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Rise of the Ronin’s stylish combat gives Sekiro a run for its money

Our Rise of the Ronin preview dives into the intricate and impactful combat, intriguing story, and stunning open-world in full display in the PS5 exclusive.

Rise of the Ronin preview: Ryoma Sakamoto on the left side with a stern expression, while a ronin stands overlooking a city on the right side.

Sneaking on board the American Black Ship of Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan at the dead of night, I prepare to strike, readying my equipment alongside my Blade Twin. Rise of the Ronin takes its rich 19th-century Japanese setting and gives you a perfectly balanced mix of Souls-inspired action and open-world thrills. After spending hours exploring its beautiful and diverse landscape for our Rise of the Ronin preview, this PS5 exclusive is shaping up to be an epic adventure – though not one without flaws.

From the outside, Rise of the Ronin certainly looks like Ghost of Tsushima with its sprawling and stunning landscape, engrossing historical backdrop, and complex katana-swinging combat. However, this promising new PS5 game is much more than that under the surface.

Your journey begins with the character creator, where you’ll get to design the Twin Blades until your heart’s content. With a wide variety of options for face, hair, and body customization, you won’t struggle to get the look you’re going for. Where it gets interesting, however, is choosing your Blade Sharpening Origin.

Rise of the Ronin preview: A feminine character with an intricate hairstyle in the character creation screen.

Like all the best Souls likes, you can pick from a variety of starting builds with different stat distributions, recommended weapons, and starting skills. Looking to take advantage of Rise of the Ronin’s stealth mechanics and stylish attacks, I went with the Breaker and quickly donned my dual blades. From here, you’re quickly thrust into a short training section before embarking on your first mission: boarding Perry’s Black Ship to wrap up the introduction.

It’s in the action that Team Ninja’s Souls-inspired combat truly shines. No matter whether it’s a standard enemy or a boss, combat is impactful, precise, and ever-so-stylish. Balancing the challenge with fast-paced, almost hack ‘n’ slash action, taking down foes has yet to be a chore. You really do have to nail your parries if you want to survive though, requiring you to master your chosen blade as any ronin would. Successfully parrying enemies drains their stamina, letting you unleash even more devastating attacks. Plus, with limited supplies, you have to be mindful of when you heal or risk dying and marking your killer with a vendetta – which will steal any un-banked experience and require you to hunt them down to retrieve it.

Rise of the Ronin preview: A masculine character pointing a revolver at an enemy cowering on the ground.

With a wide array of weapon types to pick from (including firearms), each with its own attack combos, skills, and even weapon stances, there’s a great deal of variety in your approach. Going down the Dexterity and Strength tree, I was quickly able to unlock the ability to parry in mid-air, letting me embrace an agile, ninja-like playstyle of jumping around the arena.

On that note, Rise of the Ronin nails one element that even many of the best RPG games overlook – skills trees. Almost every upgrade you can unlock adds something to your arsenal, rather than simply bumping up your numbers. From persuasion to powerful new attacks, earning and spending skill points was just as rewarding as slicing through my enemies.

Although its near-constant bombardment of explainers and tips does get in the way during the early hours, it’s a necessary evil given how in-depth it is. That’s not even all of the tools available to you either.

From the start of the game, Rise of the Ronin makes it clear that bonds play a clear role in the gameplay and story. This begins with the Twin Blades, the two characters you make at the start of your journey, but later expands to include other characters you meet along the way. A few hours in, you’ll meet Ryoma Sakamoto, a dastardly anti-shogunate ronin who joins your party. Why does this matter? Well, you can swap between party members at any time during missions.

Rise of the Ronin preview: Ryoma Sakamoto looking to the side and holding a pipe.

Just like your playable characters, these bonds have their own skills and playstyles that develop over time, adding even more to the pot. While it can be a little clunky to take advantage of at times, swapping to your ally to execute a combo is a blast. I loved swapping to Ryoma just for his cloak and revolver alone.

Aside from the popups towards the start, combat is never bogged down by its complexity. So far, each of its moving parts develops at a natural pace to keep the action approachable, diverse, and incredibly satisfying – even with the comparatively limited selection currently available to me compared to what’s on offer overall.

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These bonds aren’t only used in combat, however. These characters, such as the lovable Ryoma, are key to the story. With a US Navy expedition on Japan’s doorstep, the nation is in turmoil at a pivotal time of change. New technology, architecture, and more are being adopted, so having a solid core cast of characters alongside you is necessary. I’m eager to learn more about Ryoma and perhaps forge other bonds later on.

Weaving in these historical figures and details, Rise of the Ronin’s narrative is intriguing in the early hours – even if the premise is seemingly straightforward. Team Ninja promises a twisting, “dynamic story,” and so far, its RPG elements show promise. While I have yet to make any drastic decisions, there have been opportunities to change the outcome of quests using the multi-choice dialog system. As the story progresses, I’m hoping that more impactful choices will crop up that really have me contemplating my choices.

Rise of the Ronin preview: A character on horseback riding up a hill with a mountain temple in the distance.

Thankfully, Rise of the Ronin’s world is just as important to the story as the narrative itself. While it’s by no means as effortlessly cinematic nor as graphically impressive as Ghost of Tsushima, its authentic setting of Bakumatsu era Japan is a joy to carve a path through. Whether you’re taking down a bandit camp or exploring the Westernized streets of Yokohama, there’s always a stunning sight before you. With a grappling hook, glider, and horse unlocked early on, it’s also remarkably fun to traverse. Steeped in history, it’s certainly a great setting for Team Ninja’s next outing – and shows the promise of becoming one of the best open-world games.

As for how it handles on PS5, Performance Mode is undoubtedly the way to go. With combat requiring quick reflexes to avoid a swift death, the silky smooth frame rate is too good to pass up. Unfortunately, this does result in a hit to the visuals. While the art direction is jaw-dropping, its graphical fidelity isn’t quite so stunning. It’s far from a poor showing, but even in Graphics Mode the art design is let down somewhat by odd lighting and muddy textures. With a day-one patch in the works, it’s possible that improvements to performance will be made across the board.

Although my journey is far from over, its early hours have me eager to dive back into what could very well become one of my favorite PS5 games, combining a rich open world with combat as complex as it is challenging. If you’re hungry for a story-driven, Souls-inspired open-world adventure, then be sure to mark down the Rise of the Ronin release date and clear up some space to download it on your PS5.