Risen 2: Dark Waters review
With the bar of western RPGs set almost insurmountably high by the likes of Skyrim, Witcher and Diablo, it’s easy to begin a new experience expecting the same level of depth, polish and innovation. So when sitting down to play an RPG like Risen 2: Dark Waters, a pirate-themed follow up to 2009’s Risen, you would do well to see past any shortcomings. A player should endeavour to rise above nit-picking at the bugs and lack of polish; if you enjoy the experience then the game is a success. Often though, a book can be judged by its cover and a game with bad presentation is also bad at its core.
Where to begin? The fact that the start of this privateering epic showed so much promise makes its failure a bitter pill to swallow. The eternally ablaze coastal fortress of the Caldera where our hero begins his journey does a splendid job of merging high-fantasy Tolkien with swashbuckling Stevenson into a believable, yet grandiose location. The dishevelled, drunken form of the disgraced lieutenant we will be responsible for also piques the player’s interest as he quarrels with his subordinate. However, straight away the cracks appear. The animations and voices are stiff and unnatural. The sight of a galleon being sunk by an unknown sea monster should be terrifying, but borders on hilarious and slapstick. The improbable meeting with a companion from our hero’s past is unbelievable in a bad way, and the plot shuffles us off to the next stop on our stories progress like it just couldn’t be bothered. Even when reaching the first island, dozens of annoying bugs rear their heads. From enemies who simply circle you without attacking to ambient voices that loop and start over mid sentence, everything seems rushed and half finished, as if the protests of the QA staff fell on deaf ears.
Risen bills itself as an RPG, but the role-playing elements are sorely lacking. Two methods exist to allow your character to progress. The first is a glory stat that functions like experience, allowing you to spend accrued glory to increase an attribute point. The second is simply gold. You will find yourself paying a small fortune to various miscreants moonlighting as “trainers” to establish even the most basic techniques. Money isn’t exactly overflowing in the early part of the game either, so when some drunken sod asks me to pony up 500g of my hard earned cash to learn how to merely kick things, I turned away in disgust. Even the prisoner that wants you to steal back his lost equipment won’t tell you how he wants you to go about this for less than a grand. All this was being asked of me at a time when I could barely afford a decent shirt.
The other RPG tropes are all here. Branching conversations range from dull to downright confusing and is littered with so many out of context swear words it ends up feeling juvenile. Saying a certain things could land you in a fight without provocation, whilst other options may lead off into a conversation about something you’ve not even heard of yet. The ability to intimidate or persuade are present within the speech options, but can’t even be attempted until you’ve paid some layabout to tell you how to lie properly. Materials can be gathered for esoteric crafting purposes, but will most likely be sold to pay for the skills to actually do anything with them. Meat can be gathered and cooked, but provisions are so forthcoming there seems little point. It’s a long line of poorly implemented RPG check boxes which adds little to the overall experience.
We’ve established that you won’t be upgrading any of your melee skills for the first few hours of the game, so you can imagine what the combat’s going to be like. Button mashing the attack command will stun most early unarmed opponents in an infinite hit animation loop, meaning the only challenging fights are against multiple assailants. The difficulty here can ramp up sharply as they perform the exact same technique on you, meaning some combat encounters boil down to landing a few hits before running away. Armed foes are more entertaining; requiring the player to parry and wait for an opening to strike, but it’s still lacklustre. Firearms are fickle creatures (in line with the setting perhaps) which are satisfying when they work. It’s always fun to pull a gun in a knife fight, but they do not save an ultimately uninspired combat system.
There is very little positive to say about this game. The voice acting is passable and if you’re desperate to play a pirate themed game, you may get a kick out of the atmosphere. The voodoo magic system offers some interesting diversions as well, but overall this is a poorly conceived experience that lacks polish. As with so many other games from lesser known studios, the bad animation, dated graphics and choppy frame rate could all be overlooked if the core experience is fun, but sadly there’s nothing of any substance to be found here. Avoid.