ryse Ryse: Son of Rome might be the killer app that saves the Xbox

Ryse: Son of Rome  has sold me on Xbox One at launch. In the months leading up to the quagmire that Microsoft has gotten themselves into with their stance on used games, internet connection requirements, price point and my general lack of interest in their launch lineup, I was almost certain that I would not be buying an Xbox One anytime soon. Then I played Ryse: Son of Rome  today at E3 and everything changed.

The trailer that Microsoft showed of the game during their pre-show press conference and the screenshots you’re looking at on the internet now don’t do the game any sort of justice. From a purely technical standpoint, Ryse: Son of Rome  is the most amazing game I’ve ever seen or heard. This is the closest that gaming has ever come to film in terms of cinematic presentation.

From the very moment the game transitioned out of its opening cutscene to handing me control of the character, I was impressed by the sheer magnitude of quality and attention to detail that has gone into the game, not just from a graphical standpoint but in the mechanics and the combat as well. Movement is highly responsive: when I first took control of the game’s protagonist Marius Titus it reminded me of the first time I took a new car for a test drive – the camera rotates smoothly and swiftly and Maruis’s animations are fluid and reactive to every minor exertion of pressure on the analog stick.

ryse1 Ryse: Son of Rome might be the killer app that saves the Xbox

The combat itself actually reminds me of Rocksteady’s Batman games where you have primary attack buttons that you press in a linear sequence more so than in combinations, and a counter button that relies heavily on timing. Executions play a large part in your overall success in combat (not to mention they look absolutely bad ass), and as you probably noticed in the E3 trailer, prompt you to complete a button sequence in the vein of a quicktime event. Don’t let the idea of doing quicktime events deter you as they’re actually optional. If you mess up during the sequence by pressing the wrong attack button, you still hit your opponent but the execution won’t look as cool or reward you as much in the way of money and buffs.

The most interesting thing I learned from talking to one of the game’s designers is that there’s more going on under the hood than we’ve seen so far in the trailers or that I even saw in the demo. There’s money and points which go towards buying and upgrading equipment and leveling Maruis up through a skill tree. We didn’t go too in-depth into what that the skill tree looks like, but I was told that the skills you invest in will alter the bonus you get from successfully completing executions, such as various types of buff effects.

One thing I liked a lot, and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed in other games like (again) Batman  and also Sleeping Dogs , is the interaction with the environment during combat. In Ryse  I was kicking opponents off of ledges and smashing their heads into walls – and it felt seamless. Unlike the aforementioned games which feature a similar style of environmental interaction during combat, this felt natural, like an opportune moment that the engine was smart enough to recognize and initiate. I didn’t have to drag anyone halfway across the screen to create the opportunity.

ryse2 Ryse: Son of Rome might be the killer app that saves the Xbox

Another surprisingly cool gameplay element is the Rally sequence. During this sequence, I was huddled together in phalanx formation with my fellow soldiers as we pushed our way towards a line of archers raining fire arrows down on us. I had direct control over the movement of the group as we all trudged forward in sync, and upon my command the group either raised or dropped their shields. It was an incredibly cinematic moment, and the impact and fidelity of the sound effects really stood out as the audio muffled while the group was enclosed within their wall of shields whilst hundreds of arrows clashed against metal of the shields, each with their individual “clinks” and “thuds”, and Maruis on perfect cue screaming “HOLD!!” to keep the formation solid. It was epic, to say the least.

I do have some concerns about the game which I voiced them to the designer. He reassured me that what I was seeing was only a small slice of the pie and that it did not represent the entire experience. I told him that the game felt linear and heavily scripted, and that despite the amazing level design set pieces, in a matter of hours the novelty of superficial gameplay would wear thin on those who are looking for something deeper – particularly in an action-heavy game. He agreed and promised that the development team is aware of people’s expectations and that there was nothing to worry about in that regard. But that’s the nature of playing small bits of a game before you actually get your hands on the full game – you can only hope. And I truly hope Ryse  lives up to the potential I witnessed today at E3.