The original Risen released during what felt like, for me at least, a busy period for medieval, swords and sorcery action RPG games. While not in direct competition with the behemoth that was Oblivion, it was caught up within a crop of games that seemed to all have been green-lit with its success in mind. With conflicting reviews and a crowded market to contend with, Risen’s sales were moderate. With that in mind, Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes have taken the series in a rather different direction, ditching the dragons and dungeons in favour of pirates and… well, dungeons.
You’re introduced to the returning protagonist by way of a short tutorial section set within the opening area of Caldera. Now a broken drunk, the Nameless Hero heads out on a mission to fight a new Titan, a type of terrible monster that players of the original will be familiar with. This time though, he’s forced to go undercover and masquerade as a pirate in an effort to find a weapon that can save the Inquisition.
Unfortunately, the excitement of this premise is forgotten quite early on. The first few islands you visit, semi-open world areas which feel extremely penned in, are clogged with fetch quests and grinding. It’s really not what I expected – I wanted a sense of exploration, even if it was on small-ish islands. Instead of open exploration where the limits are suggested rather than forced, Risen 2: Dark Waters sets up very strict difficulty barriers. On the first island there’s a jungle area in which a quest dwells. Four deadly savages need to be killed, so says the NPC you just spoke to. Unfortunately, there’s no hope of you being skilled enough with your blade to defeat them by the time you reach their spawn area. In order to allow you to progress the designers have had to fit in a safe passage that goes around the quest. There’s a chance that in a more open game this wouldn’t come across as muddled as it does, but in the tight play areas offered by Risen 2 you’re left staring at the walls wondering where all the exploration went.
Cue extremely tedious quick saving. You’ll frequently find yourself forced into strategies that trick the AI rather than engaging in any exciting battles. The simplistic fighting system, however it might develop over the game’s course, doesn’t help matters. Whether swiping your sword or firing your weapon it constantly feels like you are on cool down. There’s no urgency to the hero’s actions, even Risen 2’s protagonist appears bored by the pointless requests he is obligated to satisfy for those around him.
Things don’t improve on the second island. Although the game’s voodoo based magic system is introduced you are tasked with another chunk of generic quests. Perhaps I was spoiled by Skyrim but by any comparison these missions are bland. I don’t really want to find five-hundred gold to buy a bunch of clothing for a prisoner. I don’t really want to trudge through painfully bad voice-acting to try and coax NPCs into collecting water. What I really want to do is create a bad pirate and wreak havoc across the seven seas! I am extremely confident that Blackbeard never had to kill six termites to collect bags of sugar.
Blackbeard would have made you walk the plank for even suggesting it.
That’s sort of what I felt like I’d done with Risen 2. The promising visuals, the under-used setting and well edited gameplay videos made me desperately keen to get playing. It was a real shame that what I encountered when I took the plunge was a bland trek – a game that offered me no motivation or reason to keep playing. If it achieves anything, it’s that it gives a fair representation of pirate life. Arduous, hard and unfair.
You could commend the game for the volume of content, but the majority that I played was filler rather than killer. For returning players there might be some curiosity regarding the series’ hero, and the new Titan, but for any newcomer tempted by the promise of pirates the disappointment will quickly set in. This will be a game that people will end up picking up as part of a Steam sale, and lay unplayed in their library. There’s no gold in this chest. Argh.