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Ryse revised: How Crytek altered combat for the better


Many people really latched onto Ryse: Son of Rome's execution system when Crytek showed off the game at E3 earlier this year – but probably not in the way the developer wanted them to. Ryse's executions, which grant the player various in-game perks – and see protagonist Marius stabbing, gouging, slicing, bashing and otherwise maiming barbarians – are performed via short quick time events. Even though the majority of Ryse's combat has an ebb and flow similar to the Batman Arkham games – flurries of attacks sprinkled with timely parries – many prospective players, myself included, worried about the QTE-infused combat getting stale.

Crytek has responded to those concerns, and the build of Ryse being shown at Gamescom has a significantly altered execution system. Gone are the garish button prompts. Instead, enemies are subtly highlighted with the color of the appropriate button: Yellow for the shield (Y) and blue for the sword (X). By watching Marius' animations and keeping an eye out for each color, I easily slipped into the rhythm of various executions, something I can't say about the E3 build I played in June.

The E3 reaction didn't directly inspire the changes to the execution system, design director Patrick Esteves tells me, but it definitely played a part. "We were already down a course. We already knew where executions were going. And, of course, in game development, we have to figure out what's the best way to do something."

"People don't like the idea of a QTE-based combat system. Thank God we're not a QTE-based combat system," says Esteves, alluding to the fact that there is more to Ryse's combat than people may have perceived from the E3 demo. Just as I did in June, players will eventually discover that the combat is more about a dance-like back-and-forth between Marius and foes than it is about executions. "That was the first thing," says Esteves, "and the second thing is, is the communication language good enough for the game?" Crytek decided it wasn't.

Gallery: Ryse: Son of Rome (8/20/13) | 6 Photos

Crytek found the new system of highlighting characters during executions was less intrusive than button prompts, and it detracted less from the visual design and performance captured animations. "Ultimately this was an internal call. We're looking at it and we're like, 'Do you see the button [prompt], or do you see the cool face?'" The E3 build was "very much in progress" he says, and the changes to executions weren't made just to shake-off the notion that Ryse centers around QTEs, but rather to find the best way to convey information. "How do we get the information across, keep it as cinematic as possible, without taking your attention away from all the things that we painstakingly [crafted]?" Esteves says players should be focusing on the world of Ryse, not a floating blue X. "We know we don't have a QTE-based system, and I think when people see it and they play it, they'll realize that as well."

The execution reward system has been revamped as well. During E3, the plan was for certain executions to reward players with specific boosts, like extra health or focus (a resource that lets Marius daze enemies and deliver powerful barrage attacks). The problem was that players had no control over which executions were performed, and thus no control over which boosts were received.

Now, a tap on the D-pad will select which boost you'd like to activate: Health, XP, Focus or Damage. This makes executions more strategic, says Esteves, allowing players to pick whichever boost is best for a given situation. If Marius is near death, the player can select the health boost, make a few kills and heal up. If he's facing tougher enemies, he can build his focus to cut them down more easily. The potency of the boost you receive is based on proper execution timing, giving more for well-timed hits (General) and less for clumsy ones (Recruit). You'll always get some reward, and the execution will succeed regardless of timing, but learning and perfecting each one is obviously to the player's benefit.

Switching boosts on the fly definitely adds a new layer to Ryse's combat, especially given how quickly enemies will surround Marius. After a few minutes, I was able to chain together attacks, parry incoming blows, land executions and roll out of combat to switch boosts before diving back in for more. Enemies aren't shy about attacking from all sides either, and each requires different tactics. Some barbarians have shields for example, and you'll have to either daze them with Focus or force them to lower their guard (a quick shield bash works wonders). The removal of button prompts seems like a very small change, but the new highlight system really kept me in the moment and focused on the task at hand.

"It's crazy, because [we] put in the time and effort to make this fluid, cinematic experience, and then people thought it was purely quick time-based," says Esteves. With a few subtle changes, the nuts and bolts of combat become more evident. "The more people we get to play it, [the more] that realization kind of comes through." It's still too early to tell if Ryse's combat will stay fresh throughout a full campaign, but it has certainly improved for the better.

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