Game: Risen 2: Dark Waters
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: Deep Silver
Available on: Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
It may have only enjoyed a relatively mild success upon its release, but the 2009 fantasy role-playing Game Risen has spawned a sequel. The first game was very much in the same vein as titles such as Dragon Age, but failed to grab the attention of gamers in the way that the BioWare title did. Three years on, and we see whether or not a change in theme and attitude for the sequel has had a positive effect.
STORY: The original Risen title was set in a sword-fighting world, where a group of humans known as the Inquisition stood up against mythological monsters the Titans (more or less the same Titans found in Greek myths). As suggested by the Dark Waters subtitle, the sequel sees play take place in the same game world, but everything takes on a more “piratey” flavour. So we have pirates, and Caribbean influences such as Voodoo, mixed in with ye olde Greek gods and ancient monsters.
Joined by the inappropriately named Pirate’s daughter, Patty, the unnamed hero goes on a secret quest on behalf of the Inquisition to find a fabled weapon that would help in their fight against the Titans; in particular a monstrous Kraken that attacks Caldera, the last outpost of the Inquisition, right at the start of the game. Patty knows that her father, the rather more impressively-named famous pirate Steelbeard has information regarding the weapon they seek. Together the two protagonists head to the pirate island of Ticaragua, to try and infiltrate his gang and locate the information they require.
Surprisingly, for a game that is a strange mix of cultures, the disparate influences actually don’t sit too uncomfortably alongside one another. The traditional fantasy themes and the naval pirate ones might give the impression that the game seems to have a little identity crisis, but this is soon forgotten as you get to grips with the title and the different elements of the game world actually blend together quite nicely.
Probably the main problem, in terms of the story, is the incredibly poor scripting; from important scenes all the way down to bit-part NPCs. The game suffers from a juvenile attitude towards sexual equality, with some lines that would offend both females and the gay communities alike. At times the way in which some characters are portrayed and treated makes you feel like perhaps the game was written back in the early twentieth century. Characters also tend to speak lines littered with school-yard utterances, such as the one random pirate who told me he would rather be “bummed by a Titan” than suffer the predicament we were in. With writing like that, you get an idea of the scripting shortcomings that the game suffers.
GRAPHICS: Sadly, things certainly don’t start to look any better when we move onto the visual side of things (no pun intended). The graphic engine seems to have changed very little since the first Risen game, and is probably not even as aesthetically pleasing as Dragon Age: Origins; both games being three years old. Faces are very simplistic and inexpressive, lacking any real characterisation. Animations are clunky and unrealistic, with characters waddling around the map and certainly not wielding their weapons with great conviction.
Even the game world comes across as simplistic and shallow. There is little depth of detail in the surroundings you encounter, and so much of the game seems like the same old caves and forests. There isn’t enough variety and creativity in the locations. The game just doesn’t look like one that has come so late in the current console generation, it seems immediately dated, which is magnified by the fact that the whole game suffers from text that appears too small to read on-screen; a problem that dogged many games that appeared early on in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3′s life cycle. This isn’t a game that will suck you in with luscious visuals.
SOUND: The music and sound design does a little to rescue matters, as the score is a nice blend of different musical influences, which draws on the diverse subject matter of the game. Different themes distinguish the different elements that make up the game, and the mood and atmosphere is set effectively by changes in this music. Sound effects might not stand out as special, but also do a good job of setting the scene; especially of warning the player about incoming dangers.
However, the quality of the sound takes a steep dive when we approach the speech in the game. Hampered severely by the previously-mentioned poor script, few of the voice actors really come away from the title having made a good impression. The terrible dialogue is, more often than not, delivered with so little verve or enthusiasm that the player won’t really care about what is being said. When the voice talent do deliver the words with more zest, what they are saying is too often just not suitable for a serious fantasy game; maybe it would be more at home in a teen movie.
GAMEPLAY: Unlike many popular RPGs, players won’t start the game with the choice to customise their avatar or choose a combat class, everyone plays as the pre-set hero, an unnamed man who was the star of the first game also. You will gain their version of XP, known as Glory Points, for fighting monsters, solving quests and completing certain actions that show you in a good light. Gain enough of these, and you will be able to apply them to one of your skill trees; such as Blades, Toughness or Cunning, which then inform further attributes further down the tree.
For instance, improving your Cunning will then also improve all of the related attributes, such as lock-picking and persuasion. Picking up special items and equipping certain clothes or accessories will also add buffs to these skills, without the need to level them up. To further improve, there are many NPC characters scattered around who will offer to train you up in certain areas; in exchange for gold of course. Unfortunately gold is hard to come by in the game when you are still at a low level so players will find themselves having to grind through a lot of the early missions with quite low stats, before they can build up enough money to improve their levels enough to access the harder missions and skills. The fact that the missions are all quite tedious, and also have so little variety, just makes these earlier missions even more of a pain.
Being set in a pirate theme, the sequel introduces guns, which were not present in the first Risen game, but this does mean that bows and crossbows are sadly left out; the re-design of the game world from that of fantasy to the pirate-inspired world has meant that the design team decided bows and arrows didn’t fit in any more. The same is true of shields. The combat is, unfortunately, a little shallow, becoming just a hack and slash affair, with only one attack button and the lock on button; which acts as a block too. There is little to no variety in your attacks, unless you change weapons, and as such the fights all seem rather monotonous and unsatisfying.
This is further underlined by the fact that there is no feedback or resistance when fighting, your slashes and shots all feel empty and you don’t get the excitement of something such as Devil May Cry, for example, where attacks will knock enemies all over the screen, and the fights are dynamic events. In Risen 2 though, it is all a bit drab, low-key and lacks any sense of excitement, unfortunately. Magic is replaced by Voodoo in the game, but it functions in much the same way as magic did in the first title and whilst this does liven up fights a little once you have learned Voodoo, it is still not very rewarding to use, and you don’t have the tactile feeling that you should have when attacking enemies.
A good advancement over the predecessor is the fact that you have quite a free reign over the order in which you access missions. You travel between the main islands in the game in a certain order, but once on a certain island, that entire place is loaded up and you can tackle whatever missions or side-quests in that area in the order you would like, more or less, with no more loading screens. This makes the exploring of the maps seem quite organic, and you aren’t slowed down every five minutes by a loading screen. That said, when you do hit a loading screen, they do take an awfully long time, which can be frustrating, but the two aspects balance each other out. Also, a downside to having freedom like this means that by completing some side missions early on, you might actually block of some later ones and on a few occasions some quests become unavailable if you proceed in a certain order, so you won’t be able to complete all the missions you want to, and might miss out on some important pick-ups or loot. However, unless you had been looking at the quest list in advance, you probably wouldn’t notice you had missed these.
LONGEVITY: The game is pretty big, that must be said. There are a lot of core quests, side quests and even mini-games to keep the player busy for a long time if they choose to be a completionist. There isn’t any multiplayer modes to try out though, and once you have played through the story once there would be few reasons to play it through again as everything goes down in a fairly linear way, with limited outcomes, but what is present in a single play-through is quite a weighty experience.
The gaming experience is made longer as early in the game earning money takes a long time, so the opening acts are stretched out a little as you try to raise funds for certain objectives and to buy training, weapons and upgrades. Add to that the obligatory Achievements or Trophies, which aren’t handed out cheaply, and this game could last you a long time if you persevered with it.
VERDICT: Risen 2 unfortunately just doesn’t do enough right to justify re-visiting the world of the Inquisition and the Titans. The story has been crafted in a poor manner with badly thought out dialogue and not enough likeable characters; but at least it can be said that it is an original mix. Visually the game just won’t match up to modern expectations for a game of the genre and immediately make the title unappealing to look at.
Those who liked the game world and the mix of cultural influences from the first Risen game might like to step back into that world, but sadly newcomers will probably be left a little confused by the odd mix. There is a lot to do, some deep customisation and role-playing options in regards to upgrades and skills and lots of questing to venture forth on, but unfortunately the fact remains that only the most enthusiastic RPG gamers should apply for this one.