Beating down the city gates, Roman style.
The playable demo of Ryse at E3 opens in chaos. After leaping from your ship, flaming boulders and arrows rain down on your fellow troops, tearing one's arm off and blinding another; an out-of-control ship of your fellow Roman soldiers, set ablaze, crashes into the castle walls. As General Marius Titus, having been knocked to the ground by exploding ballista-fire, you "Ryse" and rally your troops, who give a hearty, modern "Oorah!", cementing that these are fucking old-school marine-types—infantry badasses called in to get the job done.
And damn is the fighting you do afterward satisfying. The basic mechanic is a mix between slashing with your gladius and quickly rebuffing enemy attacks with your shield, throwing your opponent off balance so you can slash them. Carefully timing attacks will yield a prompt to hit a specific button, that, if you do correctly, allows you to chain executions of surrounding enemies.
The game's producer, Mike Read, told me that it's different from regular quick-time events because there's no penalty for failure. "Regular quicktime events punish you for failing," but failing the keyed attacks in Ryse simply mean that you execute one opponent instead of many. In fact, one of the Crytek QA team members mentioned that it's possible to button-mash in the game, but it won't yield as rewarding a gameplay experience because those combos won't build.
I asked Read what was next for the game, and he told me that Crytek would be focusing on getting the game to look better with stronger textures, shaders, and particle effects for the next few months. The game already looks like a current-gen cutscene, and when I said so, Read responded, with a laugh, that "that's how we always are, or we're never get to the point we want."
It's an interesting comment, considering these are the people who make Crysis, and Read mentioned that work they'd done on the visuals for Crysis 3, and the smooth transition from cut-scenes to gameplay, were paying off in Ryse. I was so enamored with the visuals that I completely missed seeing on-screen prompts for how to throw spears while under attack from rows of archers. I think I may have looked at the (very unobtrusive) HUD once.
It helps also that Ryse makes you feel like a badass in everything the demo does. Not that Marius is some kind god; in the opening, in spite of being battle hardened, he reacts with distress and moments of fear at the sight of his fallen or disfigured comrades, before pushing through it to rally the men and join the fight. It's touches like these that already show where next-gen gaming can go, with subtle performances that would have been more difficult to paint with broader strokes. Here, Crytek has the ability to use a fine brush to paint all the details. All the bloody gory details.
Ryse is an Xbox One launch title, and will be available when the system releases in November of this year.