Risen 2 : Dark Waters (late) review
I was in no hurry to finish Risen 2 for a number of reasons the first being that I hate waiting years for the next Piranha Bytes game. The second is that a game patch was announced featuring new gameplay features so I stopped playing for a couple of weeks and continued with the patch. Is it better than Gothic 3 or 2 ? Maybe not. But it's a game of adventure, pirates, curses, sword duels, more curses, treasure and funny dialogues. Did I enjoy it ? "F**k yes!" to cite a main character in the game. Read on.
The Monkey Island deja-vu is absolutely intended it seems by Piranha Bytes. And as Le Chucks' Revenge offered more puzzles, better graphics, more islands, so does Dark Waters compared to it's predecessor. But while more exploration, more stunning graphics and hilarious dialogue is always welcome from the series, some things got lost along the way as well. Big dungeons, armor for the most part and the old leveling and magic system are gone.
So are bows - the pirates have guns. Now the game plays more like an action-adventure now than like a RPG for the most part.
Gone are the days in which you would be utterly terrorized for 10 levels in a Piranha Bytes game until you got a real sword and some decent armor. This time around is more about sailing the high seas, talking really nasty to your adversaries (which is an old and powerful technique) and drinking grog.
There's some things that make this premise so enjoyable regardless of the changes from the old formula and the first of them is the graphics and the the setting.
Like the fabled "tri island area" in the Threepwood saga, Risen 2s' Southern Isles in which the game takes place is an archipelago with lush jungles, monkeys, and everything you would expect including ghost pirates, sunken ones, drunken ones and a mighty Nameless Hero along with his girlfriend.
There's only a handful of games that have such gorgeous graphics and Risen 2 is one of them. You'll gawk impressed at your monitor as you did in Skyrim no doubt about it even though this game is on a much smaller scale and scope. Moving wavy water, sun shafts, complete day/night and weather cycles and a beautiful color graded palette make this game come to life and suck you in almost instantly. You will not be traveling in such diverse environments as in Gothic 3 as the game is set almost exclusively on jungle islands but you'll get short detours in the land of the dead and a couple of other different looking places.
You'll also notice at least two annoying things about the graphics. One is a feature of the games' engine that makes the foliage "grow in" (you'll see what I mean) as you approach it. This can be solved somehow by applying the first patch for the game and tweaking your config file a bit. The second annoying thing about the graphics is that some stuff repeats itself far too often - like peoples' faces (ugh. did i meet this guy before?) or the temples/dungeons.
That being said, the game is still gorgeous but one may observe that the transition to a bigger game world did not go as artsy as it went from Gothic 2s' Khorinis island to Gothic 3s' Myrtana continent with it's 3 big regions and vast areas. But still the game manages to offer "whoa" moments every 5 minutes by means of the engines' beautiful lighting and the general convincing, familiar and inspired art style.
But Risen 2s' strongest point must be in my opinion the dialogue as in script and voice acting. I laughed through the entire game as I did in the old school Monkey games or the Space Quests and so on. Everything an adventurer expects is there and more. You can solve quests and probably the most part of the game through dialogue only and this is only one of the big reasons why Risen 2 is very close to the adventure genre canon. There's lots and I mean LOTS of potty mouthed characters in the game but it never seems excessive. I mean they're pirates for fucks sake, of course they swear. Fuck yes!
The general tone of the game is more comedic than serious. You're facing the destruction of the world of course, which sucks but everyone kept a sense of humor about it. Long time fans of Piranha Bytes will be sure to find references to the previous Risen and even of the archaic Gothic ;) and I will spoil this much to you : It's a happy ending! :D
Core gameplay wise the main quest has you gathering 3 artifacts across 9 islands and doing lots of quests, then more quests that have you walk around the game world basically. You fight your way through monsters and pirates using both sword and pistol/shotgun. You fight rudely at first but you can learn skills later on in the game so fighting becomes more complex as you progress. You of course gather loot and treasure in order to face the games' economy which is very much like today in that stuff is overly expensive and you kinda have to work hard or steal hard :)
The armor system of previous games is pretty much gone. You have a bunch of outfits with different +attributes but armor does not play such a big part anymore. Everyone is dressed according to the pirate code I guess. The experience points - skills and attributes RPG system is still in the game but in a more natural way as you seen in games like Skyrim also. With the first patch the game saw the introduction of a dodge move also in swordplay which makes the game tolerable even for newcomers to the you-have-to-work-to-win genre ;)
There's this meme going on that Piranha Bytes games are notoriously hard to learn when it comes to combat. The truth is that Gothic 1 and 2 are their first and only 2 games which had this awkward timing based mortal kombat ish fighting system that a bunch of hardcore gamers want back :) Since then Gothic 3, Risen and now Risen 2 make it quite easy for you to clicketty-click you way across the game if you are the lazy type.
As was the case with the first Risen, late game you are left a unmotivated for a short while as the game is not so much about get a new sword, get a new armor and so only relies on the story told this time to drag the train of attention span. And as such one arrives at the conclusion that either there are too many fetch quests in RPG games or that fetch quests are the blood that flows through and animates these games and one should stop complaining.
Either way, the game you will finish as it will never manage to bore with uninteresting stuff you like many other AAAAA++ titles from big studios these days. Piranha Bytes produced a fun to play well polished pirate-adventure-rpg mix bred game which will bring back fond memories of games such as Ultima Ascension, Monkey Island and Gothic at least but still come fresh and piratey. Which is hard to do if you think about it. Also no bugs invaded my game this time around and neither did they in the previous Risen so this does away with the other meme about Piranha Bytes.
It is a game I would recommend to anyone who played an adventure game and enjoyed it as exploring and conversation will be constantly rewarded. Combat and skill building is fun and present and even more enjoyable than the games' story sometimes when the latter gets a little predictable. Plus it ends sort of abruptly, but at the right moment or else everything would have become tedious instead of fun. So good it's a good balance.
Go buy this game, be a pirate at the same time and support a small and creative bunch of Germans. And so maybe with Risen 3 they will stop giving in to such bullshit industry practices as day one on disc DLC - which is the case here involving a "horse armor" only for you and sadly two entire quests Treasure Island and Storm Island.
That being said here's the cold ratings :
Graphics - 90 : Beautiful, artsy if a bit generic. Pretty animation but not the next big thing by far. Relatively little variety even for a pirate themed game.
Sound - 95 : The excellent voice acting steals the show
Gameplay - 85 : Consistent fun for 50 hours but a little too repetitive for an adventure and a little too adventure for a RPG.
Production - 80 : Solid bug free PC game but we just expect bigger game worlds and more epic stories from the studio that made Gothic 3
Final Score : 88
Editors' Choice : Yep.
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