have gone through anyway. Typically I'd be annoyed by this level of smoke and mirrors hand-holding nonsense, but let's be honest: you're not in this for the difficulty--you're there to be entertained.
There's a caveat, though. You're not so much exploring the Roman countryside or wandering through dark, eerie Britannia forests; you're seeing them from the inside of a glass tube. It's nice inside the tube--there are plenty of guys to fight and collectibles to find--but you're definitely as on-rails as you could possibly be without the game literally being on-rails. It's limiting at times, especially when the game struggles to point you in the right direction, and you might find yourself getting lost simply because of how little you're allowed to wander from the main path.
That's not the only kink in the (ABSURDLY REALISTIC) armor, either. There's very little enemy variety, meaning you can expect to fight the same generic-looking guy with a mohawk about 200 times, and the battles will play out mostly the same throughout. Marius never gets a new melee weapon, and the enemies he battles don't learn any new tricks. Fat guy with nipple piercings doesn't become more complex, and guy wearing a cow skull is as easy to defeat in hour six as he is in hour two. All said, the combat is pretty much the same from the time Marius picks up a sword until the end, and you're bound to run into a few glitches and technical problems along your way through the seven-hour story.
Multiplayer takes place in a gladiator arena, and allows you to team up with one other player for wave-based battles. The object? Complete objectives while slaughtering foes. There's a good progression and loot system (with the ability to buy in-game currency with real money, in case you pride yourself on your poor decision-making skills). Thing is, the combat doesn't work as well with two people as it does with one. It's a neat distraction, but it's most likely not something you'll be investing too much time into--or spending money on, for that matter.
Though it looks like a typical action adventure game, Ryse more closely follows the pacing and practicality of a modern first-person shooter. It's Gladiator directed by Michael Bay and starring Jason Statham with an emphasis on the grandeur and power of the next-generation. And man, is it beautiful. Characters have a level of degree you haven't seen from a video game before, with realistic animations and outright absurd smoke and particle effects fill the screen. If you're looking for the one game to prove the power of your Xbox One, it's absolutely, positively Ryse. Whether you're storming the beaches of Britannia or exploring Rome itself, you'll be stunned by how much better Ryse looks than anything else you've ever played.
But... man is it entertaining. The narrative is surprisingly interesting, especially during the final chapters, and the characters evolve from uninteresting cliches to well-rounded heroes (and villains). More impressive, though, is how good the combat feels. Battles are quick and brutal, with an emphasis on chain-kills and executions. Lengthy chains can replenish health, give more experience, or boost your damage, and trying to build up your combo meter helps give you incentive to experiment with attacks.
Both Marius' movement and weapons have a weighty heft to them that give combat a more physical feel. When you haul back and bash a barbarian with a shield, you can sense the power of the blow, making each strike feel more impactful. It's relatively grounded in reality, too, save for the presence of Focus, which lets Marius slaughter enemies in seconds, or do an awesome "THIS. IS. SPARTA!" kick that sends barbarians flying.
Thing is, that's essentially all you do in Ryse. You'll find a group of enemies, slash them up until they're almost dead, execute them with one of the dozen or so impossible-to-lose quicktime events, and then move on. Sometimes you'll shoot bad guys with a crossbow turret. Sometimes you'll lead a group of soldiers for a dozen feet. Sometimes you'll stop to upgrade Marius with experience earned or coins purchased (in what might be the most needless microtransactions ever conceived). But a majority of the game is spent using the same executions on the same enemies. Combat's fun enough to keep you fighting, and you'll wait to nail the QTEs just to build up higher combos, but there's a lack of variety in what you do and who you do it to.
Ryse: Son of Rome is the definitive Xbox One launch title--for better or worse. It's an incredibly pretty game with some impressive ideas, and it's going to surprise you with its engaging story and weighty combat. The short campaign and repetitive battles hold it back from greatness, but it's a journey through Rome absolutely worth experiencing, if just to see exactly what the console is capable of.