Rise of the Ronin review

by on March 21, 2024
Release Date

February 22, 2024


I’ve written before about the overwhelming weight of expectation placed on established developers like Team Ninja. When the public come to anticipate the next release on the strength of your recent few, it’s never going to go down well when you deviate from a perceived formula. Take Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, for example, a game released last year that could have been titled “Nioh 3” without causing much of a stir. Three games in a row with punishing Soulslike combat and streamlined, contained mission areas, and no amount of counter-marketing will prevent people from coming to Rise of the Ronin and complaining that Team Ninja have done something different.

Because Rise of the Ronin is very different to Nioh or Wo Long, despite similarities in the aesthetics and the UI. It’s an open world action RPG more akin to Ghost of Tsushima and of roughly the same difficulty level, designed to be explored at your own pace. It’s also got more story then we’re used to from Team Ninja, delving into the politically-charged closing years of the Japanese Edo period, when what would eventually become Tokyo was struggling to maintain its cultural identity while also attempting to create trade opportunities and increased wealth by ingratiating itself with Western powers. The quiet invasion of Japan could have, in a subtler game, been a powerful narrative device and, while Rise of the Ronin treats it with respect, it dampens that respect with silly fantastical elements and deviations from historical accuracy for the sake of spectacle.

Rise of the Ronin

But, if I’m honest, I don’t mind that it does. It allows a certain amount of mysticism to bleed into the world, and allows the combat to be over-the-top and flashy even while avoiding the inclusion of Oni or Yokai. There are no “monsters” in Rise of the Ronin, and yet it still manages to be exciting and surreal thanks to Assassin’s Creed levels of artistic license. There are famous faces here such as Matthew C. Perry (no, not Chandler) and Ryoma Sakamoto, and just like in a Ubisoft game they’re here to give advice, oppose, or befriend your created character, accuracy be damned.

There’s something reminiscent of the Old West about the setting, when disenfranchised Samurai roamed the land, still clinging to the old codes of honour and justice that the advance of capitalism was doing its best to outlaw. You are one such wandering Samurai, formerly one half of a duo of warriors trained by the Veiled Edge. You create both in the character creator and must choose which to continue with after a certain point in the story. Oddly, what would have worked well framed as a kind of revenge odyssey in a 25-hour linear adventure loses some of its impact when stretched across a huge open world, as you periodically shelve thoughts of personal honour to bum about finding missing cats and solving other peoples’ disputes.

Yet Rise of the Ronin presents a perfectly serviceable, compelling open world. Story quests often require you to choose between pro and anti-Shogunate groups, giving the impression that what you’re doing could alter the political destiny of an entire nation. As a result I often felt the pull of the story, even when I was having fun doing all the aforementioned bumming about.

Rise of the Ronin

Players coming into this expecting combat mechanics on the same level as Nioh 2 or Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may be disappointed though, and this was the point I made in the opening. Rise of the Ronin isn’t really a Soulslike at all. It borrows elements from the genre, quite blatantly at times with things like the Veiled Edged Banners allowing you to save your progress and respawn when you die, but it’s much more forgiving than Team Ninja’s previous games. There are difficulty settings and the final choice might serve to bring the combat closer to that level, but besides a handful of story bosses nothing gave me much trouble – and those only did because they’re so relentlessly fast and tricky to parry.

Much of Ronin’s combat relies on timing and stamina management, here using the Ki system once more. Dealing damage or parrying attacks depletes the enemies Ki, eventually rendering them staggered and ready for a vicious attack that does massive damage or can outright kill them. There are fewer combos and skills than you might expect, but every weapon has multiple stances and each stance has its own special moves to afford versatility. It’s incredibly satisfying to land a perfect parry and slice your foe to pieces as a retort. With ranged weapons like bows and guns, shuriken, bombs, and a goddamn flamethrower there is enough diversity here to forge builds from the four main stats of Charm, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Strength.

Rise of the Ronin

Armour and weapons come in sets for aesthetics and stats. There are effects in golden stats on many items that represent set bonuses, but they aren’t necessarily attached to matching gear. It allows you to be pretty fluid with your build choices, and a free transmog system in-game lets you alter your appearance any time you like by visiting your base. You’re never really forced into a specific playstyle, regardless of the starting stats you choose. A melee stance system allows you to unlock different styles for each weapon, which has a rock-paper-scissors effect on enemy combat styles.

There’s also a stealth option, of course. A perhaps disproportionate amount of optional content in Rise of the Ronin involves clearing outposts of enemies, and there’s almost always an option to take out patrolling guards quietly first. This can be done using ranged weaponry or backstabs, and is always rewarding when it goes well. Quite often you’ll find tied up Samurai, which are essentially the ghosts of other players who died there. They fight by you as AI and usually reward you on completion of the objective.

Multiplayer feeds into the concept of the Blade Twin. After being separated from your initial Blade Twin, you can find and recruit NPCs who can accompany you on missions. Some come from unexpected quarters, and are all pretty useful in a fight thanks to decent AI. If you want to, you can summon other players to help you instead, working together until the job is done. You can’t play the entire game in co-op, but what’s here works well enough.

Rise of the Ronin

Getting around the open world is fun, though. You can fast travel to any Banners you have and there are tons of them, or you can use the grapple, glider, or your horse to get around the physical area pretty quickly. Completing more tasks in an area raises your Bond with it just as it does when you spend time with NPCs, so working your way through the checklist is encouraged and, honestly, pretty enjoyable. Oh, and there are lots of cats and you can pet all of them. Like, all of them.

Rise of the Ronin is, in many ways, a fairly safe game. You’re free to play it however you like, so it keeps risks to a minimum while rewarding you for exploring and tackling its optional content. What it lacks are “wow” moments. There’s little about it that truly stands out and makes you take note. Even the world, pretty as it is, plays second fiddle to Ghost of Tsushima’s stunning interpretation of Japan.

While the combat is slick and fast and not short of spectacle, and the world has plenty to see and do, this is very much an Assassin’s Creed style open world with set objectives in each area and little in the way of emergent gameplay – unless you count stealth cock-ups and the resultant explosions of frantic violence.


If anything, perhaps Rise of the Ronin is a victim of Team Ninja’s recent success. It falls a little short of the high bar set by Nioh 2, and can’t fully compete with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty in terms of the combat – but perhaps that’s unfair. It balances much of these apparent shortcomings by being more accessible to newcomers and those who seek out this type of world but don’t want to lash themselves to the altar of the Soulslike for forty hours and counting.

Step into this world with realistic expectations and there’s a lot of fun to be had, with a decent story, likeable characters, and fluid, satisfying combat. But don’t expect the sophistication of Nioh 2 or the laser focus of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Rise of the Ronin is a solid open world action adventure that rarely puts a foot wrong, but is unlikely to set the world on fire either.


Combat is often spectacular
Companion AI is good
Intriguing story


Few "wow" moments
Doesn't really do anything new
Some iffy visuals

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Rise of the Ronin is a solid open world action adventure that rarely puts a foot wrong, but is unlikely to set the world on fire either.