Do it better, Ryse

"Maybe if we put in enough QTEs, we can trigger Stockholm Syndrome!"

Ryse! It’s about Rome! It’s got men in skirts doing brutal murder! At one point the man kicks another man off a ledge in that famous stance and somehow manages to resist shouting “THIS – IS ROOOOOOOMMMMMEEE,” because he is a stronger man than I! It has Quick-time Events!

Let’s clarify that. It has too many quick-time events. I’ve not played it yet – few have – but the demo shows each man that the main man kills being offed with a three-button QTE, and guys, that’s too much. Cinematic combat be damned; I want to retain control of my chap more often than not. After initial reports that the QTEs don’t do anything – that the buttons you push literally have no effect, that your man does the murder no matter what you push – I read up on it a little bit more and discovered that in fact they give you little bonuses. Things like a few slivers of extra health, which means that presumably your health doesn’t regen, and you can’t get it back by scoffing whole roast chickens you find laying around. Dormice, maybe. Lark’s tongues. Fermented fish guts. The Romans ate some weird shit.

And, well, no. Don’t do that. Do it better.

FRIDGE-SIZED MANBEAST

Gears of War screenshot

Classy.

The perfect example of a thing like this is the Active Reload from Gears of War; it’s one of the cleverest things about the entire series. For those of you not in the know, when you hit reload, you get a progress bar in the top left of the screen; it takes about a second or so, maybe a little longer, depending on the gun. If you push the reload button again at a certain fraction of a second within that time, indicated by a white mark, on the progress bar, you get a faster reload and your bullets do a little more damage. If you push it at the wrong time, your reload takes longer, and Marcus Fenix or whichever fridge-sized manbeast you’re piloting mutters and grumbles as he does it.

It’s not game-breaking, but it takes a segment of the game where your attention is normally dropping to zero – reloading – and makes you focus on it. Each weapon has it’s own timing, which means you can become more proficient with it over time. It turns the act of putting more bullets in your gun into a gamble. Is it worth risking an active reload when the locust horde is closing on your flanks? Will an extra second worth of reload time spell your death? It’s split-second stuff. More player choice. Keeps you on your toes.

ALL-CARROT-NO-STICK

Ryse screenshot

“I wish we’d named this configuration after something more threatening than a tortoise, in retrospect”

So, Ryse. Instead of what you’ve got, an all-carrot-no-stick approach (I assume, I mean if this is the only way you can get back health then we’ll talk), I’d love to see something like Active Reload writ large. Say I duff up an enemy enough to trigger an execution and we enter the cinematic camera mode, and the following happens:

Firstly, a progress bar pops up onscreen. Once that progress bar is finished, I will kill the guy no matter what – I’ve still triggered an execution. Takes a second or two. We see an animation of the pair of us squaring up against each other. The bar, and animation, would differ depending on the weapon I’m using, the angle of approach, etc. Just as it does already.

Then, I can choose to either a) watch the execution (which is precisely what I’m doing with Ryse as it stands) and gain no immediate benefit other than killing a dude who meant to do me harm, or b) try to put some flair into it. This is done by pushing a button at a precise time during the execution, indicated by the progress bar and the animations onscreen.

If I get it right, I earn something extra. Maybe the execution’s super-quick. Maybe I stagger everyone around me with fear. Maybe I get some health, or do a bit more damage, or get faster, or any number of another things depending on weapon and specific execution. There’s a class system in that. Don’t tell anyone.

And – THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT – if I fail, things should go wrong. I should lose health when the guy swings at me as I kill him. I should get slower for a while as I stagger out of combat, or the execution takes longer because my sword is wedged in his head, or I draw the attention of some archers, or SOMETHING. ANYTHING. As the player improved in skill, they’d see a direct correlation with the skill of their character onscreen! If they picked up a new weapon, they’d fumble with it until they learned how to control it properly! Organically! How great would that be?

I still kill the guy. I still succeed, no matter what; but at what cost? And how well? These are interesting things. Don’t punish me by not giving me immaterial benefits. That’s us back at square one. My failure has no impact on the world. Punish me by teaching me something, by making failure interesting. Let my actions leave a mark, whether good or bad. Make the executions a gamble that I can choose to take.

Either that or, you know, write a working combat system. Arkham City did pretty well, maybe you could steal that.