Note: This review contains adult language a humor. Discretion is advised.
Yarr! Tis’ a pirate RPG finally worth playing – if ye can tear ye’ self away from ye’ rum long enough! Piranha Bytes’ original venture into the world of Risen was met with lukewarm reviews all round. A shoddy port from PC to consoles, the most lucrative market rewarded the German developer with little critical acclaim. Whilst the original game was met with higher esteem on the PC format, it never really got the respect it deserved. Many people complained the quests were drawn out and trivial, with exploration saturating a convoluted and confusing plot. Piranah Byte have struck again with Risen 2, published by Deep Silver. Can this new foray into the volatile waters of the tarnished Risen franchise help to reignite the series? Or will it shiver’ me’ timbers and send us all flocking back into our RPG safe zones?
Titans, a Kraken, the Inquisition, and the Pirates
Rather bizarrely for a pirate adventure, the story pre-text is set around banished titans who were banished to the center of the earth. Unfortunately, these Titans were the only folks keeping an eye on certain sea-monsters: namely, the Kraken. Because of this unfortunate turn of events, the Kraken has been causing issues for both pirate and Inquisition supply ships. You, an unnamed character, find yourself on a small harbor - the last slither of safe land for the Inquisition in the surrounding area. Having watched a Kraken sink a ship off the coast of the Island, your commander tasks you with searching for survivors.
Heading to the beach, you come across a woman named Patty who bears a stark resemblance to Penelope Cruz in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tides. Patty is the daughter of fabled pirate Steelbeard – her ship and crew none other than those caught within the grasp of this mean and ripe sushi dish of death. Nameless and Patty discuss the demise of the other crew, and you quickly scarper back up the stairs and talk about adventures prior.
Your commander tells of a weapon built by the Titans which could be used to kill the Kraken – but there’s a problem, the Inquisition are now too small and weak a force to attain such a tool; you are therefore tasked with gaining the respect and notoriety of a pirate, with view to joining their forces as a spy – albeit with good will – to find and deliver the ancient Titan weapon.
Through conversation, Patty offers you an ulterior motive if you accept her offer as a companion: to look for treasure she and her crew were previously on a voyage to find. Naturally, as a nameless adventurer of sorts, you do not decline and hastily set sail for Tacarigua.
There be a lot of loot in that swear jar
Now you’ve a basic understanding of the story, let’s talk a little bit about what this game is as an RPG, and how it differs from the others. If you’ve ever played a European RPG and compared it to an American one, there are a few subtle but starling differences. Firstly, as with Divinity 2 and both Witcher games respectively, the language used shares a similar, crude, humor. Unafraid of profanity, Risen 2 isn’t too prude to swear like a pirate with yellow fever. If you’re familiar with the games mentioned above, then you’ll fit right in with the storytelling and dynamic of Risen 2. Criticized for lacking ‘emotional depth’, Risen 2 is a fairly apathetic head-dive into the whimsical, crass, and violent world of fantasy sea fairing. American audiences even have their own cover art for retail versions of the game after criticisms from the ESRB over the violent nature.
Finally crawled out of yer’ wanking pit ye’
pig shagging land lubber’?
A 3rd person RPG, Risen 2 shares a similar combat feel to the original Witcher. Hammering the left mouse button to attack – blocking with the right – might sound like no real treat, but with extra combat features such as whipping out a pistol with E button, kicking, throwing or shooting with a rifle combat really opens up.
Swords share different stats, such as stabbing and slashing. Items increase certain stats respectively. You’ll find yourself earning cheeky stat increases by simply paying certain people amounts from, say, 500 to 2000 gold coins. When money is hard to come by, it can be very difficult to increase stats and unlock features this way. Skills like kicking and pick-pocketing aren’t simply granted to you, they must be bought by someone trained in the art. This can be troublesome, since, initially, gold isn’t easy to come by.
Whilst combat isn’t anything to write home about, you really get the impression that Piranah Bytes’ ethos on this was: “combat is integral to any RPG, but this isn’t a combat oriented RPG.” This reigns true in Risen 2, with most tasks conversational. Although getting from A – B invariably costs you a few pints of blood, you won’t find yourself spending long sessions grinding away hordes of enemies. In short: combat is functional, quirky, clean, and visually pleasing. With slow-mo finishers a-la Skyrim and satisfying kicks from the pistols and rifles, with a beautifully rendered puff of smoke (particularly fun to watch from Patty) combat has enough visual and mechanical polish to get you through. It follows much the same formula as the more modern Gothic games. Very standard, but it works.
To be incredibly clear and fair: the combat role in Risen 2 comes second to the story-telling and RPG elements. So long as you understand this, I’m sure that many of you won’t be underwhelmed.
Chatting to the proles, dregs and scum of pirate life
One thing Risen 2 excels at is dialogue. For those of you who dearly miss the humor and character of the NPC’s in Divinity II and The Witcher, you’ve found a new home. With crude humor and enough swears to send a nun insane, every conversation in Risen 2 is greeted with someone overtly disgruntled with someone else.
If they’re annoyed, they’re bickering at each-other with playful, colorful use of English. Those of you enjoyed the use of the C word by the Dwarfs in The Witcher will enjoy a similar verbal disdain to the Inquisition here, with characters conveying their annoyance at every turn – asking or offering help in turn for a little coin or aid.
Another thing that really stands out, especially when compared to other modern RPG’s, is character articulation. Every character from the most inconsequential peasant to the patricians wave their arms and speak with their bodies perfectly in key with whatever they are saying. There’s clearly a lot of love within the frame of each character and their respective animations, and it really helps you feel as though you’re in a real world. This is a really important and vibrant difference that I fear has been under-looked by many commentators. Long gone as the static arms and expressionless faces from the people with interact with.
The story is generally well written, with each character intertwined by name or reputation. Conversations feel natural and non-generic, with memorable character designs and different clothing/faces/voices for all that I could see. I didn’t notice any real repetition, although with the semi-cartoon aesthetic it was hard to tell in places.
Stats, gear, skills and all the rest of it
As a self respecting RPG, Risen 2 offers a wealth of opportunity when deciding and upgrading your character. With a choice to improve upon certain weapons, sneaking techniques, charm, cunning and all the rest of the expected features, you must chose how to spend your upgrade points wisely. Killing every kind of enemy gives you anything from 20-65 points, with 1000 points needed to upgrade your first attribute. A long side a healthy mix of useful skills, there are also some great comedic ones thrown in the mix, such as: ’nuff said’ where, if you tire of a conversation, you may pull out your pistol and shoot them in the face – making onus tennis a little less of a problem in a heavy debate. I found that leveling your character could be a little bit of a problem, as stated above, since gold is hard to come-by, with quests (most of which integral to the story) paying very little. For instance, I got around 200-300 gold per quest, with items costing 250-500 each, and skills costing even more. Whilst you don’t have to level your skills with cash – you do, it seems, have to pay someone to teach you them first.
Naturally, Risen 2 offers cooking, with a unique UI which, as is obvious to anyone passionate about this issue, features a fully functional proper user interface made for PC. Although taking you out of the game and into this screen, there is absolutely no loading process – think of it as a little corner to focus on your task. This UI is also shared with looting from chests and shopping from NPC’s. It is a beautiful, functional UI that works wonderfully. A real gesture of good will for PC gamers from the developers.
You won’t face the entire game alone, though, and once Patty goes swanning off with her father and you are granted your own ship, you can collaborate and create your own crew – picking one member to follow you when you pick an island to explore. This is a great feature and works fantastically. It really wouldn’t be a pirate adventure without a ship and crew, and it’s a feature that sets the game out from the other recent RPG’s.
My god – who knew being a pirate would be so beautiful?
Now for the good stuff. Risen 2 is a breathtakingly vibrant, beautiful adventure RPG. Whilst the initial segment of the game, around 30 minutes, looks a little dull – as soon as you set sail you are met on the deck of a richly detailed ship, looking out over the starboard side into a highly detailed, beautifully rendered jungle.
The islands, villages and towns are all richly detailed – with incredible lighting and unique characters and animals. Particle effects such as floating blossoms, butterflies and other dusty and misty scenes coat your path in awe and mystery. The ships look realistic and grand – with a full day and night cycle beaming through the rafters. The world is thick and full, with leopards, warthogs and other wildlife freely traversing the open terrain - acting accordingly.
The architecture is realistic to the purposed era, with clay buildings, old forts and stone watch towers showing their age – cobblestones and dashes defined by the ever-changing lighting of the visually realistic day/night cycle.
The charm of the world is a large proportion of the game. So long as you are able to look past the sometimes stiff combat, there is a lush and vibrant world for a player to sink their teeth into. A crafted, stunning arena – the areas look true to life and scaled well, without feeling ‘copy and pasted’ like in some comparable larger RPG’s.
The rich pirate lore offers a wonderful array of fantasy characters, beautifully rendered and voiced by the cast – with loose references to recent films and cult phenomenons. Although playing in part to the tune of Pirates of the Carribbean, the game shares more with the original Pirates of the Caribbean that bore no resemblance to the original movie.
These pretty visuals do come at somewhat of a hefty price, though, with a very beefy machine required to run the game on ultra. The jump from high to ultra is huge, and those of you who have problems on the ultra setting can jump back down to high without losing much quality. Even then, the game suffers from a little pop-in of models and objects. Whilst noticeable, it isn’t constant and doesn’t diminish the experience much at all.
Is this only for a budding sea fairer?
A fairly short, more streamlined RPG experience, Risen 2 is suitable for those of you who enjoyed games like The Witcher, Divinity 2, Gothic 4 (if anyone enjoyed that) and Two Worlds 2. Whilst feature full – large and vibrant, Risen 2 won’t have you grinding away or exploring vast open terrain. The explorable areas certainly merit exploring, but don’t expect to come across anything you otherwise wouldn’t seen chasing up quests. Still, this is a refined and streamlined experience that offers great quality game-play, beautiful visuals and a wonderful story and lore. What Piranah Bytes have set out to do, they’ve accomplished entirely – and whilst this isn’t for everyone–some of you suited to 100 hours of Kingdoms of Amalur, or action in Mass Effect–those of you who’ve noticed the stark differences between European and Western RPG’s in both playstyle and humor will really love what Risen 2 has to offer. Lest we forget this is a quality PC game built alongside the console version, with very little for PC gamers to complain about. Piranah Byte have treated us fairly, and Risen 2 has certainly, in some areas at least, risen above the rest.