While roaring crowds, intense adrenaline rushes, and messy blood spilling have all contributed to successful video games, it’s rare that we see them come together in conjunction in a gladiatorial setting. With the Xbox One, however, players will finally have the chance to fight for Roman glory, as the multiplayer mode of Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome will be focused on providing an authentic coliseum experience.
Perhaps the oddest part of all of this is that despite the coliseum setting seeming to be a perfect focus for a video game, very few, if any outside of the fighting genre, have gotten it right. “We were surprised too, honestly,” says Erik Olsen, Multiplayer Producer at Crytek. “When we took on this project and started looking at the coliseum at the different things we could do, it was incredibly exciting for all of us. [...] A lot of our inspiration was — if you’ve seen Spartacus — the Sparatcus/Crixus relationship, where you’re fighting together and you’re heroes of the coliseum.”
One of the biggest concerns we had going into our time with Ryse was that the gladiatorial combat would get old quickly due to the hack and slash nature of it all. That turned out not to be the case at all, since the coliseum changed as we went through the multiplayer mode, offering players a unique twist on the point A to point B mission structure.
Olsen says this is all a part of the care that Crytek has taken in replicating the gladiatorial experience. “We know that, historically, the Roman coliseums did theme nights and battle reenactments,” he says. “We can take the entire environment of the coliseum and we can either replace it dynamically during gameplay, or we can switch it around in-between rounds. We can build a swamp, a forest, all that, but still be inside the coliseum.”
The dynamic elements of the maps are a huge step in the right direction, but the diversity of the maps themselves is what will keep players coming back for more. “Some of the maps are very open where you just jump in and you’re bashing, but some of them are miniature stories,” Olsen says. “We knew that [the Romans] would do recreations of battles, so [...] that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to do reenactments, but we wanted to do them the way they would do them, so not accurate, but thematic. ‘This is how we crushed our horrible opponents!’”
In addition to the visual and interactive elements, Crytek is taking measures to make sure the audio keeps players in the experience. As we approached groups of enemies, we heard an announcer proclaim what was heading out way as the crowd reacted to our every move. The rush that players feel when a crowd goes wild in a sports game was translated perfectly to this gladiatorial multiplayer mode by the studio. “The crowd reactions, the crowd excitement level, and partnered with that is the announcer,” Olsen says. “So we got a voice actor, who’s fantastic, bringing a lot of personality to it. He’s not just setting it up, he’s doing play-by-play as they would do [back in these times]. We wanted it to be very themed and very exciting like that.”
The final piece to the authenticity puzzle is the way the playable characters handle. Olsen claims that a lot of care was put into the way that the gladiators will control during combat. “We didn’t want you to be a ninja who could leap 40 feet,” he says. “We wanted you to feel like a guy who was wearing metal, who had to put on his boots and armor. So it’s very heavy, very impactful, and you get a lot of the interactions with the bodies where [your character] slams into enemies and you feel the weight of it.”
As we sliced our way through the barbarian hordes, we noticed a plethora of brutal executions at our disposal. Olsen states that the various types of executions were a huge focus for the Ryse team. “The final game will have over 100 executions in it,” he says. “Some of those will be co-op, but a lot of those will be environment executions. If you’re fighting near a cliff, you can throw people off of the cliff’s edge, if you see something sharp, you can probably throw somebody onto it. They’re dangerous to everyone, not just the enemies, so it’s being aware of your surroundings, but it’s also finding ways to use those traps to your advantage.”
The coliseum’s not the only thing that changes from match to match, and there are also advantages for single-player fans to jump into multiplayer. “As you go up in experience, you’ll unlock new gear that you can buy, so you’ll change the way you look, as well as your stats,” Olsen says. “You’ll also unlock executions, which carry over from single-player to multiplayer, so once you unlock it in one mode, you’ll have it in both modes.”
Our time with Ryse: Son of Rome‘s multiplayer was brief, but it did enough to get us very excited for the upcoming Xbox One exclusive. The characters handle very nicely, the environments shift around meaningful ways, and the different enemy types required unique strategies in order to defeat them. The rhythmic combat system was a refreshing change of pace for the genre, but the entire experience is driven home by the authenticity that Crytek has gone to great lengths to create. The only misstep we could potentially see for the multiplayer is in how repetitious the gameplay could begin to feel after multiple sessions; we won’t have enough time with the title to find out if that’s true or not until the final version of the game is in our hands.
Ryse: Son of Rome will launch alongside the Xbox One on November 22. The game will ship with 11 maps, with an additional map being made available to those who buy the Day One Edition of Ryse: Son of Rome.