Developers – Piranha Bytes, Wizarbox
Publisher – Deep Silver
Platforms – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Risen 2: Dark Waters does everything that you could want or expect from a pirate RPG and in a genre mostly flooded with the prefix “MMO”, it is nice to encounter a different, more pure RPG experience for a change. However, in creating a game that fabulously excels as an RPG specifically, Piranha Bytes seem to have neglected other areas of the game and left it wanting in several aspects. This has resulted in Risen 2 being a game that seems expansive and innovative in one light and dull and repetitive in another and depending what you want from this game, it may enthral or disappoint.
Personally, I was enthralled.
You see, as a great lover of story and narrative, Risen 2 was exactly what I was looking for; nothing in Risen 2 is left unjustified or unexplored … if you are willing to sink enough time into the game. Even the reason for the hero losing his powers and weapons, ever a problem in sequels, is not only explained rather well, but even forms one of many narrative threads that run throughout the game and effects your choices later on.
But only if you want it to.
Mixed in with the clever narrative is a choice system that makes a lot more in-game sense than your average good-versus-bad morality system. Instead of basing it off morality, the choice system is based off people. So instead of judging your every action and then changing you and the world around you based off a good vs. bad slider, Risen 2 will allow you to treat a NPC as badly or nicely as you want, but will then adjust your relationship with that NPC accordingly. For example, when I challenged a guard for a duel over his bandanna (as you do), he wasn’t pleased when I ran off at the point when it looked like I wasn’t going to win. Seeing as it was me who threatened his life in the first place, this seemed perfectly justified. Consequently, the next time I walked past him, not expecting any response because I hadn’t initiated any conversation with him (or stabbed him), he not only turned around and attacked me but got all his nearby friends to do the same. However, when I walked past other guards who hadn’t been involved they didn’t attack me because I had been unfriendly to another guard earlier, owing to the fact that in the game world they had no reason or chance to get involved. If this was Fable I would have been attacked by every guard in every town from that point onwards, but Risen 2 has been a lot better executed than that, raising the bar in this respect at least.
On other points though, it is not at all what I would want from a game.
For instance, if you want to do well in Risen 2 then you will need to grind, A LOT. In of itself I would not mind this – I can deal with the odd grind-orientated game and even enjoy it if the game is geared up in such a direction. The problem with Risen 2 is that it is not, in any way, built to accommodate grinding as a fun or enjoyable experience.
For a start, the fighting system is poor and involves the mindless mashing of a single key in order to attack with your sword, while limiting other essential weapons (like your gun) to use only when the game feels like letting you use them. This led to many frustrating battles that could have been ended quickly but dragged on and on, only to reward me with stupidly little amounts of treasure and glory (experience points) at the end. At one point I was fighting armoured crabs and forked out 500 gold (a considerable amount) for a kicking skill that would allow me to knock the crabs onto their backs so I could attack their unarmoured underbellies. Unfortunately, I discovered that Risen 2 did not approve of me having this skill and so after losing four or so battles with these monsters I had to give up on the creatures.
As well as this, the fighting animations are remarkably shoddy for something that you spend almost all of your in-game time staring at – in fact, I am certain that not once when watching the finisher moves did I ever see my character’s weapon actually touch an enemy’s body as he delivered a fatal slash.
Also, those mobs you have to grind against in order to get enough gold and glory to progress, you know those vital elements of gameplay?
They don’t re-spawn.
As a result, another large chunk of time has to be spent trekking across vast swathes of jungle in order to find that one warthog you didn’t kill just so you can afford more bullets for your gun that doesn’t fire half the time. Maybe the team behind Risen 2 were going for realism in this respect, but in actuality all this has lead to is tedium.
Don’t despair though, because despite the terrible grinding and fighting system I still feel happy in standing by my earlier statement that Risen 2 enthralled me!
You see, while if you come to Risen 2 for the fighting you would be wasting your time, the story (and the gameplay features that support it) more than compensate – especially if you are looking for a good RPG. The story centres around The Nameless Hero who has become a hopeless drunk in the Inquisition, the army and police force of the world of Risen 2. Given a new lease on life by the offer of an undercover mission as a pirate to try and gain access to a weapon that can defeat the Titans trying to ravage what little remains of the Inquisition’s empire, he sets off on his mission. Starting as a lowly errand boy he gradually works his way towards a pirate crew of his own.
Sounds simple enough, right?
The genius of Risen 2 is that it will never tell you this or any other information upfront, which while sounding a bit odd at first, works really well. The only way that you can learn anything is by talking and listening to other characters, many of whom are unwilling to speak without a few favours being done for them first. This results in the game forcing you to really engage with it and play it out as your character in the way that best suits you. This does mean that if you are impatient and skip conversations and cutscenes you won’t have a clue where to go for your next quest, never mind why you have to go there, but if you do take the time to listen then you will be drawn ever deeper in as you try to puzzle out just what is going on.
At the end of the day, if you are looking to roleplay and roleplay properly in a game, then this is the ideal game for you; providing you are willing to grit your teeth through the grinding and try to understand the clever, but often puzzling plot. If you are alternately looking for an action-filled, fast and fluid fighting game, then maybe you would be better off waiting for the next LEGO: Pirates of the Caribbean game to be released!
To every RPG fan out there Risen 2 is a game I can heartily recommend, but to everyone else you should probably keep well away.