Risen 2 Review
Risen 2: Dark Waters proves that RPG developers can be a fickle lot. Once they stray from convention and offer twists on standard gameplay, they often venture into interesting territory. When relying on tired mechanics like a crutch, however, they stagnate.
That seems to be the case with Risen 2: Dark Waters, sequel to the 2009 original. It’s ambitious – you can certainly give it that. But its problem is it stays far too safe in some areas and far too complicated in others for its own good.
Risen 2 strives to deliver something we haven’t quite seen before: an open-world pirate RPG that tempts players with the allure of a fully-realised swashbuckling fantasy.
But then it clamps down like a bear trap on the hearts of those who get sucked in and realise this actually isn’t at all what they thought it would be.
For the sake of keeping up appearances, though, Risen 2 serves up a great introduction: the unnamed hero – a member of the Spanish Inquisition – is tasked with exterminating the sea monsters that have been threatening the safety of ships and merchants around Port Caldera.
You’re off to search for the pirate Steelbeard in order to find a way to destroy the beasts, and along the way face droves of monsters that need a good felling.
You’re rushed along into combat after a blink-then-you’ll-miss-it tutorial – combat is full of mindless hacking and slashing peppered with misses, frustrating hit detection, and plenty of reasons to put down the mouse and walk away.
He looks much more like he’s frolicking, doesn’t he? Risen 2’s combat isn’t an area of play that would inspire that feeling.
Demolishing the beasts of Caldera simply never feels as satisfying or as essential to success as Risen 2’s role-playing brethren. Instead, it’s much more like a chore.
Earning experience points (or Glory points in pirate talk) is confusing and often frustrating to figure out on your own – which you will, as the game isn’t keen on holding your hand throughout. The common RPG staple of grinding alone isn’t enough to raise a formidable pirate avatar.
Strategic usage and spending of Glory points is required to ensure even the most basic of all pirating skills are covered: lock-picking, cunning, and what-have-you.
But that’s not all. You also need gold to spend in order to attain certain skills, which isn’t always so readily available. You need gold for skills, but you need skills to obtain goals. It’s a vicious circle that usually isn’t very fun trying to break.
Not only do you need gold and Glory, but specific coaches to help you attain the skills necessary to own this particular pirate quest. And when you need to choose between what’s going to make you money and what’s going to keep you safe, it’s not always easy to make the smarter decision.
Therein lies a frustrating conundrum, and not one few will see through to the end. When combat is mindless and repetitive as it is, you aren’t exactly compelled to press on.
At the very least you’re allowed quite the assortment of swords, rapiers, and sabers in addition to – infinitely more useful – firearms. No matter which path you choose when it comes to developing a formidable attack party, a melee weapon is always available.
Colors pop and coastal visuals occasionally awe. Unfortunately, Risen 2 loses its “aim” in many crucial areas.
Firearms like muskets and the like are usually limited to one shot, though administer a healthy dose of damage to anyone unlucky enough to stand in your way.
“Dirty trick” items are also an option, though usually reserved for those who decide to spend points maturing their Cunning attributes. They can range anywhere from ravenous parrots to coconuts that can be tossed at an enemy, which lends an interesting Captain Jack Sparrow lilt to an otherwise mundane repertoire.
It’s an intriguing side path for anyone who’s simply not interested in blowing heads off and/or stabbing enemies, and a worthwhile development path tailored to a very specific play style.
Risen 2’s problems are compounded further by the fact that the narrative isn’t exactly the stuff of legend. Character development is essentially non-existent, with back stories and personalities so wooden it’s unlikely you’ll care about any of them.
And if the first run-in with acquaintances whose painfully exaggerated gestures haven’t put you off yet, you’ll soon be puzzling over Risen 2’s core mechanics. And it doesn’t help that your main goal to complete over the life of the game is, essentially, a fetch quest.
Failing the conventional RPG trappings that Risen 2 relies so heavily on, the narrative keeps the rest of the game afloat long enough for you to decide whether or not you want to see this pirating adventure through to the end.
You do all those “piratey” things that’d make a landlubber blush. There’s intrigue. Plenty of coastal locations are occasionally a treat for the eyes when you aren’t forced to explore closed-in dungeons and underground caverns.
The creatures are fairly unique – no giant spiders here.
There’s even a “sexy pirate” companion, which is par for the course for these kinds of games, and plenty of great scripted dialogue that furthers the illusion that you’re playing your favourite pirate movie.
But stilted presentation, muted visuals, muddy textures, and over-used combat dialogue combined with a combat system that just isn’t remarkable in any way, shape or form doesn’t exactly an epic pirate adventure make.
There was much that could have been accomplished here, and at times you catch a small glimpse of greatness. There’s plenty of content to dig into, also, if you’re more worried about simply having something to do.
With a bit more polish and care, Piranha Bytes could have unearthed buried treasure. But it’s possible the developer could have missed the big red “X” that was scrawled on the map its RPG forefathers.