Risen 2: Dark Waters review (PC)

In Piranha Bytes’ Risen 2, you play the same (essentially nameless) protagonist from the first game, but that’s all the two games really have in common.

Newcomers to the franchise shouldn’t feel intimidated by the 2 in the title; playing Risen 2 requires no knowledge of or experience with the first game, as the stories are largely unrelated. Some of Risen’s past events are mentioned in the story, but it’s mostly secondary to the more pressing issue of a gigantic sea monster.

A refreshing break from the typical faeries/elves/goblins/dragons affair, in Risen 2 you get to play a drunken, vulgar and unapologetic pirate. After waking up from a rum-soaked sleep, you learn that a restless tentacle-monster is destroying ships on sight, and you’re tasked with the job of finding an ancient artifact capable of killing the Kraken. Sound familiar? I spent most of the game hoping Keira Knightley would show up, or at the very least Johnny Depp in make-up.

Despite the somewhat shallow and clichéd premise, the story is entertaining enough to move things along. Most of the game’s depth comes from its dedication to the pirate theme – Piranha Bytes pulls no punches here, characters are crude, violent and full of inventive profanity. There’s no room for moral dilemmas – if you’re the kind-hearted Good Samaritan in your RPGs you may want to look elsewhere. To get anywhere in Risen 2 you’re going to have to fight, steal and drink your way to the top.

There isn’t much in the way of free exploration and side quests; the game moves you along a fairly linear track and you won’t often be given the opportunity or incentive to deviate from the path set out by the story.

Risen 2

The game is actually quite funny, and you stumble upon some really peculiar and interesting characters during your journeys. The dialogue is entertaining in an extremely offensive and insulting kind of way; almost all of the game’s humour is at the expense of others. Piranha Bytes have included the ability to talk to almost everyone, so chatty types will have plenty to do.

One gripe with the characters is the awful, robotic movements they make when they talk. You can see Piranha Bytes actually took the time to create sets of actions here, since the movements match what the characters are saying, but it is so comically awful to watch that it really takes away from the realism otherwise provided.

Despite the awkward character movements, graphically the rest of the game is gorgeous. The developers have gone to great lengths to create rich, lush environments which make exploring the tropical islands and caves immersive and engaging. Unfortunately, the environments become somewhat monotonous after a while. All of the islands you visit (with a couple of exceptions) look pretty much the same, so unlocking new areas loses a lot of its attraction.

The graphics are complemented by a very respectable sound board and a surprisingly good score. The music adds a lot to the atmosphere, often successfully scaling up the feeling of epicness in battle. The voice acting was also very good, with a wide variety of personalities and accents across the game. Unfortunately, the excellent voice acts were somewhat marred by the distraction of the aforementioned exaggerated movements.

Risen 2

The loot system is pretty straightforward and the inventory interface is simple to use. You get to search for loot in cool, piratey ways such as digging up buried treasure, and if you explore an ominous looking cave you can be almost certain there’s a well-guarded chest sitting at the end of it. The inclusion of legendary items gives treasure-hunting a certain allure, but these special items aren’t as powerful as I’d like them to be – but at least they aren’t game-breaking.

There is no choice of different characters, and skill development is a very freeform affair. Typical of RPGs, as the game progresses you can acquire new abilities and proficiencies. However, in a break from the usual trend, these aren’t miraculously learned with a leveling system, but done by paying various trainers to teach you new skills.

It’s a fresh take on an old system, but it does have its flaws. For example, it’s dependent on you actually finding the trainer you want/need, which isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. Your character’s skill development may end up being based on availability as opposed to preference, which isn’t ideal.

Skills are divided into three loose categories: swords, muskets and voodoo, which represents the magic/sorcery aspect of RPGs we’re accustomed to. Unfortunately, not all skill sets are equal and investing your gold into the wrong skills can hamstring your character later in the game.

Voodoo is particularly underdeveloped; you can use spells to assist you in combat, but a dedicated magic character just isn’t realistic. Swords are alright, but can be terrible against certain types of enemies, while guns are the most boring to use but can deal devastating damage from long distances. With the lack of different classes and a skill development system which usually ends with you having a mixture of abilities, there isn’t much reason to play the game a second time, hurting the longevity a little.

Risen 2

The shaky skill system dovetails with very poorly developed combat. Swordfights against human opponents can be entertaining, with the opportunity to parry and counter-attack making the battle fun and complex. This contrasts poorly to monsters, which mostly involves you banging them on the head until they die.

Muskets are powerful, but take a long time to reload and aren’t very fun to use. Voodoo has some interesting effects, such as causing two monsters to fight each other, but it’s ultimately more amusing than effective. These vastly differing experiences result in a very capricious combat experience, something Piranha Bytes’ games have struggled with in the past.

Overall, Risen 2 is a decent game. The pirate theme is fun and refreshing, the environments are vast and beautiful and the vulgar style is humourous and fits with the well-executed theme. The game doesn’t ask a lot of you, with an accessible interface and structure and a fairly linear path of progression.

Unfortunately, in true pirate fashion, the game is lacking polish. The messy combat and unreliable and potentially unforgiving character development system can hurt the experience and the game can at times be somewhat glitchy. That said, if yer a scurvy dog or you can pick this up on a special, you likely won’t be disappointed.

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Risen 2: Dark Waters review (PC)

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