Risen 2: Dark Waters Review
It has been a while since an RPG has offered me a setting that alone has made me want to play the game. Risen 2 is about pirates, it’s an RPG and you can sail the seven seas on a swashbuckling quest, sounds amazing, right? Well…
Risen 2 continues on from the events that unfolded in the game’s predecessor, with a world turned into what appears to be the Caribbean thanks to titans ravaging the landscape. You play as ‘Nameless Hero‘, a uniquely named member of the Inquisition who is tasked with becoming a pirate to stop some sort of evil from unleashing its wrath. The plot never really grabbed me and I think that was partly due to its poor pacing and cliché story mechanics, the likes of which I have seen in a vast majority of other RPG’s before it. What didn’t help was its one dimensional cast, who at times just felt like they were nothing more than the archetypical party member I’ve seen 100 times before. Old No Name doesn’t even have a hint of personality outside of the ‘reluctant, witty hero’ stereotype, and his main crew member, Patty, just follows in the footsteps of every wisecracking love interest I’ve ever seen, but with less dialogue and more one liners.
The story is almost always explicitly told through dialogue during plot-centric quest lines, which tended to just divulge the large chunks of new information and send you on your way to the next quest. I actually ended up finding more out from the pirates and inhabitants than I did from my own captain. Which in some ways I actually embraced, as using gameplay and my own exploration to find things out was actually very rewarding; nice save Piranha Bytes!
When the story isn’t being told through dialogue, it’s being told through cut scenes. These were actually quite rare and only occurred at major points, which is thankful since they were often filled with really awkward animations and sound that either didn’t fit, or was just missing altogether. One cutscene tried to go the dramatic route but I ended up just laughing it off due to the fact that no one showed actual emotion during or after the scene.
If there is one thing that Piranha Bytes got right it’s definitely the immersion. I actually felt like I was a pirate whilst playing the game and kudos since that is actually quite hard to do when the plot has pretty much been cast overboard. This really ties in well with the various NPC’s settled around the various islands who actually felt like they were doing what they should be; pirates swore and acted like uncouth pillagers, whores acted seductive, natives were untrusting and acted hostile and gnomes were…uhm…strange.
Exploration is definitely a major crux of the game, with everything feeling rather open and basically urging me to go check it out. I must have spent quite a few hours just walking around the islands to get a feel and then started going on quests at my own pace. This was a very liberating experience considering I originally expected a straight set path and not much divergence. Ruins and caves seemed to be hidden and just finding them felt rewarding, with the treasure compensating for that – another nice touch.
However combat is where everything falls flat on its face. For the most part of the game combat feels very sluggish, with a major emphasis on realism that the clunky controls really don’t accommodate for. Your primary attack for the majority of the adventure will be your sword; square button attacks and L1 blocks. Sadly really limiting because a lot of the fighting just came down to the old ‘hit square repeatedly and hope you don’t die‘ trick. You later can do extra things like parry, kick and riposte, but it often costs a lot of money to gain a skill, and believe me, money is not at all abundant.
The other problem with the combat is something called stunlock, okay this is where you get knocked back slightly after being hit and are unable to counter whilst they attack you. This never really became much of a problem with human enemies, but it was downright frustrating with the beasts the game throws at you. Some enemies would be just unbearable, even more so in large numbers due to the fact they could keep spamming attacks at you, leaving you unable to do anything. These were often unblockable and the absence of a dodge move made things frustrating. Most of the time I just found myself either running to NPC’s who would help me, or trying to climb to a place where I couldn’t get hit, which is really unrewarding gameplay. Yes you can have your crew mates join you in battle at times, but even they encountered the same problems hindering me.
There were times that I nearly gave up playing due to large groups of enemies I had to fight, which even on the easiest difficulty (believe me, you will end up reverting to this) felt nigh on impossible, due to a barrage of constant projectiles and multiple attacks from each side.
The combat does open up a bit later in the game, by which time you are actually able to survive by running around the enemies, waiting for your pistol to reload so you can shoot. However before then it could be unbearable and I can imagine it might put off a lot of prospective players. The majority of the game I felt like I was just avoiding enemies or getting others to do my dirty work, which is not the way anyone wants to fight. You will find yourself in need of healing often, this was done via booze (which restored health immediately) or provisions such as food, that made your health regenerate to a certain point.
Being an RPG your character is upgraded via ‘Glory’, which serves as another word for experience points. Saving large amounts of this glory allowed for various kinds of stat boosts. You, however, can not gain new skills this way, this instead is done via NPC’s who train you in various skills. This shouldn’t have been a problem and it does make sense, but the amount of gold it cost to do something like ‘sneak’ was ridiculous, often costing over 1000 gold just for a skill. Gold is not infinite throughout the land, with the main quest often requiring large amounts to progress through it, a factor that really stopped me from learning vital skills until later in the game.
There were a lot of cool pirate theme gameplay elements that I did embrace, such as treasure hunting (complete with a red X), your own pirate ship and crew and wait for it; a pet monkey. The latter being the coolest thing in the entire game, well you can have parrots too, but everyone knows monkeys are much cooler. Your pirate crew can be helpful, at times indispensable for distracting enemies, but often I noticed odd little bugs with them such as disappearing acts, watching whilst I die and best of all, levitating above me. These got me mad in difficult parts of the game when I really did need the assistance.
There is potential for re-playability but it only really amounts to one of the two key decisions you make early on. Considering the game was 40 hours, the majority being rather tedious and the other being side quests, I doubt anyone will actually do this outside of masochism or platinuming the game (which are both technically the same thing anyway).
Bugs and glitches seem to plague this game as well, making it seem like it was ported with as little care as possible. The most glaring problems are the graphical glitches, with the scenery popping up right in front of the player and often just disappearing altogether, whilst it didn’t affect gameplay it did serve to wind me up as I grew ever more flustered with the game’s rubbish combat and plot. The other massive hindrances are the framerate and screen tearing issues. Camera movement was slow and jagged, often taking forever to pan around the scenery which really didn’t help in a skirmish, where the camera was a bloody nuisance anyway. Framerate would often fluctuate and dip during scenes with more than four people, which just seemed laughable to me for a next gen game.
Risen 2 looks very shoddy for a 2012 release, with character models and textures looking like they had just come out of last gen. Again, this was just another ignorable nuisance for the player but only served to add to the growing list of complaints. Lighting on the other hand was actually pretty effective; sunshine made the beaches look golden and tombs felt gloomy with nothing but the dim glow from a nearby torch. Aesthetically speaking the actual character models had some detail to them, with natives wearing large bone necklaces (badly rendered ones mind) and inquisition footsoldiers clad in colourful jackets adorned with multiple badges.
Sound design for the game was pretty top notch considering all other aspects of the game’s presentation seemed to be buried at the bottom of the ocean. The score was more than fitting giving that exotic feel in the right moments and a more menacing tone when things were getting dark, with everything playing at what seemed like the correct moment.
Voice acting is excellent, mostly voiced by the British, featuring a bevy of regional accents that really helped to convey the excellent piratey tone the game had set already. Often or not, I was pretty wowed by the fact a pirate actually sounded like a pirate and a boozed up drunkard on the street actually sounded like the typical bunch of drunkards I see out in town on a Saturday night, which overall made everything even more believable.
There were some odd bugs with the sound though, I would occasionally notice that the backing music had gone awry or hear odd crumpling noises occuring for no reason, breaking the immersion at times. This followed suit with dialogue, as people would be speaking and nothing would be coming out of the speakers, which really made me clutch onto the subtitles for guidance.
To summarise; Risen 2 is mediocre, for every good point there is at least one bad point to follow and that really lets the game down. I don’t actually know if I should be frustrated or not with Piranha Bytes, since the game actually has a lot of potential but is just hindered by way too many poorly designed core mechanics, such as combat and its multitude of bugs. RPG fans in general might not find what they’re looking for here, but those just looking for a decent pirate adventure to get into may find the X that marks the spot right here, you just need to cross a treacherous ocean to find it.