Have you ever played Streets of Rage 2? I have. Hundreds of times. For those of you who haven't, it's a side-scrolling beat em' up that first appeared on the Sega Mega-Drive (Genesis). It's a genuine classic, but even on its release -- when I was what? 8 years old -- I thought it repetitive. I beat the same poor fuckers to a pulp hundreds of times over. Poor Mama Galsia, she raised nothing shy of a horde of ginger-haired failures.
In my youth and on recent playthroughs, I felt remorse for killing off an entire line with my fists. Now in Ryse: Son of Rome, I'm guilt ridden from butchering an entire empire. An empire comprised of approximately six different families: six different, hundreds-strong families of Anglo-Saxon origin.
For all of Crytek's technical wizardy, the fact that you spend five hours dismembering and disemboweling the same six character models is sure to compromise any sense of immersion the photo-realistic visuals would otherwise achieve. Well, that, and character animation outside of scripted sequences and executions looks relatively awkward.
Most of the campaign is spent alternating between sword attacks, shield pushes and counters to either wear down your enemies or otherwise open them up for an execution attack. Executions are short quick time event sequences where you're tasked with pressing the buttons that correspond with the coloured sheen your enemies are covered in for one to five brutal strikes. These animations are explicitly, as in to the bone, violent, and it's entirely possible that this brand of hyper violence would turn quite a few people off from the first chapter. If you're okay with megalitres of blood and exposed bone, then there's just as great a chance that the extremely repetitive nature of the game's combat will turn you off just as quickly. A few handfuls of contrived and occasionally frustrating set pieces that involve throwing javelins, operating turrets, troop placement (as in, do you want there here or there?), and the timed shielding of attacks do very little to mix-up the core four button formula.
Back on the topic of executions, you cannot in any way fail these sequences. Even if you miss the prompt altogether, the animation will continue and you'll net experience and, potentially, other benefits such as health from the transaction. This means that if you're looking for anything resembling a challenge, I'd recommend starting on the highest available difficulty setting. Even then, provided you can time your counters well (again, not hard), you're looking at a short, uneventful ride.
Like the mispelled title, the story told in Ryse is ill-conceived. It's a straight up revenge plot littered with the Ancient Roman equivalents of "oscar mike" and "hoorah". There's roughly a handful of women with speaking parts, and those that do open their mouths are usually wearing close to nothing -- at the very least, you're eyes will be drawn to plunging necklines -- and subject to the most questionable breast physics engine since the original Dead or Alive. This is a story written by dudes for dudes, and the final twists are so ridiculous and powerfully-stupid that you'll need tongs to pull the eyes from the back of your skull.
If you're the patient type and you enjoy the Ryse brand of repetitive, shallow combat, you'll be glad to know that there is a co-op multiplayer component to feast on following the campaign's hilarious close. I was only able to find two matches over an hour period and I was disconnected from each after a few minutes. You can fight through arenas on your own if companionship is slow in coming, but even then, you're dealing with the same combat system in some overly familiar scenarios.
For all of Crytek and Microsoft's boasting of immersion and photo-realism, Ryse is all bark and no bite. It's not broken by any means, but it's not anything approaching fun or satisfying. Only approach if found in the cheapest, deepest depths of the bargain bin.