Risen 2: Dark Waters does everything that you could want or expect from a pirate RPG. In a genre mostly flooded with the prefix ‘MMO’, it is nice to encounter a true RPG for a change. However, in creating a game that fabulously excels as an RPG specifically, Piranha Bytes seem to neglect other areas of the game and have left it wanting in several aspects. This has resulted in Risen 2 being a game that seems expansive and innovative in one light and dull and repetitive in another, and depending on what you want from this game, it may enthral or disappoint.
Personally, I was enthralled.
You see, as a great lover of story and narrative, Risen 2 was exactly what I was looking for; nothing in Risen 2 is left unjustified or unexplored – if you are willing to sink enough time into the game. Even the reason for the hero losing his powers and weapons, ever a problem in sequels, is not only explained rather well, but even forms one of many narrative threads that run throughout the game and affects your choices later on.
But only if you want it to.
You see, mixed in with the clever narrative is a choice system that makes a lot more sense than your average good-verses-bad morality system. Instead of basing it on morality, the choice system is based on people. So, rather than judging your every action and then changing you and the world around you based on a good or bad slider, Risen 2 will allow you to treat an NPC as badly or nicely as you want, but will then adjust your relationship with that NPC and their friends accordingly, while not affecting the rest of the game’s world. In this respect, Risen 2 has made a marked step forward in the choice system which I would love to see implemented in other games, like Fable.
In other respects though, it is not all I would want from a game.
For instance, if you want to do well in Risen 2 then you will need to grind, A LOT. I can deal with the odd grind-orientated game, and even enjoy it if the game is geared up in such a direction. The problem with Risen 2 is that it is not in any way built to accommodate grinding as a fun or enjoyable experience.
For a start, the fighting system is poor, involving mindless mashing of a single key in order to attack with your sword, while limiting other essential weapons (like your gun) to use only when the game feels like letting you use them. This led to many frustrating battles that drag on and then only reward you with minute amounts of treasure and glory (experience points).
At one point I was fighting an armoured crab and forked out 500 gold (a considerable amount) for a kicking skill that would allow me to knock the crabs onto their backs so I could attack their underbellies. Unfortunately, I discovered that the game did not allow me to use the skill so early on, and so after losing four or so battles with these damned monsters, without the ability to kick, I had to give up on the creatures.
As well as this, the fighting animations are remarkably shoddy for something that you spend almost all of your in game time staring at. In fact, I am certain that not once when watching the finisher moves did I ever see my character’s weapon actually touch an enemy’s body as he delivered a fatal slash.
Also, those mobs you have to grind against in order to get gold and glory enough to progress? You know, those vital elements of gameplay? They don’t re-spawn. EVER.
As a result, another large chunk of time has to be spent trekking across vast swathes of jungle in order to find that one warthog you didn’t kill just so you can afford more bullets for your gun that doesn’t fire half the time. Maybe the team behind Risen 2 were going for realism in this respect, but in actuality all this has led to is tedium.
Don’t despair though, because, despite the terrible grinding and fighting system, I still feel happy in standing by my earlier statement.
The true genius of Risen 2 lies in the fact that it refuses to tell you the story outright at any given point, which, while sounding a bit odd at first, works really well. The only way that you can learn anything is by talking and listening to other characters, many of whom are unwilling to speak without a few favours being done for them first. This results in the game forcing you to really engage with it and play it out as your character in the way that best suits you. This does mean that, if you are impatient and skip conversations and cutscenes, you won’t have a clue where to go for your next quest, never mind why you have to go there. But, if you do take the time to listen, then you will be drawn in ever deeper as you try to figure out just what is going on.
To every serious RPG fan out there, Risen 2 is a game I can heartily recommend, but everyone else would be better off staying away.