Risen 2: Dark Waters Review
Posted by Marc Morrison on 04.27.2012
Two years after it was announced, Risen 2: Dark Waters has finally been released! But is the pirate-themed RPG a hidden treasure or does it walk the plank to a watery death? 411's Marc Morrison checks in with his full review!
Risen 2: Dark Waters is the sequel to 2009's Risen, a series that was started due to a rights issue with the developer Piranha Bytes original series, Gothic. Another studio took over the development of Gothic 4 so Piranha Bytes worked on Risen. While the Gothic series is well-known for it's punishing gameplay and hardcore nature, the original Risen was sited as a fairly decent RPG with some broken gameplay but fundamentally good. Risen 2: Dark Waters tends to follow its predecessor to a tee.
Reviewer's Note: I played this game using a Xbox 360 Controller. Keyboard and Mouse control is included but it felt more natural to me to use a gamepad to play the game.
Risen 2 is a third-person action roleplaying game, in the vein of The Witcher 2 or Fable. You go around various islands in the game, getting quests, slaying monkeys, finding treasure, and drinking a lot of rum. The game is structured almost in this formula: Get to an island. Find the major town of the island. Get all the quests of the town. Do them. Get more quests. Do those. Find what you're looking for. Head to the next island, and repeat. There are five islands to explore and repeat this exact system.
That's not to say that there's anything inherently wrong with this. Largely the quests are fun to do and can be fairly interesting. Most of them are the standard “Kill X creatures/evil people”, or “Gather Y of a material” you need, the standard fare. There are also a lot of quests that can be handled in different ways. One quest involved me following a native as he tried to kill a panther. When we got to his cave he directed me to go inside and lure out the cat so he could kill it. Instead I just went inside and killed it on my own. He was happy with my progress even though he didn't kill it.
When you get to a town you'll usually find that you have a much larger quest objective but you won't be able to do it until you sort out everyone else's business first. In the first area you come to, you have to talk to the governor, but his guard won't let you in, without a shirt. In order to get the money to buy a shirt you need to solve a few quests around the town first. This type of quest structure grows more complicated as the game goes on.
Luckily the quest log does a pretty admirable job of keeping most things straight. Quests are divided in the quest log, generally under which umbrella quest you're trying to accomplish. On one island you have to build a raft, which takes about 7 quests to do. Those quests are detailed under the “Build a Raft” grouping to be easily referenced in the area.
Another helpful addition to quests is the map system. You don't have a mini-map during the game, so you have to go into the menu to look at it. It's kind of odd there's no mini-map but I guess they're going for a more realistic HUD. You can have the quest display on the map; usually the quest giver (an orange X) and the quest objective are a red X. This works in about 75% of the quests I encountered. The remaining 25% was more ambiguous with it not being clear on the quest objective. One maddening quest was trying to find a guy in a forest. I spent about a half hour trying to find him only to stumble upon him in an area I never explored (and didn't know you could get to). There's a few other hidden-objective quests that can be annoying but aren't too bad.
One particular quest was pretty funny. I wandered into a tomb and tried taking the golden mask on the pedestal. A ghost popped out, accused me of being a thief and cursed me for disturbing the tomb. He said he would break the curse if I would find four masks and return them to four graves. I tried taking the mask again and he warned me. I tried taking it a third time wherein he got pissed, the quest auto-canceled and he attacked me. I proceeded to kill him and loot the temple for myself. While I didn't complete the quest the fact the option is there for me to do that is a lot of fun.
With all this being said, I did have a few quests break. Either I did the incorrect order or the scripted action didn't take. One particular instance was when I had to sabotage a series of cannons. I learned I had to do it while in possession of the Governor of the camp. I took him over and ordered the men from the ship and the warehouse guard away and tried ordering the cannon guard away but he didn't do anything. I am assuming something was supposed to activate with him in order for him to go away so I could have completed the task stealthily. This never happened and believe me, I tried. I talked to everyone in that damn camp at least three times and got nowhere. Eventually I just decided to take it head on, went back into my own body and sabotaged the cannons in view of everyone. The guards activated but I managed to do the task and run out of the town. Once they stopped pursuing me and the music dropped off, I walked back into the town and they didn't bat an eye at me. This was only one example but there is kind of an underlying feeling through the game that it's going to break at any moment. Never anything game crashing and, truth be told, it was actually fairly stable. There are some little things that just creep around the edges though that are unpolished. Apparently this is a valid way to complete the quest, from an e-mail from the publisher, but it still didn't jive with me.
The battle system contributes to this feeling a bit. You can equip a weapon in your main (right) hand and have a sub weapon in your off (left) hand. The right hand can use swords, spears, bombs, shotguns and magical weapons. Your left hand can use pistols, throwing daggers and a grouping of “dirty tricks”. These tricks include using a parrot to distract an enemy, throwing salt into an enemy's eyes, or fire-breathing on an enemy. Honestly I stuck through about 99% of the game using a sword and a pistol. Combat is broken down into using the X button to attack with varying combos for how you time it. You can hold down the button for a charged-up more powerful attack. If you hold the LT button you defend against attacks and focus on an enemy letting you attack them better. If you press the Y button you can riposte a blocked attack or more often kick an enemy away to stun them. You can only riposte and kick while you're blocking which is never explained in the game. The RT button is used for your off-weapon. Since I used a gun it just had my character whip out a pistol and take a shot. Every off-weapon requires a recharge time after it is used; mainly so you can't just shoot the pistol at every enemy you encounter. There are a few other weapons that are more specialized than this, including bombs and magic weapons, but combat falls within this general framework. A word of caution though, some of the combat can be a bit finicky, especially when dealing with groups of enemies. You can kind of get stun-locked at times, so you can't block, and can't attack back. The best way of dealing with this is to holster your weapon, run back a few feet, ready your weapon and go on the attack. Usually the enemy is still in an attacking animation and you can score some quick, cheap hits to kill him. You also regain health from items you carry around. The two main things are either provisions and pain medication which speed up health regeneration at a slow rate, or just alcohol which refills your health instantly. Both are useful, depending on the situation you find yourself. A final note is there are occasional QTEs in the game. Fighting a few bosses instigates them as well as encountering environmental death-traps. You'll learn to recognize them when you fall victim to one at least once.
You have five disciplines in this game that determine your character's skills and abilities. There's Blade, Firearms, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo. It's largely self-explanatory except for Voodoo, which is a bit of an anomaly in the game. You can try to pull off a fully mage-like character but you won't last very long. The Voodoo weapons are largely terrible and non-lethal. It is FAR more useful for solving puzzles and quests. As stated earlier about the cannon quest, where I possessed the Governor, you do this about 4 or 5 times during the game. Take possession of another character to fulfill tasks so that your main character can progress. It's actually handled fairly well but you can't save and can't access the quest log. So it becomes a bit annoying trying to figure out what steps you need to take in order to progress the story along, or a few retries to get the order straight. You gain glory by killing enemies and doing quests. When you read a certain glory requirement you gain a point to spend in one of the five disciplines.
There's a whole host of other things to do in this game, many of which is un-needed but is still kind of fun to do. You can take up forging, gunsmithing, voodoo potion brewing, and alcohol brewing for starters. The best thing though (even though I never used it) is you can take up Monkey Training. You can buy a monkey and train him to distract guards and do other sorts of monkey business (pun intended). You literally pull a monkey out of thin air, you reach into your pocket to do so, and then you take control of the monkey. It's a completely bonkers on the face of it but it works because the game just takes it at face value. One very nice thing in this game is that you have an unlimited inventory space. You can pick up everything you can find and just hold onto it. It's a bit wonky but by the end of the game I had about 143 Claws and 54 Gold Nuggets. You can use these items for schematics you find in the crafting areas. You can only make items this way. While you can occasionally buy alchemical goods at a vendor 9 times out of 10 you need to hunt down the materials for it. There never is any great incentive to take up the forge or gunsmith skills though. The forge skill especially seems useless. You can make about 4 powerful sword items. The skill says you can repair blades though. Not once in my entire time playing did my weapon break. Near as I can tell, there's no durability on any of your items at all.
One other thing you can do (as in most RPGs) is lock-picking. You need the right skill and a lockpick for it. Unlike most games, you only need a single lockpick to pick a lock. It will never break or get used up. When you start the mini-game you slide the pick into the lock. It will tell you beforehand what your skill is and what the lock requirement is. It will say something like 60(your skill)/20(lock requirement), or 110/40, or 20/90. In the last case you can't attempt to pick it because your skill is too low. When finally inside the lock, you're presented with a number of tumblers that you need to press. The number is determined on the lock requirement, with 90 being the most, and having about 11 tumblers to set. With a 20 lock though, there is only 4 tumblers to set. You set them by moving the pick past them and it pushes them up. You need to do this in a set pattern or else the tumblers reset. So imagine 1, 2, 3, 4 tumblers: the lock might require you go 3, 4, 2, 1. Or it might go, 2, 1, 3, 4, or just simply 4, 3, 2, 1. The more tumblers there are the more complex it becomes. However you do get the hang of it after a while and can crack any lock you come across if you get skilled enough.
The story of the game is largely decent. You play an unnamed character who is tasked by the Inquisition (Blue Coats) with trying to stop a sea-Titan from taking over the world. You have to join up with Captain Steelbeard who knows about the Titan and knows how to kill her. You have to collect 4 weapons that will defeat her and then do so. This is a bit of an oversimplification though. There's some culture war stuff going on in this game. Basically you're a British guy and you're going over to various islands and dealing with “The Natives” (an Indian allegory) to get what you need. It's not that heavy handed but it is in there, noticeably the “Blue Coats” aspect and the encroachment of “civilization” of the Inquisition to break the Native spirit and so on. There's a choice about one-third in the game that determines which side you want to join. This isn't a drastic moral choice like in the Witcher 2, but it is enough to alter some of the game events, closing off some streets while opening others. This specific choice leads to some amount of replayability, just to see what it's like on the other side of the conflict.
The characters in the game are pretty solid. Particularly a foul-mouthed gnome named Jaffar who swears non-stop and is extremely funny while doing so. Most of the character's are a bit stock but that doesn't make them bad. One overall goal is to get different ship crew-members. You can take any of your crew out as a secondary party member into the game world. Different crew-members can do different things, Jaffar can auto-loot corpses while Hawkins can increase the strength of all companions and so on. It's a good system to try and get you to explore the world and sign people up to your boat. I only completed the game with four ship members but there are 10 slots so obviously I missed a few.
The graphics of Risen 2 are interesting. There's a lot of texture pop-in when you're wandering around. You literally see the trees and foliage start popping in as you get closer. Also I had one instance of Patti (another character) completely freaking out during an in-game dialog sequence. The camera kept cutting between me, her and Steelbeard. Whenever the camera cut, she would start spinning like a top in place. This happened about 30 times until the dialog came to an end. Other instances include you clipping through cliff jumps, some texture pop-in (looked like the usual Unreal Engine type), and Patti waving her hands around like a lunatic during another dialog sequence. With all that being said there is still something endearing about this game. No one tries to make a pirate-themed RPG. The only one I can think of is the canceled Pirates of the Caribbean one “Armada of the Damned”. Designs in this game are solid, enemies look great, and most characters are easy to tell apart. The Gnome Village is also kind of a neat place to explore as is one brilliant looking cave early on in the game.
Sound is very good in the game. Effects are pretty normal but come across well. The music is largely good and rises and wanes during climatic occurrences. Voice acting is handled by a largely British (I assume) cast. This cemented some of my earlier observations about the British nature of the conflict and story. The voice acting is all really great and gives a different feel than most RPGs today. While Jennifer Hale Nolan North and Steve Blum are great voice actors, they are all largely recognizable. There's no one like that at all in this game and it benefits from it.
Overall this is a very solid RPG to be enjoyed. The quest structure, characters and general setting make it unique among other games. The length is about 15-25 hours depending on how much side stuff you wish to encounter. There is some technical jank here and there but it doesn't detract from the game. If anything, it actually kind of adds to it, giving it a charm all its own. If you like games like the Witcher 2, Fable or Two Worlds 2, this is a game that shouldn't be missed.
Designed well and great setting, but a few technical/animation problems here and there.
A few quirky/janky aspects, there's a ton of things to do. Fighting is fun, lots of quests, and you can be a Monkey.
Superbly British voice acting, lovely music and good sound effects. The voice acting is pitch perfect because it's full of unknowns (who are still good)
You will not be able to accomplish everything on your fist playthough. At least one moral choice which alters the story to pick a different side. Easily a 30+ hour game if you really try and squeeze every drop out of it
Fighting, lock-picking, treasure-hunting, drinking, brewing, possessing, Monkey-being, shooting, collecting everything in the world you can lay your hands on. Technical hiccups aside, this is a fun game and a good break from other RPGs around it.