Published on April 24th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
Risen 2: Dark Waters Review
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: April 27, 2012 (PC), July 31, 2012 (Consoles)
MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (Consoles)
Review Notes: GAMINGtruth was provided a game token for review purposes.
Risen 2 begins not long after the conclusion of the first at the port of Caldera. After the harrowing battle against the Fire Titan, the nameless hero has become a shell of his former self. Turning to alcohol, he passes the days getting drunk, being a poor excuse for an Inquisition soldier, and just general faffing about. His life of rum guzzling is cut short as the sea Titan Mara destroys a passing ship, leaving only one survivor, Patty, an old acquaintance of the hero from the first Risen. She soon explains in the saltiest manner possible that she had left her home in search of her father, the famous pirate Captain Steelbeard.
The shambling remains of the Inquisition quickly hatch a plan for the hero to hunt down and destroy Mara. They need four powerful artifacts that, when combined, can be used to destroy the sea Titan once and for all. Patty reveals that her father may have one, but no self respecting pirate would be caught near an Inquisition soldier. So in order to kill Mara, the hero must leave his cushy lifestyle and enter the swashbuckling life of a pirate as an Inquisition spy.
The player isn’t given the option of choosing a character class. You are tasked to build their own pirate by earning Glory, experience points granted by completing quests and fulfilling tasks, and upgrading one of five attributes: Blades, Firearms, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo. Blades gives the player’s sabers and rapiers more bite by upping attack power. Firearms does the same as blades but with boomsticks instead. The hero only has 100 points of health, called Blood for some reason, so this is where Toughness comes into play; the more points in hardened, the less amount of damage the the player will receive. Toughness also expands some conversations by increasing the player’s ability to use the Intimidate option. Cunning is needed to open locked chests and doors, as well as expand the conversation by increasing the Silver Tongue option, the goody two-shoes version of Intimidate. It also adds points to the Dirty Tricks skill and allows you to pickpocket. Voodoo is the magic of Risen 2 and putting points towards it grants the player a better grasp of the dark arts.
About a third of the way into the game the player becomes the captain of his or her own ship, the Black Betty (bam-a-lam). For those dreaming of sailing the open oceans freely, keep dreaming. The Black Betty (bam-a-lam) is merely a vehicle to cart your pirate ass from one port to the next, and besides the scenic clips of the ship leaving and entering port, there really isn’t much else to it. No, most of your time will be spent on land with the rest of the lubbers, running through jungles, temples and caves. I wish there was some actual variety with the ships. Every ship in the game is the exact same. Every one. There is absolutely no difference between the Black Betty (bam-a-lam) and that of another ship. There was a moment in the game that Patty called out a different ship, and the sound of her voice made me believe for a moment that it was a unique vessel. No, it was the same as every other ship, inside and out. The cook was different though. Well, as different as Piranha could make him; his hair was black, not gray, though he was voiced by the same voice actor and displays the same mannerisms.
Going through the game I noticed that the story seemed to lose focus here and there. Though the hero is supposed to be an Inquisition spy, it seemed as though he was embracing the idea of being a full-time pirate more and more. Not only that, but there was no obligation to report to the Inquisition brass about any recent developments. The whole game seems to have this lazy sort of feel, and though the Inquisition leaders made it clear about the importance of defeating Mara, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a rush to get things done. The game is marketed at being non-linear, but that really just boils down to having three paths to travel before reaching the final goal. At times players will be presented with a choice in how to complete certain important missions.
The game boasts that for every decision there will be a consequence. This is true, there are consequences to choices, but don’t expect those choices to impact the end result of the game. As an example, in one early mission you have to chase down the pirate Crow who has one of the four artifacts in his possession. You have the option of either joining with the local natives, who are aiding Crow, to take him down, or siding with the Inquisition, who have a base in the same area. Choosing with the natives means you are able to help the daughter of the chief save her father’s life by making him realize the error in siding with Crow. Or you can go with the Inquisition and use their overwhelming firepower to kill all resistance, the chief and his protectors included. No matter what you choose, the ending is still basically the same. Ultimately you are there to take down Crow and retrieve the artifact. The consequences of joining one side or the other really doesn’t change the course of the game. It all boils down to the player’s conscience and whatever moral implication they may have. That’s really about it.
This wouldn’t be a true pirate adventure without some good old treasure hunting, and there is plenty of it here. From buried chests to hidden ruins, Risen 2 doesn’t skimp on this favorite pirate pastime. On occasion, players will run across treasure maps that, once activated, will put an inviting red X where the hidden goods are buried. All one needs is a handy shovel, and the treasure can be dug out of the ground to have its precious contents perused. Treasure chests can yield any number of shiny objects such as jewels, weaponry, or coin. On the rarest of occasions a chest may yield a part of a weapon schematic that can set the player on a side quest to complete the schematic and create one of several legendary weapons. Throughout my 27-hour adventure I was only able to complete one schematic, but the reward was worth it when I pulled a powerful blade from the forge.
Other than treasure, you can hunt for Legendary Items of, um, legend, that you learn about by reading story books scattered around the game. Each book gives you a clue to where you can find one of the hidden treasures. When discovered, Legendary Items will permanently increase one of your skills by a numerical amount. For example, from the screenshot below, I discovered a flask that increased my Dirty Tricks skill by 10 points. Finding all the items will make the difference between fostering a wimpy scallywag or a true pirate lord.
Combat consists of sword fighting, guns and voodoo spells. The fighting engine reminded me a bit of Assassin’s Creed, where you’re able to keep up a constant defense. Holding the right mouse button, the character deflects any physical attack thrown his way. Sword fighting is primitive at first, but later you can learn skills from NPC masters. As your attributes gain higher levels more complicated combat moves can be learned. Some of these moves include a kick that can break an opponent’s defense and push him back and a charged attack which deals a great amount of damage than the standard attack. Parrying can also be learned and, with good timing, the riposte skill compliments the parry with a quick jab at the defenseless foe. Guns are the most powerful form of offense at your disposal, but their power comes at a price of limited defense.
Along with standard combat techniques is a skill called Dirty Tricks, which allows the player to gain the upper hand in a fight using more dishonest methods. A Dirty Trick weapon fills the Left Hand slot in the Inventory screen. Any number of items can fill that slot including, but not limited to, coconuts, which can daze an opponent when hit, sand, which can temporarily blind him, throwing daggers, and pistols. For most gamers that slot will be filled by a pistol. Though slow in reloading, pistols can quickly shift a battle in the player’s favor by dealing a large amount of damage to the enemy.
Voodoo is the magic used in Risen 2. I didn’t dwell too much into voodoo but, for those of you interested, it and mostly deals with the manipulation of enemies. Using hexed totems both animals and humans alike can be mind controlled to fight for your side. Items such as rings and amulets can be enchanted with character buffs at any of the multiple grotesque voodoo altars in the game.
The combat isn’t bad but isn’t particularly thrilling. Battles, for me, were broken down as being too easy or too damn frustrating. There exist plenty of enemies that attack so quickly I wasn’t able to counter-attack and was force to retreat, munching down provisions as quickly as I could force them down my character’s throat. A lot of the times I had to revert to the run away, shoot, run away, tactic, to the point where combat simply became an inconvenience; something to slow me down on my way to finishing a quest. Some may end up enjoying the combat, but there wasn’t enough thought put into the design of it. If you create a combat system that would cause people to try and avoid it, then it needs to be fixed.
One of the reasons the combat can become too easy is the result of traveling with companions. At times you are able to travel around an area with a companion, they can either be crew mates or a person you need to complete a quest. Companions are often more powerful than your character, which makes them great partners in tough battles, and they’re also immortal, which means you can abuse them. At times I’ve found myself in a battle that I know I couldn’t win, but luckily I had my companion with me. Companions do have a health meter and can be knocked unconscious, but when that happens you can simply run away from the fight, and once far enough away you can turn back and as you draw near your companion will rise again and resume the fight. I’ve won many difficult battles with this tactic and thanks to the fact that you gain full Glory points from battles your companions win, it’s easy to beef up your hero without drawing your sword.
Most of the game takes place on land. You are able to take your hero around port towns, through thick jungles, onto sandy beaches, and into dark caves and temples. A majority of the areas either take place on continents or islands. Most of the areas are fairly good sized and it could take I would have liked some sort of sailing option in Risen 2. After all, what’s the fun of being a pirate when all you do is run around on land? Developer Piranha Bytes missed an opportunity in allowing players to test their mettle in intense ship to ship battles. Before I got the Betty, I imagined being able to take over other boats and plunder to my heart’s content. Alas, my dreams were shattered by more grounded reality.
You can take a break from questing at any time with certain activities. As I said above, treasure hunting and plundering are always going to be good times. You can also learn how to craft weapons such as pistols, muskets and swords from any of the master smiths found during your travels. Or you can just go get hammered, like a true pirate. Drinking contests come along with one or two goals. Sometimes a pirate will challenge you with some information or treasure map on the line, or you may have to pit your liver against another’s in order to get information to help with a quest. Or, if you’re feeling especially bored one day, you can talk to someone who will help you train a parrot or monkey to do your bidding. You are also able to wait until dark and break into houses (not hard as they don’t believe in doors) or store houses and rifle through some drawers and chests for gold or other goodies.
The graphics would look impressive around, oh, 10 years ago. Character models are low quality, animations are unpolished, and though my computer gladly runs Crysis 2 on high settings at 30 frames per second, Risen 2 would normally run at 30 with frequent dips hitting as low as 20 frames. Lip-syncing is is practically nonexistent and tree textures pop in and float around to distracting levels. However, the game does boast a nice lighting engine and rich colors that enhance the environment to levels that nearly make up for the previous issues. Nearly. Really though, the lighting is more like a shiny coat of gloss on an old house. It makes it look better, sure, but it doesn’t disguise the reality that it simply doesn’t hold up to any of the new dwellings on the block.
The audio is just about as basic as the graphics. From the clanking of clashing swords to the blast of a powder rifle, most of the sound effects are fairly typical. I was surprised by the quality of some of the voice acting. Most of the characters are your usual raspy-voiced pirate stereotypes, but the main character is fairly decent. On the flip side however, most of the characters you’re bound to meet will start sounding the same. Once I spoke to several characters in a row, each one I swore was being voiced by the same guy with the only difference of one sounding raspier than the other.
Players can recruit members and they often join up for their own particular reasons. I wish that the designers put a little more work into the characters of Risen 2. It’s not that most of them are bad, but the fact that most of them feel so uninspired, their motives vapid. In RPGs I like getting to know the characters that travel by my character’s side. Interacting with another character and understanding a little about his or her world, to me, is one of the joys of an RPG that does interaction right. Take the Mass Effect series for example. The games wouldn’t be the same without being able to talk to your crew and get to know them personally. Because of this I really didn’t care much for many of the characters I ran across. I had no connection to them; they were just allies helping me reach my goal.
Understanding other characters in a game such as this is what inserts substance and believability into the game world, creating a universe that the player can become emotionally attached to. Risen 2 just doesn’t cut it in this regard. Most characters are simple constructions, with bland backstories and personalities. Striking a conversation with a crew mate boils down to small talk such as musing on the person’s beliefs or the current situation. One crew member amusingly pondered why he was even there in the first place. I found myself wondering the same thing.
At its core, Risen 2: Dark Waters is a solid role-playing game. However, a muddled story, poor characters, low quality graphics and technical issues prevent the game from reaching its peers, let alone stand above them. The game isn’t bad and does provide some enjoyable moments.
For everyone else, though, Risen 2 doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, nor does it provide much bang for the buck. Ultimately, Piranha Bytes just didn’t invest enough time into polishing the game. If they took more time to iron out all the small issues and flesh out the story or characters more then the game would have shined. But that’s just not the case. Hardcore RPG fans and followers of anything pirate related may find something to enjoy, but don’t expect to find any rare treasures buried beneath the sands of Risen 2: Dark Waters.
+ Good lighting effects
– Weak combat
– Dull story
– 2-dimensional characters