Ryse: Son of Rome (PC) review: This gorgeous game tests your system and your patience

At a Glance
  • Crytek Ryse: Son of Rome (PC)

    PCWorld Rating

    Crytek brings its Xbox One launch exclusive over to the PC and it's not great. But PC graphics enthusiasts should probably check it out anyway.

It's strange that there's no dedicated benchmarking tool included with Ryse: Son of Rome, Crytek's summer blockbuster-esque adaptation of Roman history, because that's what the game is destined for regardless.

Sure, there's an actual game here. You can play it, if you'd like. I wouldn't personally recommend it, though if you do end up going through the campaign at least you'll only lose five or six hours of your life.

And yet even though the game is utterly mediocre—even though I don't recommend playing through it!—I still recommend all PC gaming enthusiasts buy a copy. Madness.

Madness? This is Roma

Ryse is a third-person, ultra-linear action game that borrows as much from Batman's Arkham games as it does first-person shooters. Originally an exclusive launch game for the Xbox One last year, Crytek brought it over to the PC presumably because nobody cared about it on the Xbox One once the initial launch hype was over.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Tonally, Ryse has a fair amount in common with that so-bad-but-I-can't-stop-watching Starz show Spartacus, in that both take ancient history and turn it into some sort of ludicrous amusement park vehicle for all the things we like to pretend are still taboo, i.e. gratuitous sex and violence.

Hell, Ryse is at least naked in its blockbuster ambitions. Completing one chapter of the game nets you the "Saving Private Marius" achievement, as you reenact (with a heaping dash of artistic license) some loosely-historical interpretation of the Normandy invasion, except you're decked out in dashing red-and-gold Centurion armor instead of drab olive green.

I mean, at one point a character says to you, "Rise up, son of Rome" and you're probably supposed to point at the screen and go "Ooh, ooh, that's the title of the game! I get it!"

Ryse: Son of Rome

It's bombastic, ridiculous, and even fun at times—if ultimately unmemorable. The plot is telegraphed so hard that you could probably guess 90% of it after the second mission (out of eight), but that doesn't mean you can't sit back and enjoy it in a mindless sort of way. At least Ryse never tries to pretend above its station.

If only Ryse were fun to play. There are basically two things to do in Ryse—you're either progressing through an endless series of combat arenas, chopping the arms, legs, and heads off an entire army, or you're throwing auto-aimed spears at the few troops who were smart enough to stay out of reach. It's a whirlwind of bloodlust, occasionally broken up by cutscenes that are at times five minutes long. Remember how I said the game is six hours long? I lied. The game itself is less than five hours long, and then there's something like an hour and a half of cutscenes to sit through. I know because at one point one of the scenes bugged out and I had to jump over to this YouTube video to sit through it again.

Ryse: Son of Rome

It's tedious. There's very little skill involved, and it's the same old Arkham-style combat that, while still mechanically strong, is anything but revolutionary by now. In fact, this is even easier than the Arkham games because you trigger a slow motion execution after landing four or five hits on an enemy, and these executions can regenerate your health. I didn't die a single time playing through Ryse.

These executions also belie a certain lackadaisical attitude towards this port, unfortunately. The executions are set up as quicktime events. Basically, the enemy flashes a color and you're supposed to hit the corresponding button as fast as possible to get bonus points.

Did I mention this game used to be an Xbox One exclusive? Because it was an Xbox One exclusive. And Crytek didn't bother stripping out the things that made it an Xbox One exclusive. Executing an enemy involves it flashing blue or yellow because, you know, if you were playing this on an Xbox controller that might make sense! Hey, he's flashing blue! I guess I should hit the big blue "X" button on my fancy Xbox One gamepad!

Tell me, PC user, what mouse button does the color "blue" correspond to? How about yellow?

Ryse: Son of Rome

For the record, yellow corresponds to Right Mouse Button.

Yeah, I'm baffled too. Crytek has done absolutely nothing to make these parts more friendly for mouse and keyboard users. It's not unplayable. I'm sure after an hour or so you could get used to it. The real question, though, is why? Why bother making a PC port if you're not even going to cater to PC users? Considering that remembering what's blue and what's yellow constitutes fully 50% of your responsibilities in Ryse, it seems like a huge slap in the face not to revamp the UI for mouse and keyboard players (or people who use a DualShock with their PC).

Shiny happy people

But whatever. I already said don't play Ryse, and I meant it. It's not very good.

Damn, if it isn't pretty though. Like Crysis before it, Ryse is destined to become one of those games you throw onto a new PC, crank all the settings up, and marvel at.

Want to test out how that brand new 970 or 980 you bought will do trying to run Ryse at 4K with all the settings cranked to maximum? Do it. I dare you.

Ryse: Son of Rome

This, ultimately, is where Ryse will sell. It's a showcase piece for an enthusiast audience. It's the sports car sitting at the front of the lot to trick your dad into going into the dealership, even though he knows he'll be walking out with the keys to a smarter, more eco-friendly sedan at the end of the day—that sedan, of course, being League of Legends or Dota 2 most likely.

Ryse isn't quite as big a graphical leap as Crysis was in its day, and I'm going to go ahead and blame that on the fact that it was originally built for the Xbox One's "Captain, I don't think she'll reach 1080p!" hardware. For that matter, the same affliction struck Crysis 2 and 3. Crytek is at its best when catering directly to the PC crowd and not trying to make a product that realistically runs on console hardware.

Ryse: Son of Rome

But consoles sell, and Ryse looks pretty damn fantastic on the PC. There are some great niche features for you to fiddle with and make your system sweats. Just keep in mind that realistically this won't be a benchmark game for as many years as Crysis was. Truth be told, there are other games out there that already look similarly gorgeous.

Bottom line

Ryse isn't good. It's not egregiously bad either, but it's not normally the type of game I'd recommend. It's like Transformers 2 in that the production value is stellar but there's no soul to the game. It's masturbatory—special effects for the sake of special effects. Combine that with the fact that Crytek didn't even bother to cater to mouse-and-keyboard PC users with its mechanics and... well, it's frustrating.

I'm still a sucker for graphics though, if only as an enthusiast technical pursuit, and on that count Ryse is worth checking out. Graphics don't make a good game, that's for sure, but everybody enjoys riding around in a shiny sports car even if it's "objectively" a dumb waste of money.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Crytek brings its Xbox One launch exclusive over to the PC and it's not great. But PC graphics enthusiasts should probably check it out anyway.

    Pros

    • Gorgeous visuals will push your hardware
    • Dumb, but briskly paced, story

    Cons

    • Controls not revamped for mouse and keyboard users
    • Endless series of combat arenas
    • 1/4 of the game's runtime is lengthy cutscenes
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