Review: Risen 2: Dark Waters
Comfy chairs aside, there was much the Inquisition did to instill fear into the hearts and souls of ordinary folks. Donning a pair of stripey trousers and a bandana would probably seem to be quite a bit low down on the list. Piranha Byte’s latest in the Risen saga, Risen 2: Dark Water, has you doing just this though. So, in all your swash-buckling Jack Sparrow finery, you set sail, to become a pirate, a gunsmith, a blacksmith, a witch-doctor?
The world as we know it is burning. One of the Titans, Mara, in all her loveliness, has been wreaking havoc on the lands and the seas, unleashing her beasts and sending forth the mighty Kraken to hamper man’s efforts on the seas. You start as a member of the Inquisition, a thinly disguised nod to French and British colonialism in the Caribbean but you are soon dragged into a world of piracy, savages, sugar and voodoo. Your initial primary mission, to find the weapon that will destroy the Kraken. From this, I’d have expected this to be an epic battle against mythical monsters. I need to learn to lower my expectations.
One of the first things that will strike you are the visuals. The graphics are lush. The trees, the water, all move as they should and they never look or feel as though they are getting in the way of things. I’ve played some games where the scenery just flaps all over the player, blocking your view and hampering your movements. This isn’t the case with Risen 2, everything seems to move nicely and it’s almost worth hanging around the sugar plantation, waiting for day to turn to dusk and then to night. Character animation is well thought out, you move well and those movements don’t seem too jerky, although when engaged in combat, especially with animals, you do slide an awful lot when hit.
The incidental music and background noise, while not intrusive, also reflects the transition of the time of day, with crickets chirping away during the darkness hours, and the wind rustling through the jungle and the trees in the day. The animals make the right noises, and the natives seem to have their own dialect, but also have picked up perfect colonial English.
The controls are, for the most part, pretty straight-forward. The sticks move you around and pan the camera around the location. There’s a dedicated button for action, combat and inventory. The rest of the options on the controller are either reserved for inventory navigation or are largely ignored, which is, in my opinion a bit of a missed opportunity. The combat could have been a little more complicated than hammering the attack button, wondering why the parry option isn’t working and occasionally using the secondary attack option. This is a nice touch, as this secondary attack option can be tailored to whatever you have in your inventory that is suitable. Pick a coconut up, for example, and you can throw it at your opponent. You can’t do this as an independent action of the combat mode though.
There is a distinction between the normal walk-around mode for the player and the combat mode. Draw your sword in the presence of another, for example, and they will react accordingly, drawing their own and issuing a challenge. This can be frustrating, if you’ve just come back from completing a task and have forgotten to revert to passive mode. When you hear the challenge, panic and press the wrong button, a fight ensues, a fight which cannot be reset by running away. Return to the character, who you have just completed a quest for, and they will attack you until you reach a certain level of health. Once this is reached, you can approach them and they will continue to thank you for completing the task they set you. This happened on a number of occasions. The only way to effectively restore your health, although this still takes a little time, is to eat provisions from your inventory. These can be bought from various traders or picked from the flora and gathered from the fauna after a brief fight.
Make no mistake though, this game isn’t just about running around and fighting. It’s huge, there are several island locations and over 350 individual tasks ranging from simple executions to sneaking around picking locks and stealing items. If only the tasks were a little better explained. At one stage, I felt as if I was wandering around aimlessly, looking for the location I needed, needlessly slaughtering the indigenous species, as when you get within a certain range, they attack. This can yield some rewards, as you can pillage the carcass and usually find something useful, like raw meat, which can be cooked over a campfire for more provisions.
Game progress is made through glory points and collecting the one thing a pirate loves more than rum, gold. A lot of the tasks you can accept rely on you having enough gold to buy things you need or to pay the character for their services to upgrade your character attributes. The lack of gold that you start with does hamper your progress and you have to take on tasks that would offer you gold to get yourself started. Character interaction is the tried and tested choose from a list method but for me, there is an over-use of swearing.
The story line is well thought out, offering you tasks that relate to the story and how it pans out, yet it sometimes feels as if it isn’t tying it in enough. It’s almost there but, not quite. There are times when it seems like there is too much going on for you to take in and feel included. Keeping with the storyline, some tasks are also only able to be completed at certain periods of day or night-time. This can also be frustrating when you’ve just accepted the task and you find you have to wait for morning to arrive before you can complete it. Try to get Largo’s bandana at night, for example, and you’re going to be disappointed.
The autosave feature, while useful, is triggered at certain points within your location, which can be irritating if you have just completed a task, then die. My advice would be to save manually and save often. The autosave slots cannot be overwritten by a manual save either, which, if you’re running low on HDD space, could be an issue.
Overall, I liked the look and feel of Risen 2, despite the slightly hackneyed pirate feel and the temptation to compare it to a long overdue reboot of Monkey Island. While the storyline is engaging enough to keep you interested, the tasks to tie you into it don’t seem explained enough, leading to a lot of wasted time and effort running around mopping up so you can progress. The graphics hold it together well, but small niggles let it down. I’d buy Risen 2, basically because it’s long enough and complicated enough to keep me entertained, despite the list of task explanation, completion and general loading niggles that do let it down somewhat.
Review: Risen 2: Dark Waters Results
What we liked:
Visually stunning, The day to night transitions are sumptuous.
Engaging, well thought out storylines.
Easy to pick up & play.
What we disliked:
Tasks not explained well enough.
Parry option in combat does not work well.
Character attribute upgrade requirements cost too much in-game.