I have read quite a few reviews but I think the Kotaku one is the best. Here is a clipping, they seem to go more in depth and talk about the combat mechanics and how it can be a much more engaging experience if you want it to, something I think a lot of the other reviewers ignored:
"Sure, you could just sit back and let Ryse play itself half of the time, or you could get involved with the gameplay and play it like a combo-driven action game, one that assumes you can follow the flow of the action.
I admit that this is an odd way to present combat in a game, but it drew me in almost immediately. As each encounter in the game begins, you'll feel like you're playing a standard third-person action game. You're a skilled fighter surrounded by two, three, four or more enemies. In this variation, you're a Roman soldier with a sword and shield, hacking and bashing, pushing metal through bone. Your enemies will take turns attacking, as they tend to in action games. You'll strike or push, heavy strike or heavy push, block or roll. As you dent their defenses, you'll get a signal that you can start an execution. 3
Trigger an execution and the enemy is dead meat. It's guaranteed. You will be able to play out whichever grisly one the game cues up for you, pulling from a pool of dozens of executions you've unlocked. At these moments, your inputs are reduced to pushing the Xbox One controller's yellow Y button or the blue X. Or you could do nothing. Ideally, you'll do something! But the kill will happen anyway.
The impossibility of failure and the simplicity of commands during these executions should ruin things. It should earn the game scorn. Yet this is where Ryse's graphics and animations save it and elevate the combat system. As Marius begins his execution sequence, he might first swing his shield at his enemy's head, then stab him in the chest and then pull that sword out. That'll be a Y-X-X combo. You won't trigger it. You won't even dial up that combo. You're really just reacting to prompts. The bad way of doing that is to wait and wonder whether Marius' enemy will suddenly be highlighted blue or yellow and then react to that. The better way to do this is to appreciate the graphics and actually watch Marius' movements. If he is about to use his sword hand, be ready to press X. If he is about to use any other part of his body to attack, use Y. This might not seem like a big difference, but it is. It feels special, because because the tells that the player is reading aren't those of his enemy's but those of the exceptionally well-rendered main character. (Okay, I just said 'it feels special' about some of the most realistically depicted ultraviolence I've ever seen in a game. The violence in this game can get a bit weird. More on that in a bit.)
During the executions, the player's challenge is to watch Marius' arm and leg movements and understand them, to essentially anticipate them. This is a different way to relate to a game character and one that works well. It works because of the reward. If you wait for the color prompts before figuring out which button to press, you're playing a guessing game or a reflex text. You're reacting to known information rather than reading movement and essentially moving with the game. If you just wait for the color prompts you're also likely to be slower and to merely pull off a "recruit" or "soldier"-level execution. These are worth little. If you instead focus on reading Marius' movements, you'll consistently be able to pull off "centurion" or even "legendary" executions. Those superior execution ratings greatly raise your combo meter and earn you more points in whichever of four categories of execution Marius has performed. He can, to be clear, do executions that earn him health points, focus points, damage points or experience points, all of which are useful and all of which can be triggered on the fly before or even during a killing sequence.
All of this execution stuff works well thanks to the absurd number of executions programmed into the game. Marius can unlock some 98 ways to execute his enemies, 42 of which are reserved for when the player weakens two enemies and tries to execute both in one sequence. That amount of variety makes it harder to predict which execution Marius will do next, keeping the player guessing and forcing them to, as noted, focus on their character's movements.
The better you do in combat, the more points you earn, the more executions you unlock, the more of Marius' skills you increase, the better you can do in combat. The progression is simple and keeps combat engaging even when the game is sending a few too many of the same enemies at you. "
After reading that, it seems like this game may be best played on the hardest difficulty setting, thus really forcing you to try and get those legendary executions in order to fill up your health, or xp or focus meter.....