RYSE IS SOLID, I PROMISE!
I felt like that was really important to say up front. And I'm being sincere. Ryse has been a HUGE question mark (at best) since its unfortunate showing at E3 2013. Many (fairly) assumed based on the footage that the game was a sensational watch 'em up that favored quick time events over real combat gameplay. While I can't say for sure whether or not the game was originally designed that way or whether it just appeared that way as a result of a unrepresentative showing, it's been 6 months since E3 and I'm happy to report that Ryse is not only NOT a watch 'em up, but it's a pretty solid combat experience all around! Let's jump on in.
I stumbled upon this really good video by RajmanGaming that walks the player through the combat essentials, and is a pretty good showcase of mechanics and animations. Go ahead and give it a watch if you'd like, although you don't need to in order to understand the analysis.
- The first thing the game does is teach you the basic inputs. It does it clearly, quickly, and in a failure free way. You get told what the mechanic is, and you don't move forward until you've pushed the corresponding input, and then you see exactly what it does before being prompted again for the next input. I like this a lot, and since it's quick and direct I felt like I was on my feet immediately.
- The basic face inputs are: attack, deflect, shield bash, and roll. Attack and shield bash are your offensive options, and shield bash and roll are your defensive options. Both of these sets of options are pleasantly straightforward:
- Attacking is a little quicker and weaker, and shield bashing is a little slower and stronger but breaks enemies blocks.
- Deflecting is useful against most attacks that come at you (and looks/feels cool), while powerful attacks cannot be deflected and require the roll.
An efficient fight in Ryse is similar to an efficient fight in Bayonetta; shooting out aggression in all directions and timing your defense with one simple input while watching the space around you.
- The character is appropriately sticky, and doesn't accelerate or decelerate.
- Fighting against a group is very enjoyable, as attacks can be interrupted with a deflect or roll at any point. An efficient fight in Ryse is similar to an efficient fight in Bayonetta; shooting out aggression in all directions and timing your defense with one simple input while watching the space around you.
- Ryse has a finely implemented anti-mash system called "Perfect Strike". The idea is to begin your next attack right as the previous one landed. A visual indicator appears when you have done this correctly, and it adds to the experience you gain when the combo finishes. It's simply a good addition for higher level play.
- While it's not technically in the perfect strike system, you can also perfectly time your deflects and it also rewards you.
- The animation blending is amazing. Cancelling into different mechanics looks perfect 100% of the time.
- The execution system works as follows; when an enemy has been reduced to low health, the player may initiate an execution sequence. When this occurs, a quick time event fires where the enemy gets highlighted in either yellow or blue 2 to 4 times, and the player must provide the corresponding input (X button for blue, Y button for yellow) as soon as it appears. It's pretty simple. While you know I prefer QTE's don't happen, the ones in Ryse not only pipe into the scoring system, but you get to select 1 of 4 benefits granted to you on completion of the execution. So it's not actually an entirely sensational implementation, which I appreciate.
- There is a system of purchasable gameplay features, but they're not primary mechanics! WHICH I LOVE! The things you buy are standard issue level ups (more health, more focus, etc.), and nothing critical to success or important for expression is locked behind the purchase menu.
- The game gives you the option of buying your upgrades with real money, but playing the game at a mid to high level nets you HUGE experience. In addition to the fact that it doesn't nag you even once about putting in real money, I very much appreciate the nonintrusive option.
- Right off the bat you are greeted by an unskippable cutscenes. Except every cutscene is unskippable. And there's a lot of them. Fuck that, you guys.
- A strange tween animation plays whenever you stop moving, and it looks and feels weird.
- The opening chapter's environment is incredible, and the first full chapter's environment is mind blowing gorgeous. While there are some moments of visual beauty in the following chapters, they're mostly single colored disappointments. They're still technically amazing, don't get me wrong. But after those first handful of environments everything else pales in comparison. I still have two chapters to go, so I might come back and refine this.
- There is a really potentially cool system which allows you to periodically enter a high powered state in which your character covers large distances with attacks and the attacks fire very rapidly. It looks awesome when you do it but by the time you've wailed on an enemy in this state and executed them, the state is over. So it seems mostly like a free "Kill This Enemy" card, which to me just feels like a waste. I tried distributing the fast attacks across multiple enemies instead of focusing on one and performing an execution, but that didn't seem to make any difference in the fight. In any case, this ended being a system I wanted to use more, but only used rarely due to its actual utility. Like quickly stomping on big annoying mid-boss types (i.e. hammer enemies).
- The mash flow is just an endless mash flow, which is interesting. You can push either attack button over and over and over again infinitely. Since the game really isn't about stringing together specific combos, this is okay, but it's one of the things that also feels like a missed opportunity.
- As much as I don't hate the executions, they still take to long to get from start to finish, and in large fights against 5+ enemies, it gets tedious. You CAN elect to not do them, but the benefits derived from successful executions trump the desire to skip them.
In any case, this ended being a system I wanted to use more, but only used rarely due to its actual utility.
- Interestingly enough, there are no weapon swing or hit effects. When performing executions, there is some blood and some spit that flies out of characters on impact but for the most part there are no arcade style effects. I understand this decision given the game's very realistic visual direction, but for an old school guy like me it just feels like something is missing.
- I like the deflecting system as a defensive option since it's functional and looks cool, but the window of successful execution is huge and is very easy to pull off. It's not so much of an issue if you're aiming for a perfectly timed deflect, but generally it's very easy to keep yourself safe because of this.
- The game randomly interrupts your fun with spear throwing segments which require absolutely no skill. I'm confused by the inclusion of these.
All in all, Ryse is very genuinely solid! The only thing working against it is its lack of depth. It's by no means shallow, but you only get access to the meat if you're playing for score and style, and even then there's not a ton there. But it looks good, it feels good, and is ultimately a very enjoyable mob fighter that doesn't feel like superhero bullshit. Not that I mind superhero bullshit at all, but they leaned into the realistic direction here and drove it home with class. And it's very obvious that the developers were big fans of the films 300 and Gladiator, as there are a lot of cues taken from those films that were applied in all manner of appropriate ways; slow-motion timing, movement styles, character attitudes, and even environment homages. Put away the preconceived notions and get down on Ryse. ;)