Piranha Bytes kind of has a reputation for releasing RPGs that are on one hand masterfully ambitious, but on the other hand, painfully annoying. The two hands go “hand-in-hand” so to speak, and you’ll have to forgive me for overextending that metaphor. The interesting flourishes and unexpected game design elements are betrayed by often rickety production values which tend to detract from the overall playability of the games. But at the end of day, we’re usually still left with titles that are still relatively enjoyable, and somehow even memorable, like Gothic and its sequels, as well as Risen.
Which brings us to Risen 2: Dark Waters. In many ways, Risen marked the clear beginning of a move away from the dedicated, hardcore RPG market into something more amenable to those with less sharpened dungeon-crawling skills. Risen 2 pretty much completes this journey.
Going into the game I was dead-set on investing myself in the story, but after a few hours I literally lost the plot and stopped caring. The 17th-century Caribbean setting went from intriguing to tiring, and the tireless reverting to tried and tested Hollywood pirate tropes began to grate my nerves.
Right, I don’t feel like writing any more about the setting and story. Suffice to say they are both sadly lacking and disappointing, and I wasn’t even expecting all that much. Fortunately these things don’t necessarily make or break a game, and I can think of a few modern classics that were loved despite failing in these areas. Sadly, Risen 2 is not quite destined to join their ranks, although the gameplay is at least a step up from the aforementioned shortcomings.
The third-person combat is nothing new, but in its defence, it works and is moderately enjoyable. Sword fighting consists of slashing, blocking and parrying, while marksmanship requires you to keep your aiming reticule firmly on your designated target. What results is a combat system that, despite being ultimately inane, is somehow engaging. It’s a bit like getting caught in a stare, or drifting off in thought – before you know it, time has passed and you are somehow left with a vague sense of satisfaction.
One of Risen 2’s strong points is the character progression, which manages to be both compelling as well as surprisingly unique. There are some genuinely interesting character skills, with one of my personal favourites being throwing salt in your enemies’ eyes! There are various different gameplay styles, from weilding powerful rifles, to sword combat and of course magic; the spectrum is sufficiently broad.
Structurally, the game is similar to pretty much every action RPG you have played before. There are story quests and side quests, and they are there in abundance. As you progress through the game, you unlock new areas, with more difficult enemies, and, of course, greater rewards. While this method has its advantages, it also prevents you from feeling like you’re part of a larger, unified world.
The game’s tone is at face value quite light and almost cartoony, so it comes as a bit of a surprise when brightly rendered NPCs tell you to f*** off. There is a degree of humour injected for good measure, but it’s not done well enough to really count as one of the game’s strengths.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is available on PC right now. You can grab it on Steam right now if you’d rather not lift your ass off your chair to visit a nearby physical retailer. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are presently due for release in August of this year.