One type of fantasy setting that remains relatively untouched in the vast world of RPGs is the age of Piracy. This isn’t true in other mediums of entertainment, however; both literature and film have portrayed pirates in such a way that they’ve actually warped their image into a swashbuckling, jolly, rum-drinking clan that appears to be much less factual than the true, accurate portrayal of Piracy.
Risen 2 knows this, however, and instead of pushing for realism in order to show the true face of Piracy, the third person, role-playing game instead adopts a more fictional, pop-culture based approach. It focuses on the fun side of the Piracy setting: sea creatures, alcoholic consumption, treasure hunting, exploration and, of course, fighting.
I’ve played over three hours of the beta build of the game, on PC, and I only feel as though I’ve scratched the surface. With many quests being activated from simply talking to NPCs, Risen 2 seems like it could be a deep game.
A large section of the part of the game I played revolved around doing a variety of tasks to get friendly with a certain Captain Steelbeard in order to join his gang of pirates. Your attempt to join up with them is fuelled by the desire to find the weapon they aim to use against sea creatures.
The tasks themselves, which aren’t explicitly given to you and instead just hinted at in the dialogue, range from a lengthy quest in which the hero will have to get the supplies for rum by talking to – or fighting with – the water carriers and retrieving the stolen sugar from a cave of giant termites, to winning a drinking contest to get a treasure map. Several of these quests and tasks had to be completed in order to please the Captain, and this alone took a couple of hours.
Along the way, the protagonist has to face many deadly foes including monkeys, hogs, savages and even giant enemy crabs. Armed with a trusty sword, a click of the mouse delivers a blow to one of these enemies, with right click allowing for blocking. It’s actually a rather shallow combat system, however, with finishing moves that don’t even hit the enemy leaving it looking quite ridiculous rather than awesome.
As you progress, the combat does offer some variety in the way of new moves that you’re able to learn from NPCs, including a kick move, which costs 500 gold (must be a great kick) to learn. There’s also the ability to assign weapons to different hands, as with the ability to customise clothes on certain parts of your body. It’s worth noting that it’s not all sword combat in Dark Waters, there’s gunplay involved too, though this boils down to firing a shot as you’re engaged in close combat.
Although Risen 2 seems like a traditional, hardcore RPG, it isn’t class based. Rather than choosing a class at the start, you’ll collect ‘glory points’ by completing tasks or killing enemies, which act as XP for upgrading certain skill classes such as combat or speech. There’s also your ‘blood’ to worry about, which is essentially a health meter and can be replenished with a good sleep, eating some provisions or, naturally, drinking a fair amount of alcohol.[drop2]In my time with Dark Waters, the story never really got too exciting, although some of the dialogue can be funny and it’s generally quite well written. There are several dialogue choices in each conversation, so there’s lots to find out by quizzing NPCs. Unfortunately, this dialogue is let down by the voice acting, which often feels amateurish. Frequently it’ll seem as though the main character is nervous or whispering, making some of the wittier comments fall flat.
The other, background sounds aren’t very convincing either; animals that you fight will often let out horrible cries that don’t stop and there’s little to make the environment feel atmospheric, beside some decent background music.
There’s a lot of poor design choices in Risen 2, unfortunately; attempting to swim will instantly spawn your character back on land, it’s not strictly freeroaming and you can’t search bodies for items that they clearly have. Along with the poor voice acting and disappointing combat system, the story leaves much to be desired as you wait for it to pick up, though it looks as though it could be going somewhere as you progress further into the game.[boxout]Graphically, it isn’t all that impressive, although the jungle environments do look relatively nice. It’s quite a realistic style, though, which is a good choice for the setting. Whilst it’s definitely something nice to look at in the daytime with beautiful greenery and blue skies, at night it’s a different story; it’s dark, muddy and just looks generally disappointing, though the particle effects do something for it.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is, thankfully, being released in a time where pirate themed video games aren’t a big thing. If this game had a few contenders, then it could be overlooked, but since it’s something relatively unique that does it all somewhat well, then fans of pirate fantasy should keep an eye on this one.
It’s a jolly adventure that looks to be a bit of fun for the hardcore RPG fan, though don’t expect anything near the tremendous quality of the Elder Scrolls games. This is a title with many flaws, but a few redeeming features which could just make it a great, swashbuckling journey.