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Posted by Raine Hutchens on Apr 27, 2012

Review – Risen 2: Dark Waters (PC)

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Product Information

MSRP: $49.99

 

Developer: Piranha Bytes

Publisher: Deep Silver

Platforms: PC (Later on Xbox 360 and PS3)

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

Genre: Action/RPG

 

There comes a time in every gamer’s life when he/she will, undoubtedly, play a pirate game. There’s just something about swashbuckling, plundering treasure, and capturing a maiden’s heart that speaks to all of us. In Risen 2: Dark Waters, each of these aspects comes to light in a story that’s weaved feverishly. Developer Piranha Bytes has teamed up once more with Deep Silver to provide a game that will keep players on-deck with playability, all while changing the Risen title as we knew it. Glaives are swapped out for rapiers, crossbows are replaced by muskets, and combat takes a new turn for the scurvy sea dog in all of us. The previous Risen title suffered a few hiccups, though it remained a game that many swear by. Let’s set sail on this review to see if Dark Waters follows suit.

Storyline and Presentation

Risen 2 takes place many years after the events of the first game. The world is yet again in peril, though that seems to be the norm with these RPGs. Our protagonist, Carlos, awakes from a drunken stupor to find himself being called to the guard tower by his commanding officer. You see, he’s with the Inquisition. The “old world” as they call it has found itself swallowed up by hideous creatures taking refuge in the dark depths of the ocean. Speaking to his superior, our fearless hero finds out that his task is to set sail across this new world in search of a way to defeat this monstrosity. This means you’ll be scouring the tropical jungles, dank caves, and murderous tribe and pirate-infested lands of the new world to track down some ancient relics for some do-it-yourself assembly that will send this giant problem back to its watery grave. It’s time to grab the rum and put on your fancy tri-pointed hat – we’re going on an adventure.

You’ll team up with an old friend, Patty, who is always in search of her missing father, the infamous pirate Gregorious Emanuel Steelbeard. She claims that she has found a way to sail the assaulted seas safely, and a partnership is created. Together the duo makes an attempt not only to complete the quest set before Carlos by the Inquisition, but to find Patty’s father and help those wherever needed, no matter how rude they may seem to be.

Now we’ll move on to the presentation. Risen 2 looks really good. Piranha Bytes always seems to do a nice job with making environments feel realistic, even when incorporating elements that seem to be those of a fantastic dream. Characters are well-rounded, each with their own detailed look. The garb and décor in the game syncs up perfectly with those in the time of pirating and swashbuckling, and attitudes of characters follow suit. The forested islands are bound with growth, rocky terrain sifts across the landscape, and delving into ancient tombs of fallen warriors becomes especially chilling. That is, the first time around while you explore. One of the visual downfalls in Risen 2 is that these types of scenes are reused, and quite often at that. With a world that looks like the developers took time to craft, it becomes a bit dull and drab when you spend time sailing to a new continent, and entering a brand new tomb that looks just like the one you left an hour ago.

The immersion doesn’t stop at pure visuals, though, which sets up as a saving grace. The developer set to work to reinforce their realism through NPCs that are outspoken and lively. Pedestrians will complain, laborers will offer their thoughts on the everyday struggles of working life, and political talk is abundant across the land. This is a nice change, because why it may look like you’re on the same island that you just conquered hours ago, these inhabitants bring to your attention that things are different.

One pet peeve I had with the characters in Risen 2 is that, when just standing around talking, they seem to over-exaggerate their movements and gestures. For instance, when speaking to Patty, most of the time she’ll flail her arms around like a wannabe Jack Sparrow. I don’t know if this is a way for the developer to poke fun at the Pirates series, or if this is legitimately a flaw in the character design. The problem goes further, as it doesn’t stop there. It seems like most of the characters in the game follow this same direction. When the game is set to present its world as a real, breathing place, these characters really make you think twice and cause a laugh or two out of you. The immersion then stops.

As for the game’s enemies, there is some differentiation between them. You’ll mostly be fending off enemy pirates or looters, but there will also be the occasional monster crab or voodoo tribesman to defend against. Some of the enemy models are reused, but thinking about who is indigenous to each area, I can see where that makes sense. It’s not like we’re fighting alien pigmen.

Gameplay and Combat

The gameplay and leveling system in Risen 2 is quite unique. Instead of a traditional RPG leveling system where players create a character, select a class, and level each skill, there’s a defined path to follow in Dark Waters. Players earn Glory points for defeating enemies, discovering locations, and completing quests. These points can then be invested into different attributes that attune to stats and skills. It really reminds me somewhat of Fable, as there seems to be attributes such as toughness, cunning, and such. IF you toss some points into toughness, you can take more damage and learn new skills pertaining to combat and weaponry. You can learn new skills from trainers, but beware; the amount of gold needed to learn such skills comes in at horrendous costs.

Sword fighting is where the main charm of this game plays out. Though in the beginning it’s extremely dull and frustrating, it gains much depth after you’ve learned some defensive pirate tactics to protect yourself with. Dueling with renegade pirates requires much focus and tactical skill, much that we’ve not seen in an RPG like this before. It almost plays out as a turn-based battle, with each contestant choosing either to block, kick, parry, attack, or riposte in quick succession. This makes finding people to tussle with much more exciting and not so much a frustration like with other grinding titles.

Sword bouts against creatures, however, are far less interesting. The combat doesn’t work so well when fighting crabs or monsters from the deep. Creatures will charge at you, knocking you backwards, and let me tell you this is bad news. It takes forever to get up from a fall, or at least it seems so. If you’re fighting more than one enemy and this happens, it almost always spells death. These enemies will also sometimes jump right into combat flurry sequences that go on and on, making standing your ground with them nigh impossible. The way I’ve found to deal with these is simply run around (which can also be difficult, and I’ll get into that in a bit) and just chip away at your enemy’s health when you can. This can make battles long-drawn out, but it’s a system that works.

Alternatively you could take the time and spend the gold to learn muskets, and attack from afar. Doing this will not only give you distance, but have you inflicting massive damage to whatever stands as your target. The fire from muskets has the capability to completely destroy enemies at long range, which makes the weapon useful throughout the game. The only drawback is that it’s expensive and becomes monotonous the more you play. Pistols work somewhat the same way, but they add flavor to combat as they can be used while dueling with your sword.

The final way to deal with enemies is to learn the dark forces of voodoo. This is for fans who want to get the most out of their RPG experience by relying on something mystical. The system in a whole, though, will most likely disappoint many of you. Through the use of voodoo you can paralyze enemies in fear, weaken them with curses, or make them fight against one another. The mechanics of the voodoo system fall short of being notable, and they remain useful only when you feel like doing something other than fighting it out with sword and strategy. There are few abilities to take advantage of, and they become more and more repetitive as the game progresses. I feel like something really cool could have been done with the voodoo system, especially given the time and place that makes up the game’s setting. Sadly, I was let down.

When it comes to exploration, Dark Waters is much different than the Risen title before it. Large open-ended maps have been swapped out for smaller-scaled areas. This means it’s harder to get lost and isolated, but takes away some of the vast exploration abilities players once had. This title is extremely user-friendly, and seems to follow suit with the release of games that have the “handholding” dynamic that most developers are catering to. Does this make the game bad? Not at all, though Risen veterans will find that some of the general “awe” has been stapled down a bit. You can now fast-travel between points of interest, and game progression is much more clean and straightforward compared to the other titles produced by Piranha Bytes.

Now we make it to my issues with the gameplay. When it comes to controls, Dark Waters presents a clambering effort to match players with character. The movement is slow and when Carlos begins to run, it’s almost as if he needs to charge up first like he’s in an old cartoon. During duels and sword fights, if you’re not on your toes at all times, you’ll be hearing the ghastly death groan and seeing your “I’m dead” screen far too much. The character movement that I mentioned earlier is a drawback, and rather annoying, though it doesn’t force me to stop playing.

Conclusion

At first, I was a little off-put by the sluggish gameplay presented in Risen 2: Dark Waters, but as I maneuvered through the game things got better quickly. There’s still some issues with combat that bother me, and I would have liked to see some elements given more detail. Risen 2 can be beautiful at times, urging the player to set out on a journey to explore the elements contained within a world of wonder. Piranha Bytes did a swell job of incorporating accurate décor, costuming, scene design, and dialogue to make a game that is exceptionally marketable as a pirate RPG, though disappointments in character progression, a faulty magic system, and recycled locations make the game seem a little bit too run-of-the-mill in the end. Overall, I did have a lot of fun playing through the game, and I do say it’s worth checking out.

 

The Good

  • great-looking visuals
  • immersive pirate-esque world
  • fun and interactive swashbuckling combat
  • gripping storyline that remains intuitive

The Bad

  • controls are sluggish
  • scenery gets reused too often
  • combat loses flair against monsters/creatures
  • small-scale exploration on continents/islands
  • high-costing to level up skills; difficult to progress in skill
  • character animation can be annoying
  • could have made better-use of the “Voodoo” system

 

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