Review: Ryse – Son of Rome (**** stars) – Part 3

Part 2

Ryse ArenaAnd, surprisingly, Ryse also contains a multiplayer component! Solo, or with a friends, you can engage in boisterous gladiatorial combat across a ton of different stage to either outlast or outscore everybody else on the leaderboards. Not surprisingly, these segments force you to learn big maps with tons of combat segments interspersed with new obstacles and the like. Two things diminish the value of these, though: first, grinding equipment and upgrades (like Call of Duty) and needing the multiplayer servers to be up. Seriously, even after doing very well in single player, you need to start at square one with the multiplayer stuff. Leveling up takes a lot of time (there’s 100 levels), and I don’t know whether the game can hold up to that much scrutiny.

Further, there’s a “gear” system, similar to a Call of Duty loadout, that gives you various stat boosts and the like. Getting gear, unfortunately, is a tedious process: level up, do well in the arena, and you get “gold” which you can use to buy “booster packs” for gear. Seriously. This is how it works. Think of the whole system as Ryse’s subtle “microtransaction” model, which encourages you to buy gold for booster packs to level up more easily. No thanks, guys! I’m kind of amazed they didn’t remove this for the PC release, but it makes getting into multiplayer incredibly difficult, considering you start at a massive gear and level disadvantage which only grinding can solve.

Worse, the loading times are exorbitant on PC for the multiplayer levels, and this can cause other players to drop out if they wait too long. And that, really, has to be my biggest problem with Ryse, one that affected me enough that I have to comment on it: the PC port is awful. Really awful! I had to go into a system.cfg file to fix the texture settings, which can’t be fixed in the menu. If the texture settings are too high for your computer, it can cause the game to hang on loading screens, make the audio stutter, and generally make a complete mess out of the game itself. Some people report turning off Steam Cloud support, among other things, and I played a good deal of the game on windowed mode just to keep my computer stable. This video shows a number of these problems in stark relief:

Further, these fixes aren’t 100% foolproof. The game functioned differently every time I loaded it! The loading screens would sometimes hang for five minutes or more, finally bringing the level up; other times, it would load in ten seconds with no problems. The multiplayer, again, is the worst, and it simply takes forever (and can crash). Even then, texture popup, missing floors, and other bizarre glitches weren’t uncommon. I mention this because, while I enjoyed Ryse a great deal, the technical problems sullied the experience significantly, to the point where I often lost motivation to play the game sometimes. I imagine the Xbox One version does not have the same problems, but the PC version also allows for 60 FPS versus a “cinematic” 30 FPS, so I’m torn!

Regardless, anybody who likes stylish actions games shouldn’t be disappointed with Ryse: Son of Rome. In fact, I’m surprised the game is so solid given the developer’s pedigree, but we deserve weird surprises from triple-A game developers every once and a while!

The only very, very large caveat I provide beyond the inherent quality of the game comes down to the fact that it is a very violent, very realistic game in its presentation. Sure, you may see stylish, violent action in a game like God of War, but Ryse hews close to the realistic side more often than not. People get stabbed, de-limbed, and chopped up viscerally and violently. Consider that I am quite acclimated with video game violence, and even I felt taken aback by the level of brutality on display here. More than likely this derives from the game’s realistic nature, and I guess it sometimes crosses that line from video game to real life a little too much.

Ryse Limbs

That’s video games for you – a guy got his arm chopped off, and then he glows yellow.

Do I enjoy this sort of thing? In a way. As you might be able to tell by my gaming preferences, I happen to like games that provide hand-to-hand combat versus shooting people in the head from afar. I remember playing Halo 2, and absolutely love the blade weapon they introduced – I used it in any and all multiplayer situations, regardless of its actual tactical implementation. Ryse also echoes the tropes of one of my favorite films, Gladiator, and I find it hard to fault it for that.

The question is, then, does Ryse revel in its violence a little too much? I’m not too sure. Honestly, a few hours in, I couldn’t care less what was happening, and my investment came purely from a mechanical standpoint. It’s certainly not half as brutal as the later God of War games, for example, but I focus primarily on mechanics when I play these games. The visuals, in itself, becomes more a lure for my aesthetics preferences than anything else, and Ryse certainly fills that quota of Ancient Rome action I’ve been missing in popular culture for a while.

Regardless, from a Christian perspective, I will say that your mileage will vary. If the very setting and violent combat seems at odds with your belief, then I’d stay far, far away. Like all revenge plots, things don’t really end well for anybody, at the very least, but I can see people rejecting this game out of hand. In certain contexts, I can’t even imagine mentioning certain games without a massive outcry from Christians. This is why Theology Gaming University exists, after all: to see different opinions from different Christians, and to discuss it. We try to remove the “stumbling blocks”, so to speak, and perhaps show that freedom in Christ expresses itself elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul showed great concern for those under Christian liberty, and those still constrained by their sin even under Christ.

But take care that this [f]liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

Clearly, Ryse and violent video games in general fit into this category. I’m not flaunting such games; rather, I see the good in them, the mechanical mastery, and the aesthetic choices. For others, it’s equivalent to meat sacrificed to idols and may as well lead you down the dark path. Those different perspectives can clash depending on where the conversation takes place, to be sure. I like to call it “Christian self-awareness” – that is, you need to know where you are, who you’re talking to, and what’s appropriate. In that sense, I temper my review with your own personal understanding of what you can, and cannot, handle in your media.

Thus, I recommend it solely on the basis that you know what you’re getting into, both technically and spiritually! In sum, Ryse is a solid, well-made combat-action experience, let down by both weird design decisions, an unoptimized PC port, and a theme that just won’t work for everybody. That pains me a little to say, but it has to be said regardless. It’s definitely far better than its reputation suggests, though, and if you’re in the mood for it, take the plunge.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.