Xbox

Why Ryse Is The Most Frustrating Game Of E3

“We don’t want the player to feel frustrated.” This is what I’m told. This is how it is explained.

Why then, I wonder to myself, do I feel so frustrated?

An enormous blistering historical epic, complete with sweeping string sections, stirring speeches, and arrows to the eyeball, Crytek’s Ryse was one of the surprise exclusives of Microsoft’s E3 conference.

It’s a game custom built to fit with the dead words we use to describe video games. Ryse is ‘cinematic’. Ryse is a ‘feast for the eyes’. Ryse is ‘accessible’. Ryse is ‘visceral’ — quite literally there is ‘viscera’. In reference to Ryse, mainstream media will write and/or say the words, ‘video games have come a long way since Pac-Man…’

Ryse is a technological beast and it’s all ‘real’. I have played the game, I have pushed the buttons that made the man do the thing, and I have buried the sword in the faces of the baddies. I can confirm that it is, in actual fact, a video game.

But Ryse is frustrating. Because Ryse won’t let me be frustrated.

In between superlatives regarding how good it all looked, one of the few complaints fluttering around the internet focused on Ryse’s ‘quicktime events’. Ryse is focused on providing a cinematic experience and, in video game land, ‘cinematic’ usually means slicing throats, opening bellies and stabbing foreheads in glorious/gratuitous slow motion. Hence the quicktime events.

But Crytek isn’t calling them quicktime events, it’s trying to avoid that term altogether. Crytek just wants every kill to look incredible, to look precise. It’s willing to go to strange lengths to make this happen.

Allow me to explain.

I’m on the battlefield. I’m stomping through the corpses of my comrades swinging my sword at anything that moves. I begin a combo, I slash twice and then whooom slow motion is initiated, shit is about to get ‘cinematic’. A button prompt hovers elusively above the sword I’m about to drive into the throat of my enemy… argh I’m too slow! The prompt flickers, disappears.

I missed it. Damn.

But then somehow, for some reason, I still complete the cinematic ‘kill’.

What?

Maybe it’s a bug I think, but no. Next time I deliberately press the wrong button. The kill goes ahead, no consequences. Then I try hitting no buttons whatsoever. The kill goes ahead. I put the controller on the table in front of me, the kill goes ahead.

What is going on here?

I ask one of the Crytek people hovering at the booth – is this a bug? Why am I completing kills when I hit the wrong button prompt? Or, worse, no button at all. Turns out it was a deliberate design choice.

“We don’t want the player to feel frustrated,” I am told.

Well it didn’t work. I didn’t work at all because I feel frustrated. I am frustrated because I am being denied the opportunity to be frustrated, denied the frustration that will motivate me to learn the game, to adapt.

Worse, I am being denied the visual feedback that informs me what I did correctly and what I did wrong, to the extent that the inputs I do make feel utterly meaningless. The buttons I am pushing do not control the avatar on screen and the disconnect is instantaneous. I am not in full control of what I do; I am not even partially in control.

Spare the rod, spoil the gamer. When there are minimal consequences to the inputs you make, the rewards you do receive feel empty. The idea behind this design decision, claims Crytek, is that players coming home from a hard day’s work don’t want to deal with the pressures and stress of playing perfectly. Instead of rewarding players with a gory cinematic for hitting the QTE correctly, players simply acquire a greater amount of XP or currency. But these are rewards that aren’t represented visually; the end result is that Ryse never feels fun to play.

It’s bewildering. Bewildering that a game would choose to move down this path; bewildering that Crytek believe completely removing any semblance of fair challenge would make players less frustrated; bewildering that they believe taking control from players would make them feel more engaged.

So frustrating.