Ryse was supposed to be terrible, right? Surprise! It’s not bad at all

Ryse was supposed to be terrible, right? Surprise! It’s not bad at all

Has there ever been a game with more negative buzz than Ryse? The $60 Xbox One game had a disastrous showing at E3, people were buzzing about quick-time events that you couldn’t lose, and it’s common knowledge that the game is a prime example of what happens when you focus on graphics over game play and interaction.

Well, that’s the narrative that you read on the forums. Ryse is far from a terrible game, and it’s often a great time. It shows off the power of the Xbox One, and the fighting system is satisfying and dense without being overly complicated. It’s not the best game I’ve played this month, but it’s far from the worst.

Killing in the name of

You play a Roman Centurion who has been tasked with escorting the emperor to safety as the city is attacked by barbarians. You find yourself alone with the ruler in a hidden room, and there’s just enough time to tell a story. The story, it just so happens, of how you came to be a part of this battle.

Thus begins the seven hour or so campaign, and it’s punctuated by the meddling of the gods, the story of Damocles, and an unending amount of bloodshed. The combat system is based on only a few button presses: You can deflect an enemy attack, attack the enemy, or break through their shield. The trick is to find the right rhythm to keep your combo meter flowing as you fight off legions of enemy soldiers.

You can begin an execution move when a skull appears over the head of an enemy, and this is the much hated quick-time event. No, you can’t fail, but if you hit each button press you can gain bonus experience, focus, health, or extra damage. It’s not a matter of not losing, it’s a matter of seeing how much you can gain by nailing each execution. I tended to stick with the bonus experience, which you use to level up your character.

The fighting system is smooth, and it’s easy to get lost on the button-tapping rhythm and focus you need to make sure you’re always on the attack while deflecting enemies who come up behind you or on your sides, but this combat is basically the entirety of the game.

There are moments when you have to give commands, or you control soldiers in formation as they lock shields to advance under a rain of arrows, but these moments are brief and are more for show than genuine challenge. The ranged attacks rely heavily on auto-aim as well. Every attempt to break up the action is superficial.

Broken, bruised, forgotten, sore

The game play loop of attacking, breaking a guard, and parrying the attacks of other enemies will take up 90 percent of your time playing the game, and that proves to be repetitious. You'll also grow numb to the violence, the constant thrusting of swords into armor and flesh, as each killing blow is shown in graphic detail.

Violent games aren't rare, but this is a nearly pornographic celebration of carnage, and it can be hard to deal with the hundredth arm hacked off at the elbow.

You'll travel to far away places and kill everyone you see, and the sights and setpieces will often inspire awe, but there is nothing to do accept hack away at the enemy soldiers and try to keep your combo going. It's not that this isn't fun, as long as you don't mind the rivers of blood it can be fairly enjoyable, it's just relentless.

The violence loses its punch around the second chapter, and the game doesn't really provide anything to take its place. The plot twists aren't very surprising, and the final act is borderline nihilistic in the context of everything you've learned throughout the game.

This isn't a bad game by any stretch, but it just barely sneaks into the “good” game category. Hey, it's better than we expected!