Rise of the Ronin Hand-on Preview – A precision strike

Posted on March 12, 2024

Rise of the Ronin is the next release from action-adventure powerhouses, Team Ninja. They’ve taken that Japanese setting and reaction-based combat style from past games like the Nioh series and applied them to a more open-world format with unique ideas. With so much to unpack and learn about this intricate release, including its companion system and instant character swapping, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to go hands-on with the title ahead of its March 22 launch.

Despite its action premise, Rise of the Ronin is a game about characters and this is made abundantly clear in its opening prologue alone. A detailed character creation screen doesn’t just let you forge one hero, but you’ll be designing your companion as well. This is because the game tells the tale of Ronin warrior pairs in war-torn 19th-century Japan. How that companionship and support makes you stronger, and what happens when those ties are severed. Along your journey, you’ll meet other characters as ships from the West reach Japan’s borders and threaten to throw the state into turmoil.

This is not your average Soulslike where obtuse narrative merely plays a backdrop to the intense action. Rise of the Ronin puts narrative at the forefront as you help NPCs, meet eclectic individuals, and talk your way through the many towns and districts of the game’s world. Even the aforementioned companion system comes into play here, as you can quite literally take a moment to rest and chat with your comrades, forging deeper bonds and broadening the storytelling possibilities. Whilst not all of the voice acting and writing will land with equal impact, it’s still a nice change of pace and makes Rise of the Ronin feel like anything but an imitation. Can that occasionally sub-optimal character focus maintain interest for the game’s entire length? As of yet, that’s admittedly hard to say.

“…take a moment to rest and chat with your comrades, forging deeper bonds and broadening the storytelling possibilities.”

Unlike Nioh, the world of Rise of the Ronin is much more open. And whilst it may feel natural to compare the game to Elden Ring, the design actually feels a lot more similar to a Ubisoft open world. Broken into districts, you can traverse the map by horseback as you liberate towns from bandits, pray at shrines to acquire skill points, take on wanted enemies, find hidden collectables and caches, and complete missions. It’s a little bit more of a checklist game as you chase icons on a map rather than one of exploration and discovery. This admittedly is a bit of a shame, but it doesn’t take away from the moment-to-moment fun.

The swordplay is good. It’s a mixture of reaction-based parries and dodges alongside energy management as you go in for the critical strike against foes whilst ensuring you yourself aren’t offering the same window of opportunity. A range of weapons come with different attack patterns, there are interchangeable attack slots as if it were a fighting game, and levelling up your skills allows you to unlock new and powerful combat maneuvres across different skill trees. There can be a little bit of confusion to it all, especially when multiple fighters are involved that you can jump between, but Rise of the Ronin never feels unintuitive. It defines everything well and cuts out some of the chaff that can make Souls games challenging to penetrate.

The loot system will have you constantly swapping between new weapons and armour you collect on your journey. All of this gear will have unique attributes such as passives, set bonuses, and power levels. Though, perhaps most importantly, they also have unique appearances for the ultimate character dress-up game. Perhaps taking inspiration from titles like Diablo, Rise of the Ronin gives that endorphin rush of new loot acquisition and then they cleverly allow you to jump into a menu and alter the look based on previously acquired gear. It’s all very freeing, with further customisation options available to that clothing and weaponry. It’s one of those moments where the game goes above and beyond and I’m excited to see more of that after playing the full experience.

Rise of the Ronin is releasing March 22nd for PlayStation 5. Keep an eye out for our review in the coming weeks as we continue to dive deeper into this intricate yet approachable action adventure.