Platform: PC / PS3 / Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PC
Risen 2 is an Action Roleplaying sequel from Piranha Bites. It attempts to improve and expand upon certain gameplay concepts already established in the first part of this game’s series.
Anyone familiar with Piranha Bites will be aware of the studio’s previous games from the Gothic series. It's a somewhat obscure series of games that not every gamer may know about due to smaller marketing campaigns and a possible niche appeal.
The games feature one of the very few dense RPG experiences, set in a quasi-medieval setting with a heavy story focus on faction alignment, and a broad skill set which your character can explore and switch from.
I would say the contender to this series would be the Two Worlds series created by Reality Pump. The feel of Gothic / Risen and the Two Worlds series is very similar, mostly in gameplay, setting and story development, although they are vastly different when considering their own merits.
Risen 2 starts directly after the end of the first game. The protagonist is still known as a “Nameless Hero”, however this time around sports pirate-like attire. Working for the Inquisition, our hero is appointed the task of collecting Titan artefacts in the hope of destroying a Kraken monster that has been summoned by the evil Titan goddess, Mara.
To complete this task, our hero has to become a fully-fledged pirate, with his own crew, ship, rum, treasure maps (and shovel!) and, chosen, even their own parrot!
The game starts off introducing you to the story and important characters you're going to be dealing with for the rest of the game. Story fluidity is adequate enough that if you're unaware of the first game’s story, it blends at a decent pace so that you are not too disorientated. However, you do miss out on a lot of the overall lore from the previous game.
The game puts the player through two islands that act as a very brutal tutorial. If you follow the general path to your objective, you should have no problems. However, due to the nature of the game design, any detour can have the you exploring ruined temples full of monsters that will outclass you in combat, causing a very fast and early death.
This form of non-linear design is very well done, as you do not feel like your hand is being held or forced in any particular direction. Risen 2 is very traditional in that it doesn't mark the objectives on your map accurately, so as to force you to seek out their location.
This sort of game design is reminiscent of the old RPG experiences from 20 years ago like the Baldur’s Gate series, Wasteland, Ultima series and early Fallout series. Piranha Bites have tried to make the exploration gameplay easier for the player through a fast travel system that cuts down exploration time significantly and alleviates the monotony of some quests.
Like the first game, Risen 2 gives the player a choice of three factions to side with; Independent swash buckling Pirates, the regimented militant Inquisition and the Voodoo tribes which inhabit most of the islands. Siding with certain factions will change the outcome of how certain major events play out as well as opening choices in training for skillsets the player can choose from.
Speaking of skillsets, Risen 2 has attempted to simplify the point allocation system by governing skills in 5 distinct categories called “Talents” such as; Blades, Gunsmith, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo. As you kill enemies, you gain “Glory” which acts as XP (Experience Points), which you can then invest into your talents. Each talent has a sub-category of skill talents which affect how well you fight with certain sword types, gun types and or how good you are at pickpocketing and negotiating etc.
To learn more skills and further the power of each sub-category of skill, you can pay gold to trainers, eat certain herbs with permanent stat boosting effects or wear certain items of clothing or weaponry of which bolster the effectiveness of skill you focus on.
I didn’t feel forced into siding with a faction, nor did I feel I had to invest my points into a certain talent skill tree. Risen 2, much like it's quest system and general exploration, tries not to push you in any sort of direction, so character development is completely up to the player.
I played and completed this game before a major patch was released, so the next issue of which I’m about to mention still exists, but has become fixed somewhat; that issue is the combat system.
The combat system in the first Risen game wasn’t exactly anything to write home about, however it was ambitious in trying to give the player a feeling of one-on-one intensity with an opponent. With Risen 2, the combat system has been improved somewhat with the responsiveness of counter-attacks, parry and other skills you can utilise during combat.
However, the biggest gripe was the lack of blocking with animal encounters. Like I said, before the patch this was a huge issue and still is to an extent. An animal that attacks you can literally get infinite hits at you, backing you into a corner until you die. It is one of the cheapest forms of death you can find in this game. For example, alligators and gorillas are so cheap that it’s literally a matter of dousing yourself with health items mid-fight to be able to survive these encounters. The only time they become easy is when you’re reaching the end of the game with legendary equipment, which kill these animals in a few hits.
Overall, the combat is still very flimsy and unlike Bruce Lee’s water metaphor quote of the fluidity of combat and human nature, Risen 2’s combat feels more like a flailing damp cloth than a flowing flexible combat system. In the game’s defense, there are variable fighting standards to choose from.
Another major issue in the PC version of this game is purely technical and graphical. Grass/shrubbery/vegetation will grow and disappear before your very eyes dependent on how close or far you walk over to it. Some of the characters will start flying up in the air, sitting down whilst eating some bread whilst the guard beside them (when questioned about it) will constantly say in a spam-like fashion “Nothing I can do!” – How quaint!
You can sprint for infinite distances if you constantly draw your sword and sheathe it – so those who are looking to cheat in this game should try that! Also for comedy relief moments, unsheathing and sheathing your sword in front of an NPC can get them to spam the same phrases in an endless – you can probably make a Skrillex song out of them!
Voice acting overall is decent, though nothing amazing. It’s a very campy setting, pirate games aren’t really known for their Shakespearean performances or etiquette, so it’s easily forgivable. The cursing in the game seems a bit overboard at points – although nothing which detracts from the overall performance.
The game attempts to open up as you obtain your own ship. When this happens, you can travel to certain islands to pursue the main objectives in the storyline and side-quests. This is when the linear nature of the game hits hard. You're not really allowed to travel anywhere other than where the map dictates you should go. So the game can be summed up as several locations you’re allowed to go with the illusion that your ship is taking you there.
Quests are generally varied but do become monotonous. The worst quests are any fetch “10 of something” quest. For example, later in the game you have to collect a number of driftwood to create a raft. I missed a piece of driftwood and was forced to scour the beach for about 20 minutes looking for this one piece I had missed. I even went as far as to go to the official forums to hear similar complaints about the same problem. The map, as I said before, does not help you in your pursuit of a quest, so it becomes a pixel hunt but on grander proportions.
Although there aren’t that many places to explore, they are well designed, albeit lacking variety. However, contextually for a pirate game they feel right; Jungles feel dense and full of life (although they contain vegetation with a mind of its own now and then!), town communities feel very favela-like and the voodoo tribal communities bring a life of their own.
There are no major cities to explore, which is slightly disappointing, however I always felt the Gothic and Risen series were more realistic about civilization sizes as opposed to boisterous overpopulated and overwhelming fantasy cities.
Generally a fun, slightly addicting, campy pirate romp, plagued with technical issues and game mechanics that nod to the old ways of gaming that may seem outdated for some or less kind to your casual gamer. Risen’s weakness is still it’s combat but, like the technical aspect of the game, it’s ambitious and is something which I'm sure will be improved upon in future games from the company.