Risen 2: Dark Waters Review

Risen 2 gives you the opportunity to explore a pirate world full of bizarre creatures and personalities. In fact, the world that it offers is absolutely fabulous brimming with various natural elements. Despite the excellently crafted world, the fundamental gameplay components and its odd design choices inhibit an experience that could've been so much more. Even so, does Risen 2 deserve your mercy?

Put into the shoes of an unnamed protagonist from the first game, Risen 2 instantly throws you into trouble. An Inquisition settlement is under attack by a sea creature and it's up to you to take it down. The premise is fairly simple as your commander orders you to find mystical weapons that can take the beast down and Patty, your female companion that you find adrift shore, will help you do it. Though it sounds boring, the excitement of adventure is very akin to the Pirates of the Caribbean mood and helps to set the atmosphere right.

Additionally, the characters that you meet feel truly authentic as they live and breath different types of accents. The natives of various islands speak distinctly from the colonists as well as their fashion statements being clearly different. Although not every character is likeable, they all bring something different to the table offering a variety of interactions with your unnamed protagonist. Each locale you visit is set apart from each other and you feel like you don't stay in the same place for too long. This all fits in the tone of adventure that the game tries to create and it's exceptionally well done.

Voodoo magic, oh yeah!
Despite the narrative setting being fantastic, the rest of the game doesn't feel consistent. Littered with poor mechanics and odd systems, Risen 2 often feels bipolar at times. Combat is a random button masher that requires no effort at all. Most of the game's combative encounters are separated into humanoid ones and monsters. While the former is somewhat fun due to the idea of riposting and blocking the latter is absolutely horrendous. It borders on absolute frustration since it requires no strategy.

To complement its horrible combat, the progression system is just as bad. Divided into various categories, you can use your experience points – called Glory – to increase your sword fighting skills, toughness, gunplay and such. It appears to be barebones by itself but it's actually not as leveling up attributes allows you to learn skills that may be locked out because you haven't met the required level. To learn these skills there are various NPCs scattered throughout the various zones in Risen 2 that are willing to teach you as long as you have the proper amount of gold. It's an interesting idea that feels streamlined but at the same time sets it apart from most modern RPGs like Mass Effect.

The problem arises from the two fundamental design choices. Gold is extremely difficult to come by because there are so many uses for it that choosing to buy a skill means that you have to farm for it. This means you have to spend an unnecessary amount of time in a zone just to get that one skill. Secondly, there is no way of backtracking until a certain point in the game. Initially, the game is fairly linear as the story dictates where you go meaning you can't return to the previous area you visited. This is a complicated predicament if you didn't acquire the defense and riposte skills earlier on as there is no way to learn them until you go back to the initial zone. Every encounter afterward means absolute hell and will be a challenge that could've been avoided. Odd design choices like these make for a very cruel experience.

That fire looks a little dangerous...
Even so, the journey itself is somewhat wondrous as the various quests you encounter and accomplish feel meaningful. Due to the interactions with characters and somewhat engaging fetch quests, the world feels more immersive and alive as a result. What you get then is an authentic pirate world that really draws you in to something that not many games can deliver. The conversations that take place feel genuine and the handcrafted experience really shows.

The experience is further enhanced by the audio. With clever dialogue and accents, Risen 2 delivers an exceptional audio experience that matches its cinematic direction. To further complement the voicework done by the cast is the soundtrack. With tribal vibes to local colonial festive songs, the game has an assortment of exotic musical elements.

Along with the game's audio the visual direction of Risen 2 is fantastic. The nature of Risen 2 shines with sunlight as it seeps through the trees and shrubberies littered throughout wildlife. In addition, the artistic design of cities and character outfits bring out that pirate feel. It's disappointing then that the facial and body animations aren't refined to match its environmental polish leading to some awkward cutscenes.

Risen 2 is an odd game filled with elements that don't really match with each other and often times conflict leaving the player wondering whether this was a well-conceptualized game. Odd choices in gameplay as well as a frustrating combat experience can leave you angry at times but the joy that can be had with its narrative and cinematic experience is something that can alleviate said annoyances. If pirates are your thing and you want to have a journey with a bit of hampered gameplay on the way then Risen 2 might be for you.

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