by Zack Reese,
After having spent a good amount of time plumbing the depths of the original Risen, I felt that even despite some of its faults when it ambitioned to be the next great Fantasy RPG, there was still a lot of unique potential to be had. Conventional as it may have been, I enjoyed getting wrapped around the well-realized world, and in Risen 2: Dark Waters, small developer Piranha Bytes looks to fix a lot of the issues that the first game had while offering up a captivating experience that only being a Pirate can truly offer.
Much like the first game, Risen 2 is heavily based upon the ancient Greek mythos. Many years ago, the titans used to roam the earth. Alas, the tension had reached a boiling point, and eventually they found themselves consumed in a global war. The gods saw them fighting and decided to banish and imprisoned them for their actions. They knew that when the time came where they roamed again, the world would entire into a time of utter destruction.
Playing the same character from the first Risen, the no-name protagonist is a member of the Inquisition who has become an alcoholic after the events following his prior adventure. After waking up in the middle of the night on the island of Caldera, I bear witness to the mighty sea creature Kraken who has been destroying the ships that are trying to navigate the trecherous seas. In order to deal with this giant beast, the commandant sends me on a mission to find a legendary weapon that is said to have the power to kill it once and for all. Rumor has it that an infamous pirate named Captain Steelbeard has the weapon in his possession, so after being dishonorably discharged by the Inquisition, I have been sent to infiltrate and blend in with the pirates in order to learn how to go about acquiring this tool. From there, our real story begins.
In typical RPG fashion, every enemy you defeat and every quest you finish nets you experience points. however, in this game, they are called "glory", and after you get so much glory, you can increase your attributes, such as your aptitude using certain weapons and ability to negotiate with others. in order to learn new skills, you have to train with different teachers after you have met the base requirements for each skill, which includes having a certain number of weapons, gold, and sometimes even a prerequisite skill.
It is very simple in layout and leaves me rather disappointed because there is no real depth to it like there are in some other games in the genre, though I guess having to seek out training for skills sounds better than simply clicking a button to learn a new skill. however, it can be real annoying knowing that you can't level up an attribute until you hunt around for enough gold to cover the unusual "cost" of an attribute, especially after I had spent most of my money on food and clothing.
The clothes you wear and the weapons you carry also affect your attributes in different ways. I don't know how elegant shoes improve your silver tongue, or black trousers make you appear more intimidating, but they do.
Combat is simple and intuitive. draw your weapon using the middle mouse button. strike with the left mouse button, and parry with the right. much like Witcher 2, you'll be clicking that left button for all it is worth. However, unlocking new combat moves and use tactical directions for your shipmates will help break up the repetition. In the inventory menu, you can even assign items to the scroll wheel for emergency health regeneration.
By default, there is also a slow motion moment when you defeat the last enemy in the area. However, this doesn't include some fancy kill animation or anything, so you will basically see yourself finishing a normal slice, so I quickly turned it off in the options to avoid the interruption in the game's flow.
It would be nice to have a camera lock on feature by default. The only way you can accomplish this is by blocking an enemy's move, where the camera will then The character already auto aims, so frequently having to rotate the camera around manually just to look at whatever the hell I am swinging my sword at can get annoying and sometimes deadly. Heck, having a button solely dedicated to swinging the camera behind you would be quite welcome.
Navigating around the world can either be a real pleasure or a bit of hassle because this game is gigantic - at one point, I had gotten myself completely lost in the jungle and wound up on the opposite side of a fort by accident. Quests are navigated in a rather odd nested tree layout, where you must click on a quest name, then a main objective, then read the note attached to find out what you should be doing. it isn't the most graceful of layouts, but at least it allows you to narrow down what you news to be doing, and even set map markers and read the quest dialogue if you need to jog your memory a bit.
You can even set map markers to a town's various merchants and teachers so you can get to where you need to go at a nice click. However, it would be nice to at least have a mini map instead of always having to bring up the Sea Chart to see if I am going in the brought direction. Setting a map map marker and not being able to at least see it on my compass is unnecessarily tedious.
Just like The Witcher 2, Risen 2 does not require that aggressive of a machine in order for it to run well and look pretty. When you first obtain a map of a new area you can fast travel anywhere you've been previously so long as its a milestone, even if you are indoors. it is also instant, no load times at all. Unfortunately, on many occasions, I would appear before the buildings and foilage had a chance to. Even with the graphical settings on Ultra, the game still lacked a certain degree of polish and depth. At times, I felt like I was playing an Unreal Engine 3 game - texture pop-ins were a very frequent occurance, and every few feet, trees would either appear out of nowhere or bloom from the ground up. Needless to say, I couldn't get through this game without wincing whenever it happened.
I am sure by the time that the game does come out, the developers would have fixed a lot of the graphical and draw distance issues that are plaguing the game. On a more positive note, Risen 2 still looks as drop dead gorgeous from when I first saw it last year, and I found myself sitting back and just enjoying the view in front of me. This is compounded upon by the excellent sound design, especially the environmental effects, which are amazing on my home theatre set. Everything from the roaring storm to the birds chirping to the sound of a fierce battle are really well done and radically improves upon the game's atmosphere. And even despite the fact there are no celebrity voices this time around to help give the game a sort of credence, the voice acting is solid enough and fits the world well enough to help keep things engrossing.
One of the more goofy problems of the game is the fact that conversations only seem to trigger when you are in the vicinity. Walking forward to and away from a certain area stops and resumes the last price of dialogue. I suppose in retrospect, at least you won't be missing any conversations, but it is pretty ridiculous and makes you think that the two are just waiting, looking at you from the corner of their eye and mumbling to themselves as you walk away, "Gosh, I hope he didn't miss my emotional outburst just now. just in case, I'll repeat it again when he gets closer." Characters also seem to love to use their hands and arms a lot when they talk much like chickens or something, and at times even repeat the same animation as they do so, This can be pretty distracting and completely breaks the normal flow of conversation you would expect people to have.
Faces also look rather janky in some respects. They look stretched, their mouths move in a puppet-like manner, and some even look like they just ate a lemon with their cheeks all sucked in. The bottom line is that they just lack in any sense of facial definition, and there appears to be very little effort put into the actual lip synching. I don't know if this is due to language differences as Piranha Bytes is a German studio. I guess I am a bit spoiled because of games like The Witcher 2 that did a great job in giving each of its character individual facial features, but I hope it is something that will either be improved upon, but is far more likely something I will just have to get used to and chalk it up to the artist's unique portrayal, much like the Fable series.
Speaking of which, the daily routine of the different citizens that inhabit the world of Risen 2 appear to still need a little bit of work in order to make them appear more realistic. Because conversations only trigger when you are around for them to happen, sometimes you will find a bed to sleep on when the guards walk in to ask what you doing in the house. After I had slept into the next day and gotten up, the guard was still hovering near me saying I looked suspicious. If you are awake to witness the day/night cycle of the game, typically you will see the guards going about their business, then heading to supper followed by bed. However, if you sleep until midnight instead, only when you wake up does that trigger the script for them to start walking to their beds. Sometimes the guards just up and leave their post for slumber out of the clear blue even when it is mid-day.
There is a weird consistency in other cases as well, especially when it comes to behavior. In one moment of my time with the game, I had just freed a prisoner who was important to the people protecting the town. Right after I had done so, I was stopped by the tower guard. After we had exchanged aggresive words with one another, I proceeded to get into a fight with him where I quickly knocked him out. With the prisoner still standing next to me, I helped him up, and after giving me a wishy-washy "Aww shucks, now why did ya do dat?", he immediately forgot the whole thing. On the other hand, if you get involved with a normal citizen and knock him out, a yellow label that says "Offended" appears over their heads and they will refuse to speak with you, let alone do business with you if they are a merchant. I guess guards find it easier it forgive you than someone who gets mighty upset if you even set one foot inside their homes.
Also, the game does not have any sort of "rest" feature, so you have to either find provisions or the aforementioned bed to sleep on in order to regain health. Fortunately, it appears that guards only get uppity when you try to steal something; they're perfectly fine with an absolute stranger, a pirate at that, sleeping in their beds.
There are moments where there is a sequence break in the quest, especially if I talk to people out of order. This makes it difficult to track the order of events in your Quest menu. This can get a little confusing when the game at times does not compensate when I do kill something before I was tasked to or find a specific person hiding in the jungle when I was supposed to talk to these two people first. Other times, however, the game is ahead of me and knows when to bring up the conversation piece that I did do what the person wanted me to do already, so it may be down to simple bugs.
Let me make it clear that what I played is the beta version of the game after all, and we are still a couple months out from the game's official release. I have a lot of faith in Piranha Bytes to fix a lot of the rough issues I have faced during my time with the Risen 2 preview build, because even with a few of the technical faults, there is still a lot of game to be had here and a lot to be excited about for those looking to fulfill their Pirate fantasies. Heck, I hadn't even gotten to the point in the game where you got your own parrot and crew to control. Expect plenty of booty plumbing, jokes about obsessive rum drinking, and a smorgasbord of eye patches when the game arrives in the last week of April when we will have our full review. If you would like to learn more about what the game will have to offer, you can check out my Roundtable Q&A session I did with the producer of the game back in August.