Within moments of booting Risen 3, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a bloody battle on the high seas, dodging explosions and falling timber as you cross swords with a ghostly band of pirates. It sounds like the perfect opening scene for any swashbuckling fantasy RPG yet somehow developer Piranha Bytes manages to drop the ball. As soon as players gain control of the main character, the frame rate starts to chug to an exasperating level, laying bare many of the game’s shortcomings before you’ve even had a chance to make it past the prologue.
Needless to say, Risen 3 makes a very poor first impression, sticking out like a sore thumb among 2014’s existing video game lineup, at least in terms of performance and visual fidelity. It may boast large open vistas and some interesting character designs yet repetition, blocky animations, and dull environmental textures prevent Risen 3 from fully immersing its audience.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Risen first stepped onto the scene back in 2009 when the original launched on both PC and the Xbox 360. Three years later it was then followed by Risen 2: Dark Waters, a sequel that did little to bowl over critics with its incremental improvements and focus on pirates and naval exploration. Both of these themes live on in Risen 3: Titan Lords though more traditional fantasy undertones reverberate throughout the game world and its accompanying lore.
This time the story centres around a pirate protege, brought back from the dead after an encounter with a Shadow Lord of the underworld. His brief departure from the land of the living leaves him tainted, however, and in search of answers. With the Shadows spreading across the high seas, it’s up to you and whatever band of misfits you can rally to put an end to this sinister threat once and for all.
Much like Skyrim or Fallout, Risen 3 allows you to tackle the game however you see fit. Starting out, there are a handful of regions to explore, each crammed with dozens of side quests and other activities to perform. Though there are a chain of story-driven missions present, these can (and will) be left on the backburner with players constantly encouraged to stray from the beaten path. This open approach to game structure is perhaps Risen 3’s biggest plus point. With so much to land to cover, it would have been a crime if Piranha Bytes did it any other way.
Disappointingly, the minute to minute gameplay isn’t competent enough to carry players through the forty or so hours of content Risen 3 has to offer. The main culprit is the game’s abysmal combat system, something which has remained completely untouched since Dark Waters despite being the sequel’s biggest caveat. Limited to few actions, players will alternate between blocking and attacking while also throwing in the occasional gunshot or knife throw. It’s a system that works in other games yet Risen 3’s enemy AI makes combat so utterly unenjoyable, switching between unblockable, rapid-fire onslaughts and full-on defence mode.
It’s a flaw that is incredibly hard to overlook given how combat scenarios are wedged in at every single opportunity. However, when swords are sheathed and guns are holstered, Risen 3 becomes infinitely more attractive. Again, when compared to RPG hits like Skyrim, the game allows players to interact with the world around them, whether that be mining and gathering in the field or sneaking and stealing from its many inhabitants. It should also be said that, despite the bland format by which dialogue is presented, Risen 3 plays host to some truly bizarre characters, making for plenty of memorable encounters.
This alone isn’t enough to save the game, however. When all is said and done, at its best, Risen 3 is a serviceable RPG with an interesting backdrop and some unique concepts. When at its worst though, the game is fundamentally broken and feels completely out of place even on last-gen hardware. This is all thanks to rehashed content from Dark Waters, unappetising visuals, and a combat system devoid of any redeeming qualities.
Though Risen 3 has its moments, there is simply too much to overlook, even if you’re patient enough to make it five or six hours into the game. Role-playing die hards may be able to wring a few morsels of enjoyment from Titan Lords though others, including casual fans of the genres, will find it almost unplayable.