Before we dive into the story of Risen 2, let me start by saying that for those of you whom have not played the original, the whole game can be pretty much covered by the following sentence: a truly lackluster experience riddled with bugs and glitches but made better by an absolutely incredible story. Developer Piranha Bytes (awesome name) looks to remedy the first part by augmenting the second with a brand new game that looks to blow the hell out of the very fabric of the western RPG asthetic.
You play as the recent winner of the Tom Cruise lookalike contest, otherwise known as the returning hero from the first game. Only this time, he is a broken down man who suffers from a case of cynicism and alcoholism - think John McClane from Die Hard 3. After having taken down the Inquisitor in the first game, Risen 2 starts off 10 years after the events of that time period. The vanguard city of Caldera is under siege by the Titans, and the city has called upon their greatest hero (aka you) to take care of the sea creatures that threaten to destroy their trade ships that carry their means of sustenance in this crazy world. Thus begins ARRRRRRR swashbuckling adventure! (see what I did there?)
Throughout the game, the protagonist will grow from a simple kind of man with a sword to a pirate captain with a mighty vessel filled with a crew of hardy lads and lasses, including a Navigator to help lead your around the archipelago of islands that is the make up of the world. You won't be able to move the ship around yourself, but that's not really the direction the developers were going for, was it? A pirate captain never steers their own ship - they are too busy barking orders, pillaging villages, and jumping on whores! (I hope that's in the game)
Now, the crew will change its composition throughout the course of the game based on the actions and decisions the player makes. Piss off one of the pirate factions sailing the seas, and one of its members may not feel so inclined to join your crew. The idea is that by the end of the adventure, the player will have amassed a melting pot of crewmembers that each have their own unique story to tell of how they got on that ship. A unique feature of the game is that it allows the player to bring along one of their crewmembers as a sort of companion on shore during a mission or for exploration. Their function is a very simple one; they will support our hero as much as they can with whatever ability they can muster, but if they get knocked down when the odds are against the pair, things will get ugly pretty quickly. Your companions will also embody different archetypes, such as a marksman, a healer, and so on.
The weaponry and skills have also seen a much-welcomed exponential change. The developers wanted to go for a much more authentic pirate-y feel for the game's design, so they have thrown away the shield and in its place have given the player the ability to hold pistols, shotguns, shotguns, muskeys with bayonets,bombs, powder kegs, and even sand to throw in the eyes of the enemy. Each weapon has a melee function if you need to CQC your ass out of those tight situations. The combat itself is full of swordplay, with parries and counters coming into heavy use. You can even use your trusty parrot to distract an enemy before ramming your sword into their necks.
It goes without saying that the developers of Risen 2 heard all the complaints that their first game received and quickly set to work completely overhauling each and every single issue that they could find that fans had problems with. Even the guy demoing the game for us admitted that even they thought that the "characters looked like shit" along with the animations and graphics. Instead of suffering from bland and muddy environments, the living, breathable world is bursting with vibrant colors, big bright skies, deep oceans, and and extremely lush vegetation thanks to the inclusion of tone mapping that makes everything pop. The game even includes dynamic lighting, weather, and creeping shadows.
Everything in the world is also hand-crafted and hand-placed - no random generation, no cookie-cutter dungeons. The world's citizens even follow their own day/night cycle of getting up in the morning, go to work, come home at night, and hit the sack. Don't feel left out, however - any job you see people doing, you can pretty much do yourself.
One of the big problems that the original game was that it had a very shoddy console release, and that was due to the fact that Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes had decided only 6 months before the release of the original Risen to go ahead and make an Xbox 360 version, which lead to a whole mess of bugs and glitches that weren't ironed out before its release - the game wasn't even fully adapted as the HUD seemed squished in the middle of the screen. It was clear to gamers everywhere that Risen was simply never meant or should have been released on the console.
To make up for their mistakes, they started development of Risen 2 with a parallel path for all three systems (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) to ensure that they would meet the high quality standard they wanted for the title, and that the gameplay and the visuals were the same across all platforms. That also means that none of the features will be cut for any of the systems for a seamless experience. With a longer tutorial at the beginning to cover a longer exposition, you also will not need to have played the original at all in order to jump into the sequel.
From what I saw at E3 2011, Risen 2 is vastly superior to the original in every way shape and form, and the visuals hopefully help elevate the game to the top tier of the genre where it should have been before. Wrap it all up with a completely open world with zero invisible walls and load times, 40-60 hours of game time, and over 250,000 words of dialogue, and this title is looking mighty compelling. With a release not scheduled until the first half of 2012, that also leaves the developers plenty of time to check out the release of games like Elder Scrolls V and learn what else they can stand out from the pack. Any true western RPG fan worth their salt would do best to keep an eye out for this promising title.