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Rise Of The Rōnin Preview – It’s Ronin’ Time

Team Ninja goes open world

Team Ninja is no stranger to the hardcore hack and slash genre, and with a pedigree including the Ninja Gaiden and the Nioh series, it’s well and truly earned its place. Perhaps spurred on by the meteoric success of Elden Ring (and hopefully less so the Ubisoft empty checklister), Team Ninja has turned its hand to an open-world design with their latest samurai romp Rise of the Rōnin. I’ve played the opening hours of the ambitious Sony-published outing, and have dropped by to give some initial impressions ahead of my full review next week.

May I have this dance?

Taking place in 19th-century Japan, the game is not rigidly bound by the tumultuous historic events of the end of the Edo period, but rather uses certain historical figures and events to enrich its own fictional tale. The end of the Edo period is marked by social upheaval, with an increasingly influential United States exerting their power in the new Japan, slowly transforming it as they did so. Whether this is exploitation and at the expense of the old ways or a mutual benefit from the sharing of technology is a question at the heart of this epoch.  It’s a great general setting for a game, but as a samurai a lot of your diplomacy will be performed at swordpoint, so perhaps it won’t be as nuanced as all that.

There’s a more personal tale at the core involving your relationship with your soul-sworn samurai ally, known as a Blade Twin that has me slightly more interested. Blade Twins are elite assassins who hunt in pairs and are generally an unstoppable force when together, and events at the start of game point to some interesting possibilities for this fated pair. The historical period is incredibly rich, being effectively the time around which the samurai lost their esteemed status and began to fade into history, and I’m keen to see how Team Ninja wrap this around the Blade Twin storyline.

Ronin’s creed

Anyone who played the recent Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is going to be familiar with the aesthetic, but if I had to describe the open-world style I would say it’s more akin to a modern Assassin’s Creed game than the likes of Elden Ring. This is not a slight on the game, as that sort of style worked well for Ghosts of Tsushima, but expect to be doing plenty of icon hunting as you explore the countryside. There’s a nice variety to the activities on offer, and a good rhythm to completing them as you expand across the sprawling map. The completionists out there are going to have plenty to chew on, but I also get the feeling the developers didn’t want to gate progress too much by forcing you to complete optional side content. It’s there to engage with, and everything you do complete has a decent reward, but if you’re not down to find every lost cat in Japan then I don’t think you’re going to be punished for doing so.

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Despite the open world, this is very much the sort of hardcore hack and slash that Team Ninja is known for, and the signature difficulty and wealth of mechanics are all on display here. The action is a little more grounded in reality this time around, so I’m not expecting any hulking fire demons (at least this early on), but killing human enemies in grisly fashion still has its charm. The core of the combat swings around reducing your opponent’s Ki (stamina) by performing parries (called Countersparks) and following them up with your own barrage of attacks. Of course, Ki doesn’t grow on trees and you must also conserve your own as you complete your assault with a dizzying variety of sharp hurty things. It bears mentioning that stealth is also encouraged, but so far I’ve found that most encounters devolve into directly engaging enemies soon enough. The combat is fun and flashy (the execution animations are a highlight for the pugilists among us), and I’m interested to see how all the mechanics meld as I continue to build my character and upgrade my skills.

My first couple of hours have left me with a mixture of feelings for Rise of the Rōnin, plenty of positive ones, but also a lingering question of whether the rest of my playthrough will see the myriad of gameplay systems and mechanics crystallise into a cohesive whole. Stay tuned for my full review on March 21, ahead of the game’s release on March 22.

Previewed on PS5 // Preview code supplied by publisher

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Written By Kieran Stockton

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy



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