Crytek is really excited about Ryse’s quick-time events…we are not
Microsoft made a big deal out of Ryse at Monday's E3 press conference, but Ryse is not the tent pole game that the Xbox One conference seemed to make it out to be. On stage it looked beautiful, gruesome, and fluid. Unfortunately, that seems to be pretty much all it brings to the table.
Ryse is an action game themed on ancient Rome. We don't know much about the story or other motivations, but the main hook of the game is its combat system, which plays out very much like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Enemies either challenge you one-on-one or circle around you for larger fights while you block their attacks and stab their necks.
Ancient Rome, ancient gameplay
It's a heavily scripted game full of big set pieces and planned events, and yet I still find myself struggling to remember anything in particular that happened during the course of the demo.
Some dudes were javelined. A bunch of dudes were stabbed. I felt a little queasy about some of them. And a little more queasy when Crytek told me that one of their priorities was conveying the fear of death in the face of the dying enemy.
There was one interesting moment when the main character, Marius Titus, led a squad of legionnaires in a turtle formation. Approaching an entrenched enemy archer position, Titus alternately instructs his men to throw javelins or raise shields to form a phalanx. This was only interesting in concept. In practice it was too simple to be interesting, and we'll have to see how it evolves in the final game.
Quick time events
Crytek struck a killing blow to my interest in Ryse during about the sixth or seventh minute they spent detailing the game's quick-time event system. Basically, you beat up enemies a bit and then you can do a God of War-style finishing move in the form of a quick-time event.
Depending on how perfectly you time the inputs with the action on screen, you'll get bigger rewards. If you miss a button prompt, the animation will branch off into a less-impressive version of the kill. It's not the most exciting system, but it's not wretched either. The problem comes from the fact that Crytek didn't seem to have anything else to talk about.
They continued to ram home the point that mastering the game comes down to memorizing the perfect timing so that you can get your quick-time events just right and earn the maximum health or experience reward.
I'll write that again so as to be perfectly clear: they were boasting about their game's depth by emphasizing the need to memorize a huge list of quick-time events.
Of course, they don't call them quick-time events. They call them “executions,” and the time window for pressing the correct button is called the “legendary window.” Inventing new verbiage doesn't change the fact that these are “quick-time events” with “button prompts.” It only betrays a lack of confidence that the game will speak for itself.
It's a bad sign when a game can't find a good 15 minute segment for the gaming press to try in a demo. But it's much worse when a company flies half-way around the world to show their game at E3, and can't come up with something better to talk about than the fact that the player will be tasked with memorizing rote button inputs.
Most of their other talking points all tied in to this theme as well. You'll be able to watch videos of your friends racking up high scores…doing quick-time-events. You'll be able to track your scores against your friends to gain bragging rights…about who is better at memorizing button combos.
Throughout the demo there was a Microsoft or Crytek employee sitting next to the presenter and I suspect he may have been attempting to function as a sort of hype man. He was the one playing the demo while a Crytek employee gave a speech to explain more about the gameplay. But he also kept interjecting with comments about how he's amazing at Ryse because it's so good that he can't stop playing it.
I actually ran across this same guy later in the day practically screaming in somebody's face about Ryse, and how great it is that in Ryse you can choose what type of power-up you'll get after completing a quick-time event.
One of the other people that was sitting in on the demo presentation took a glorious shot in the dark right at the end of the appointment, and asked whether the game was actually set in historical Rome or if it had a supernatural element to it, reminiscent of the Assassin's Creed story.
Our presenters fell abruptly silent, even the hype man, and looked at each other for a moment before a PR person interjected and insisted they needed to clear the room for the next group to see the demo.
For all I know, it was totally innocent and the presenters were simply unsure of whether they were allowed to give any information about the plot away, even if it was refuting a weird question about supernatural Romans. And certainly the PR person could really have needed that roomed cleared as soon as possible.
But the insinuation seemed to be that Ryse could have a narrative twist, and may not be entirely historical. Which kills pretty much the only aspect of the game I still found interesting.
Ryse is a beautiful game, its amazing graphics are no doubt the reason why Microsoft wanted to show the game off on stage on Monday. The problem is that Ryse's beauty seems to be only skin deep.
Ryse: Son of Rome will be releasing in November 2013 for Xbox One.