Game Rant’s Jason Weissman reviews Risen 2: Dark Waters
In Risen 2: Dark Waters, German developer Piranha Bytes and publisher Deep Silver bring back The Nameless Hero from the original Risen to battle more Titans threatening the Lost Realm. In this installment, however, the protagonist takes on his foes as an undercover pirate working for The Inquisition, giving players the opportunity to fulfill their island-plundering and swashbuckling dreams.
Does this pirate RPG deserve gamers’ hard earned booty? Read our review to find out.
For those who did not play Risen (like this reviewer), the beginning of The Nameless Hero’s journey is rather vague. There is no exposition as to what previously occurred and certain phenomena are never explained, such as why the hills behind the island city of Caldera are continuously on fire, what exactly is a Titan (other than a reference to the Greek myths), what exactly is the Inquisition (and what is its goals), or why all of these characters with Hispanic surnames are speaking with an English accent? Without the benefit of a back story, the first couple of hours of the narrative drag a bit as it is not completely clear what the hero’s motivation is, or more importantly, why the player should care.
At the outset, players do learn that Mara, a sea Titan, is threatening the inhabitants of Caldera and the rest of the Lost Realm by commanding sea monsters to destroy any ships attempting to deliver supplies to the various ports. The Inquisition believes that several pirate captains have discovered a weapon that could defeat Mara and her forces, so they send The Nameless Hero to the island of Tacarigua to infiltrate their ranks in the hopes of locating the weapon. Once the player spends some time exploring this island, the story begins to take better shape and the hero fully commits to the pirate life by obtaining a ship and the beginnings of a crew. It’s not a particularly complex story, but the mish-mash of reality and mythical concepts is interesting enough to motivate continued play and beckon exploration. Characters are colorful and offer some occasionally humorous dialogue and the quests are varied enough to prevent boredom from sinking in.
Once a ship and crew is obtained, travel between the islands opens up as the Nameless Hero attempts to save the Lost Realm. Just don’t expect any epic ship-to-ship, cannonball-exchanging battles during the journey. At no point is direct control of the ship possible, and the vessel only serves as a portal to reach different destinations. That being said, there are many pirate-like activities to do onshore.
While primarily focusing on exploration and dialogue, Risen 2 offers some different takes on the RPG genre. Initially, the third-person combat may seem quite simple as “X” is the only button used to attack with the primary weapon, which is typically a sword of some kind. As the game progresses, other advanced moves are learned that require timing on the player’s part to pull off. The hero can also equip a firearm or other projectile in his left hand to use in conjunction with a sword. While the guns do more damage than the typical hand-to-hand weapon, they are period-appropriate rudimentary constructs, typically only allowing one or two shots per fight, making the mastery of swordplay all that more crucial. Dirty trick items, such as salt or sand, can also be tossed in the enemy’s eyes, which will allow for a few freebie hits. Often, the Nameless Hero has a NPC companion to assist, which can be helpful since he or she will draw away attacks, but the player will still need to do most of the heavy lifting during combat.
Most enemy types have their own unique fighting style and can be quite challenging at the beginning of the game. Once the Nameless Hero levels up a bit and obtains access to a firearm most battles should not be too difficult if the player pays attention to the attack patterns of each enemy. Even when underpowered, difficult opponents (such as the alligators) can be easily dispatched by simply attacking from a higher vantage point. If enemies outnumber the hero, he can simply run away and lure one out at a time. When not using these tactics, combat was not anywhere near as difficult as say Dark Souls, but button spammers will meet their death early and often as some strategy is required.
Being that this is a pirate game, stocking up on alcohol is actually a plus as it provides instant healing benefits without any of the negative effects. Eating a food provision will also heal the player but does so over a set period of time, which obviously is less useful during a fight.
Player advancement occurs in the form of gaining “Glory” points which then can be used to increase the basic attributes of Blades, Firearms, Toughness, Cunning, and Voodoo (magic). When a level increase occurs, the hero can then pay an NPC to learn a new ability. Because learning new abilities can be quite expensive and gold is rather sparse at times, stealing people’s items is practically a necessity in Risen 2. Since NPCs generally don’t like the hero taking their possessions, he can either wait until nightfall to steal the items or just use physical force. The only real downfall of just waltzing into an NPCs home is that the hero may lose a few Glory points in the process if defeated by the resident. In order to avoid such a humiliating fate, I quickly focused on increasing my Cunning just so I could buy a trained monkey to commit grand larceny on my behalf. For a good laugh, Risen 2 actually has the player assume control of the little monkey while “nicking” everything in sight. Similarly, the Voodoo ability also allows the hero to take over key NPCs via a voodoo doll.
The game soundtrack is one of Risen 2‘s high watermarks, primarily consisting of a world music vibe that features the flamenco guitar. It never became grating despite continually playing in the background and changed dynamically to accentuate moments such as a battle.
Visually, Risen 2 uses a colorful palette, which is expected for a game that takes place mainly in tropical island settings. While the art style has a whimsical and more cartoonish styling than other modern RPGs, it feels appropriate for the subject matter. I actually found it more pleasant to view than say, Skyrim, which is graphically superior in every way but rather bland and dark. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Risen 2‘s character animations during dialogue sequences. The movements of the Nameless Hero and any of his conversation partners were so exaggerated that they appeared as if they were performing pantomime. At times, it looked so ridiculous that it almost became endearing over the course of the game. Almost.
Sadly, Risen 2 has its fair share of technical problems as well. As a point of reference, we played the review build with following setup:
- Intel Core i5-2500K @3.30 GHz
- ASUS, P8P67-M PRO Rev 3.0
- Corsair, 8GB (2 x 4GB) XMS3 PC3-10600 DDR3 1333MHz
- EVGA NVIDIA GTX 580
- Intel, 80GB 320 Series SSD, MLC
- Western Digital, 500GB WD Caviar Black (Install Drive)
- Windows 7, 64-Bit Professional Edition
- Samsung PN63C8000 63-Inch 1080p 3D Plasma HDTV
- Wireless Xbox 360 Controller
The game’s visuals, which do not appear to require a high-end rig, suffered from terrible pop-in and other graphical glitches. Trees and fauna would literally grow as the main character approached them and this phenomena had nothing to do with the consumption of rum. At other times, I felt like I had just entered the Matrix or the Animus from Assassin’s Creed as objects in the background would flicker in and out of existence. Bad camera angles during conversations with NPC’s occasionally resulted in looking at the back of my character’s head, or worse, inside of his head. Additionally, jump cuts often occurred when choosing conversation choices from the dialog tree, producing a rather jarring effect.
On the bright side, the game ran at a steady frame rate throughout my playthrough, loading screens were kept to a minimum, and the game engine never caused my PC to crash. Nonetheless, this game is in need of some post-release patch love, which is becoming the norm all too often with PC games.
Unfortunately, there are aspects to Risen 2 that some may find offensive. For example, the race of island people called the Moluccans are often referred to as savages and are enslaved by the Inquisition when captured, which was discomforting. Worse, one of the enemy pirates in the game actually refers to them with the derogatory term “spearchuckers,” which while technically correct in the context of the game (the Moluccans’ primary weapon is a spear), was unnecessary and added nothing to the story. The argument that these examples are merely representative of the time period rings hollow in that the world of Risen 2 has very little connection to our world and is mostly fantasy. There are also a couple of gay jokes in the game as well, so the easily offended may wish to steer clear.
Risen 2 is a RPG that, despite its technical limitations, offers surprisingly addictive gameplay and provides a fun ride for those who are fans of pirate lore. Upon starting the game, I had some serious concerns, but the combat, exploration, and story kept me entertained throughout. It’s not the most polished RPG out there, but Risen 2 is a nice change of pace from standard RPG fare.
Keep in mind that those looking for an experience similar to the role-playing games offered by Bethesda, BioWare, and CD Projekt Red may be disappointed by the game’s visual shortcomings and more straightforward narrative. Still, most fans of old school RPGs will find something to like here.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is out now for the PC. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions will release on July 31, 2012. Game Rant played the PC version for this review.