Features & News

Hands On: Risen 2: Dark Waters

March 7, 2012, Author: Michael Charge

When people talk about Western RPGs, most people think about Bethesda and their free roaming worlds or Bioware and their expansive stories. What most people don’t think of is what Germany has been turning out, in the form the of the Gothic series.

Unfortunately, the development team behind those games, Piranha Bytes, no longer work on them. Instead they are now working on Risen, a new series of German RPGs. Risen came out in 2009 and now a pirate-themed sequel is almost out. I managed to get a look at a preview build and it’s an interesting title to play.

This was a preview build so some things may be tweaked before release.

Risen 2 is set in the same world of the original. You play the Nameless Hero, a member of the Inquisition, charged with protecting the innocent and fighting the titans; the old gods currently coming back to life after the events of the first game. After being awoken from a drunken stupor inside an Inquisition fortress, you head off to help the crew of a ship wrecked out in the bay, where the only survivor is Patty, one of the main characters from the first game.

Through her, you learn about a way of destroying the Titans but in order to get it you must sign up with Steelbeard, pirate king, enemy of the Titans and Patty’s Dad. Because of this, your commander orders you to leave the Inquisition and head off to Ticaragua to link up with Steelbeard and hunt down the weapon. The plot seems really interesting and it really captured my imagination when I was playing through it.

Voodoo Priestess? Check.

As it’s a German RPG, Risen 2 doesn’t hold your hand very much, or at all. In fact, it’ll probably take your hand and set it on fire. Apart from the occasional prompt for sleeping or some other on-screen items, the game tells you next to nothing. In fact, if you haven’t played many traditional RPGs, the game will appear to have a horrible interface. More importantly, it doesn’t guide you through much of the levelling system or skills. This meant I spent half the time playing trying to find out how to improve my skills or locate quest items.

Worse, the game itself is damn hard. All of your upgrades require stupid amounts of gold in order to improve your skills, which means you spend the first part of the game fighting against enemies that can pull off moves you can only dream about.

One of your early objectives is to get a bandana back from one of the guards. In order to do this, you have to challenge him to a duel. However, you can only either attack or defend while he can kick you, power attack you, break your defence or simply throw sand in your eyes. This makes it almost impossible to do, leading to the main quest sitting in your to do list for ages, even if you’ve done everything else. I found it hard to gain enough cash to upgrade one skill to the point where it’s useful. It promises to make the game last a very long time, at least.

That said though, Risen 2 does a lot of things right. Nearly all the various quests have multiple ways of solving them, ranging from punching a guard to just bribing him to get what you want. It nice to see a game be so open to you; it gives you a toolbox of ways to solve a problem. In fact, solving puzzles seems a major point of the game making it feel more like an adventure game rather than the collection of stats and maths that other games soon turn into once you start picking up the loot. This is more about finding ways to solve your problems.

Nobody expects the Inquistion! Also nobody expects them to have guns

I do also like the combat system, once you’ve unlocked some skills. It makes combat look and feel like something from the Pirates of the Caribbean, with a mixture of sword play and gun-fighting in a single fight. It is also challenging, making the fights long, tense affairs, especially when you are up against another human. I decided to focus mainly on guns and so by the end of the preview I was running around with a musket that I could kill most things from a long-range. The game does also include a form of magic in the shape of voodoo, but in my playthrough I didn’t have the chance to try it out.

Risen 2 is a beautiful game as well. It isn’t full-on photorealistic but the lightning effects can very dramatic, dabbing light across the jungle floor and creating some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. Character models are also full of detail, although some of their animation can be a little off, especially when the conversations turn into an arm waving contest where everyone waves their arms the same way. The music ties in with the onscreen action and set the scene just right. The voice acting, though, changes between excellent in the case of the main character to rather less than perfect for some of the incidental characters.

I enjoyed this little preview of Piranha Bytes latest and I must say it has piqued my interest in the full game. This is a story RPG you can happily sit down and play for hours, and it doesn’t just rip off the Skyrim model. If you want a game featuring pirates or the desire to buckle some swash, Risen 2 might be worth your time when it comes out this year in April.