Risen 2: Dark Water review for PS3, Xbox 360

Platform: PlayStation 3
Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: 1
Online: Yes

Risen 2 isn?t what I would label great, but it?s an experience that I think is worth seeking out if you?re at all a fan of role playing games, and feel a little burned out on what the big-budget games of the genre currently have to offer on consoles. While the PC market might not be a stranger to quirky, difficult, and unique experiences in this genre, it feels like the console market lacks some of that variety nowadays, with the departure of what I?d label ?B? quality games over the past couple years. Risen 2 kind of fits that bill, and while it?s certainly not going to be for everyone, it?s a very genre specific game that has some merit despite a whole lot of rough edges.

I?ll start off this review by stating that I?ve never played the first Risen, but have some limited experience with the developer Piranha Bytes from the Gothic series on PC. So I know right off the bat that these guys tend to produce great content that?s not quite as polished as I might like. The word of mouth on the original Risen port to consoles was bad enough that it kept me away, and I never ventured into the PC version, but the whole pirates concept used in Risen 2 was enough to get interested in checking it out.

And I?m glad I did so, despite the issues I have with the game. The combat is downright awful, it can be a glitchy mess at times, and the story is just kind of ho-hum, despite its pirate trappings. But when I sit down to play I find myself having a hard time tearing away from the session to do anything else, and was pretty hell bent on exploring every corner of the world that Risen 2 had to offer.

There are not a lot of games that are willing to toss you into the water without the use of a tutorial for a floatation device. Ignoring my awful analogy, most games will sit you down, and force you through a tutorial of some sort before letting you go free. Even then, that freedom is often restricted to a certain path, at least for a while, and while the promise of an open world might be there, it?s rarely delivered upon. The Dark Souls and Demon?s Souls titles from developer From Software are the only real console games I can think of in recent years that deliver on a non-hand holding experience. Risen 2 also capture?s that feel for me, which I wish wasn?t such a rare occurrence nowadays.

When Risen 2 begins, you?re thrust into the shoes of an unnamed hero working for the Inquisition, which wants you to infiltrate the pirates in hopes of getting access to a weapon that?ll hold off a massive sea beast that?s wreaking havoc for anyone trying to travel. The world itself is a bit of a mess as well, but this is the major story hook for the onset of the game. To do this, you?re exiled from the Inquisition and team-up with a former associate, who is not only a pirate but the daughter of a particularly famous one named Steelbeard.

The first section of the game will have you trying to get into Steelbeard?s good graces in order to join his crew, and this is where the open nature of Risen 2?s gameplay really starts to shine. The initial island you get access to isn?t what you?d call massive, not in comparison to other open world games, but there?s enough space that exploring actually feels like you?re exploring. There?s little to no direction given to you as to where you need to go or who you should talk to, leaving that up to you to find out. There?s a number of NPC?s at a starting camp that will give you a couple quests, some optional while others are mandatory, but as you start to explore the wilds a bit more you?ll just begin to stumble on others. I encountered an entire ruin at one point that I had no idea what purpose it would serve, but found myself compelled to explore it, even after a handful of sudden deaths at the hands of traps and monsters within. And the game continues to serve up moments like this, with a fair number of optional side quests worth seeking out, and some fun, crass conversations with a number of characters.

I?m also enthralled with the fact that my character is required to do some pretty deplorable, morally reprehensible things. RPG?s usually reward you a little more for being the good guy, but in Risen 2 it certainly pays off more to be a little cutthroat if you will. Pickpocketing and lock picking are two major skills that you?ll want to pick up early on, as coming across gold, necessary for skill upgrades and equipment can be difficult throughout. While you can certainly try to play without these ?shortcuts?, you?ll have a much harder go at it if you do.

But then there?s all the bad stuff to go along with Risen 2, which unfortunately it has a lot of. There?s the technical side of things, which tends to get messy any time there?s a bit of action on screen. The framerate will have some noticeable drops, there?s some screen tearing that becomes evident, monsters will spawn in odd spots, even in mid-air, and so on. The combat is pretty bland, boring, and from what I understand is a step back from what the original Risen had to offer. The lack of any real skills for your character at the onset of the game seems to make combat unnaturally tough, and sword fighting against other pirates definitely isn?t as engaging as it should be.

The skill buying system is balanced horribly, and it?ll be pretty easy to screw yourself over without a little help from an FAQ or two. While I?m all for figuring out most gameplay mechanics on my own, and certainly championed the lack of any major tutorial just a few paragraphs before, there?s one stat in Risen 2 that seems to be way more important than the rest early on, which just makes the whole thing feel really unbalanced and unfair for the uninformed. Also, needing gold to buy your skills isn?t a bad idea, but the sheer amount of gold necessary compared to how much gold you?ll have in the first five or six hours almost requires you to grind against enemies for paltry loot, which only exacerbates how boring the combat can be.

So yeah, Risen 2 is a pretty flawed experience, and again isn?t going to be for everyone. I won?t even say it?s really for me, in a way, but I was willing to get past most of these issues and have some fun with it anyways. It?s a game where if you know what you?re getting into ahead of time, you?ll most likely find something to enjoy, even if you don?t end up seeing it through to completion. There?s certainly a lot of promise to it, even if it doesn?t always pay off. If you get an opportunity to check it out, and this sounds like your cup of tea, definitely do so, I feel like it?s something worth experiencing.

Grade: C+