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It’s been an extremely long time since I dusted this feature off from the shelf and with the Rome inspired action game, Ryse: Son of Rome, releasing for Xbox One, it was a perfect opportunity. Ryse is a game so rich with historical figures and events that you begin to really wonder if these people and things in the game really were true. That’s where ‘History Behind The Game’ comes in. Let me be your guide as we fill in the gaps.
Ryse: Son of Rome is set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Nero, a really interesting period of time for the empire. While the bulk of the game actually takes place outside of Rome on the fringe of the empire in Britannia, we’re given a good look at many historical events and characters along the journey. So lets have a deep look at these cast of characters and see how well Crytek did in staying in line with the truth.
(Editor’s Note: For as much as I try to fully explain these characters, spoilers for the game are pretty much unavoidable. If you’re currently playing or plan to, I’d be very careful reading further.)
Alright class, lets settle down, have a seat and begin our little history lesson…
In Game: Pudgy, paranoid, and somewhat lazy, Nero is Rome’s current emperor and is trying to survive a barbarian invasion led by the warrior queen, Boudica. He’s found in the opening chapter to be panicking over the return of “Damocles” and running frantically around a crumbling palace. Main protagonist, Marius Titus, leads him to a hidden chamber where the game’s plot unravels leading to the final reveal at the end of the game.
In Real Life: An Emperor who loved to live in excess, Nero is said to have been obsessed with public opinion and popularity and as such would often make decisions that favored the lower class rather than the upper and senate classes. During the early part of his rule, he eliminated any and all enemies or threats to his power which even included his mother (allegedly). He siphoned power away from the Senate and is rumored to have started a fire just so he could build a giant golden house in that location. To deflect blame, Christian believers were blamed instead and I’m sure you can imagine how that went for them. His reign ended after a revolt (Vindex revolt) broke out against some of his policies and his supporters began to flock to the other side. He had one of his companions kill him rather than be taken by the Senate who were allegedly hunting him. Ironically enough, the Senate was still debating on what to do with him out of loyalty and respect to the family dynasty. Whoops? Nero was the last Emperor in the Julio-Claudian line and did not father any male heirs, only a daughter.
In Game: Daughter to the barbarian chieftain Oswald, Boudica assumes power over the tribe and seeks revenge when her father is killed by Nero’s son Commodus during a peace ceremony. She gathers the surrounding tribes and storms Rome complete with elephants and siege equipment. For someone so young, she’s quite capable in combat and proves to be a more than fearsome commander.
In Real Life: What’s interesting is that while Boudica did assume power over the Iceni barbarian tribe, it wasn’t through the death of her father. With her husband in power and their tribe an independent ally of the Roman Empire, his death caused Rome to forcefully annex the tribe’s land instead of following the former king’s will. Unhappy with their now harsh treatment, Boudica rallied the troops and revolted against the Roman forces stationed in Britain. She brought nearby tribes into the mix and started taking over city after city including modern day London. These losses almost caused Emperor Nero to completely withdraw from the islands but the Roman forces regrouped and eventually defeated the barbarian uprising. Information on her death is sketchy at best with some saying she poisoned herself, while others said she fell ill. What is proven is that she was a very capable leader and warrior, even if her revolt came up short. Either way, Boudica never set foot in Rome as depicted in game.
Commodus and Basillius
In Game: The spoiled and entitled children of Nero who directly and indirectly get in Marius’ way through out the campaign. Both brothers use their status to do what they want, which typically leads to more hardship for the people around them. Basillius is more of the politician and artist type, known for stealing work he likes and calling it his own. Commodus, a Roman general, tends to be impulsive and views himself as a god, stamping out anyone who questions him. While typically not participating in large scale battles, Commodus typically takes credit for the successes of others including the work Marius accomplishes in Britannia. He’s also a frequent persona in the arena, taking part in gladiator battles and having a spotless fight record due to cheap tactics and tricks.
In Real Life: Interestingly enough, Nero did not have any sons, only a daughter. As it stands, I haven’t found any historical records of Basillius, or anyone really matching his in game character, so as far as I can tell, he was strictly created for the game.
Fans of the movie Gladiator will already be familiar with the name “Commodus” as it’s safe to say Crytek looked to the real life (and the movie) version to put together this character for the game. The real Commodus is actually the son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He took over as Emperor at age of 18 and is remembered as being one of the more cruel and disliked Emperors in Roman history. He viewed himself as a reincarnation of Hercules, commissioned a vast amount of statues to be made of him and was an all around megalomaniac. Interestingly enough, he had a passion for Gladiator games and would commonly participate, but being the Emperor, his opponents would constantly submit giving Commodus a spotless record in combat as he never “lost” a fight. Things got so bad in Rome due to the economy tanking, vast negative changes to Roman life, and general discontent that Commodus was assassinated in 192 also ending his families dynasty.
All in all, Crytek seems to have done a great job taking the real Commodus and fitting him into the story of Ryse.
In Game: Nothing more than a legend, the story of Damocles is one of betrayal and revenge. As Crytek interprets it, Damocles is a well respected and successful Roman general. During a massive battle, his commanders essentially abandoned him on the field, leading him to his death. As Damocles reached the underworld, the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, was pretty angry at how things played out. She sent Damocles back to the world of the living as a vengeful spirit in black armor to hunt down and kill those that wronged him. Because of these events, commanders now carry a dagger with the image of Damocles to remind them to always take care of their men or risk the retribution of the black armored centurion.
In Real Life: Typically attributed to the Roman orator, Cicero, The Sword of Damocles tells a story about not judging someone until you’ve “walked a mile in their shoes.” Damocles, a member of the court for King Dionysius II of Syracuse and someone who liked to pander to the king, announced that Dionysius was truly fortunate to be surrounded by such magnificence and great power. The king proposed that they switch places so Damocles could experience this fortune to which he readily accepted. While Damocles sat down on the throne, the king arranged that a sword be hung above him tied only by a strand of horse hair. The stress and anxiety of having the sword swing dangerously above him quickly made Damocles beg to be allowed to step down. Moral of the story: with great fortune and power also comes great peril and stress…or you know, you could just copy/paste the whole Spider Man quote in here as well. Close enough.
Nemesis and Aquilo
In Game: Goddess of revenge, Nemesis is the one that send Damocles back to the world of the living to hunt down and kill those that wronged him. There’s also speculation that the spirit in the gold dress, who never outright is named during the story, could be Nemesis as she constantly guides and helps Marius “save Rome” and get back at the people responsible for his families death.
Aquilo (or Boreas) on the other hand is the God of the Northwind, and isn’t named until closer to the end of the story. He’s pretty much the mastermind behind the entire plot of the game advising Nero to kill Marius’ dad and helps Boudica and the barbarians lay siege Rome. Aquilo directly opposes the Goddess in the gold dress who helps Marius and tends to view humanity more as chess pieces than people.
In Real Life: Outside of the Damocles story, Crytek pretty much hits the nail on the head with Nemesis. If the gold dress spirit is indeed her, she constantly gives Marius what he needs to continue fighting and take vengeance on those responsible. With Aquilo, Greek/Roman mythology states that he had a violent temper and was the bringer of winter. He was commonly depicted as an older man with long hair and a beard while also holding a conch shell. He’s also said to have helped Athens during the invasion of the Persian army under Xerxes sinking 400 of their ships.
King Oswald: Even though he’s featured within Ryse’s storyline, he’s actually a character with the least amount of historical accuracy. He was born after the time of the Romans in Britain and is credited with spreading Christianity throughout the island kingdom and also united multiple kingdoms of Northumbria under one rule. Oswald was the most powerful king in Britain up until his death at the Battle of Maserfield. What’s pretty interesting about Oswald is that after his death, Oswald became regarded as a saint and the location of his death is credited with healing miracles.
Wicker Man: In Chapter 5 of the story, Marius, Vitallion, and their legion travel to the far north to track down Nero’s son Commodus. In this dark and dangerous land, the wild barbarian tribes have enacted large wooden structures that look like people to house captured soldiers and then burn them alive inside. What’s kind of freaky here is that these ‘Wicker Man’ statues did indeed exist as they were commonly used by the druids and Celts of Britannia. While the purpose of these statues continues to be debated, some agree that they were used in human sacrifice, including Julius Caesar who claims to have witnessed the act. Most wicker men are burned as effigies to various things such as deities.
References: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica and my brain. I loves me some history!