Risen 2: Dark Waters – Review (Xbox 360)

Platforms: Playstation 3, PC, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now
Developer: Piranha Bytes (PC) Wizarbox (Console)
Publisher: Deep Silver
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No
PEGI: 16+

Thanks to Deep Silver for providing a copy of this game for review.

Pirates, I maintain, are completely underused in gaming. While zombies, wizards, witches, ghouls and even ninjas get their fair share of game-based treatment, pirates are left relatively alone., and the few outings they have had have generally been of low quality. Worse, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, a promising looking pirate-based RPG, was cancelled quite a while back, leaving only Risen 2: Dark Waters to satisfy the needs of people like myself who believe that rum, swords, ships and plenty of swearing would make for a damn fine role-playing game. Or a good night out. Either one, really.

And having released for PC a few months back things were certainly looking good for Risen 2. The game met with decent critical reception, rarely getting glowing reviews but sitting slap-bang in the middle of “solid to good” territory. Throw on top of that the fact that the developers had a few months after the PC release before it came out on console to tweak and fine tune the game based on what the critics and gamer had said and you had a pretty rosy looking future for Dark Waters. However, there was a spanner in the works: Wizarbox, the very same developers responsible for the terrible console-port of the original Risen. Despite getting a panning from both critics and gamers alike for their work on the original game, they were put  in charge of bringing Dark Waters to Xbox and PS3. And despite assurances that this time around the console version would be developed alongside the PC version and that Pyrhana Bytes, the PC developers, would be keeping a firm eye on it, Wizarbox have once again delivered a technical mess to our beloved consoles, burying anything good that Risen 2 brought to the table in the process.

But lets not kick off this review with just doom and gloom. Rather we’ll start with one of the few strengths Risen 2 boasts: its story. Once again taking on the role of the nameless hero from the first game, you awake in a room filled with rum and grog bottles, clearly a bit worse for the wear. Before long events unfold, namely a ship being torn to shreds by a giant sea beastie, and you find yourself tasked with going undercover as a pirate so that you can hunt down the four legendary artefacts held by four pirate captains and use them to rid the world of Mara, who is a ….uh, thing. An evil thing, to be a bit more precise. So while it’s clearly not winning any awards for originality, being a fairly generic “find a thing to kill a thing” sort of storyline, Dark Waters tale is surprisingly entertaining romp that boasts some decent dialog and solid voce acting throughout, although the characters themselves that utter said dialog are a decidedly flat bunch, a trait that’s most noticeable in the companions you recruit to your crew along the way. At least your own character is a bit more entertaining, though. It’s unusual in a game like this a name’s lead character to be given this much personality of his own, but he’s a decidedly witty fellow back up by some pretty good voice acting, although it does have to be said that for someone tasked with the saving of the world by way of defeating an ancient evil he doesn’t really seem in that much of a rush to get anything done. Of course most of the reason for Risen 2’s story being entertaining is simply just because pirates. It’s hard not to be taken in by the ships, the style of clothing, the swords, the pistols and the world. After all, who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Sadly, though I didn’t feel like the pirate theme was as strong or well used as it could and arguably should have been, yet there’s certainly no denying wandering around the pirate port of Antigua with my sword, pistol and spiffy hat did feel rather awesome. The world of Risen 2 isn’t a massive, seamless area for you to explore, but rather a series of relatively small islands that you hop back and forth between, taking on the storyline and the occasional side-quest as you go or digging up some buried treasure, one of the few features which feels like it’s making good use of the pirate theme. Of course  to get around these various islands you’ll require some form transport, so as luck would have it a short while in to the game you acquire your very own ship to command! It’s an exciting moment in a game all about pirates, a moment filled with the prospect of sailing your own ship, sea-based combat, raiding towns, and it’s all let down by the fact that actually having your own ship means absolutely jack-squiddly, which is random speak for absolutely nothing.  There’s nothing on board it to interact with, look at or even admire, there’s no going on raids with it, no ship-to-ship battles,  there’s only a few of your pretty dull companions on board to speak to, and even more annoyingly you can’t even sail the bloody thing. Should you wish to head off to another island you simply select it on a map and then watch a brief cutscene of your ship leaving port followed by an absurdly long loading time to get to the next island. Having your own ship in Dark Waters is a bit like owning a Ferrari but having no car license with which to drive it. Sure, you can look at it and even sit in it, but that’s it. Mind you, you could drive the Ferrari illegally, which would be fitting for a pirate. You can’t do that with the ship in the game. Upon further reflection, this whole Ferrari thing is a terrible metaphor. Let’s just say it sucks to be a pirate captain with a ship that you can do nothing with.

Sadly the side-quests, much like the main quests as well, that you can pick up along the way are about as mundane and dull as they get in RPGs, usually venturing no further into the creative wilderness than sending you to fetch items or kill something, or even just you have wandering back and forth in town for 20-minutes talking to bland characters. Worse are the abundance of fetch quests where you reach your goal only to be told you’ve got to go fetch something. Do I look like an errand boy? I’m a pirate captain, not your personal courier service. Go find somebody else to do this stuff! This in itself wouldn’t be so much of a noticeable problem if the gameplay was a lot of fun, after all plenty of other RPGs have mundane and generic fetch quests but are still heaps of fun thanks to their core mechanics, like Skyrim or Amalur, but as you’re going to find out during the rest of this review, that’s not the case for Dark Waters. Still, the game does redeem itself a little bit with the occasional more interesting side-quest. The only thing that Risen 2’s main quest line  really has going for it is that you get a decent bit of leeway in which order you tackle some of the missions, allowing you to wander away from one mission to tackle another for a while should you be getting fed up or simply angry at the fact that the quest log often provides absolutely no clue as to what you’re supposed to be doing.

 There not a whole lot of reasons to go exploring the little islands that make up Risen 2’s world, either. While you are perfectly free to wander off the path and go exploring the jungles that make up a lot of the islands land, assuming you don’t get eaten by the local wildlife there’s not actually that much to find hidden amongst the trees, nor is there much reward for the few things that you do find as the loot that Risen 2 provides is about as mundane and generic as the missions are. Sometimes you might stumble across a cave that looks exactly like every other cave or a tomb that looks just like any other tomb, but there’s rarely anything interesting about them and the treasure you gain at the end is often just a few plates and idols and such that can be sold for some gold, which is fine, but after a while you start to feel the need for more interesting items and locations to make adventuring worth the time. Sometimes you’ll uncover a new sword, pistol or item of clothing in a chest or something, but there’s no real driven in Dark Waters to find more loot, unlike other RPGs where you’re often actively hunting down that next awesome sword or chestplate. It should also be said for those with little to no sense of direction that there’s no mini-map in Risen 2. In fact, to get an island of a map you need to find one on the island itself or earn it during one of the quests, at which point you can use it by navigating through the start menu. It’s certainly no deal-breaker, but the lack of a mini-map in an RPG, even one with relatively small areas, is certainly a bit strange, and more that a little annoying at times when you’re just trying to pinpoint your objective. However, having said that you do get a compass with which to explore, and that does at least make you feel a little more like a true pirate exploring new lands in which to….bury treasure, I guess.

Throughout all of this exploring and questing you will of course be doing the good old-fashioned RPG tradition of levelling up your character and his skills, with the usual XP of other role-playing games being replaced by Glory in Risen 2. Rather than simply levelling up whenever you gain a certain amount of Glory, you actively spend it to increase your base stats, be it Blades, Guns, Cunning, Toughness or one of the other stats. And in all fairness to Risen 2 it does at least do one thing that many other RPGs get wrong: it provides a real sense of progression for the player as they spend Glory points on stats. Every point you spend feels like a major upgrade to your character. However, this is mostly because at the start of the game you’re completely and totally bloody useless at everything and anything. Using guns is next to pointless because until you manage to hit about level 5 with them you’ll miss almost every time, likewise at level 5 Blade skill you finally seem able to actually inflict some damage. What angers me, though, is that this talentless hero was supposed to have killed a massive Titan in the first game, yet now appears completely unable to do even the most menial of tasks without tripping over his damn feet. Considering the setting of Risen 2 is so vastly different from the first, it’s a mystery as to why the developers didn’t just cast you as a brand new character, thus giving them a valid reason for you being an incapable pratt at the start of the game. Or perhaps I was supposed to assume that the drunken state of the Nameless Hero at the beginning was the cause of him losing all of his skills and becoming dunce.

Alongside spending Glory on your character’s base stats you can also learn and improve your skillset to make him….well, less useless. However, it’s here that Risen 2 makes yet another mistake. While other games have you increase your skills by putting points into them or simply just by using them, Risen 2 demands that you pay vast amounts of gold to learn and improve any skill. Want to learn how to sneak? That’ll be a 1,000 gold. Want to sneak better? That’ll be another 1,000 gold. Even the most basic of skills, like kicking an opponent during combat, requires that you spend gold to learn it. Hell, you actually have to pay gold to learn how to pull out your gun and shoot someone in mid-conversation. Isn’t it sort of self-explanatory? You just pull out your gun and shoot the other person. In the world of Risen 2, though, you’ve got to pay cash to lean how to do that. This wouldn’t be so frustrating, however, if it wasn’t for the fact that gold isn’t that easy to come by in Risen 2, especially in the first few hours of the game, and a 1,000 gold pieces is a considerable amount, leaving you utterly devoid of any real talents for some time unless you’re willing to forgo absolutely any and all equipment buying, except that you’re going to have to buy equipment or you’re going to end up dead. Even later in the game money is isn’t that easy to come by. Hell, by the end of the game, I had barely put any money into skills. It’s a poorly designed system that gives the game horrible pacing. And worthy of special note are the moments when characters say that they’ll  teach you a skill if you complete a quest for them, but then demand you pay for the aforementioned teaching after completing the also aforementioned quest. Developers, if you’re reading this, when a character says they’ll teach you a skill for completing a quest, actually have them teach you the skill. Also, a note to anybody that is going to buy this game, learn how to pick locks, because you’re going to encounter a lot of locked chests and doors.

Of all the skills and abilities you can pick up while playing Risen 2, Voodoo is by far the most unique and interesting of the lot, essentially acting as Dark Water’s take on the magic system we see in so many other games. Using voodoo it’s possible to curse enemies and even get them to fight each other, but the real the draw of its power comes from the ability to actually take control of people by creating a voodoo doll of them, done by collecting certain ingredients. It’s definately amusing to take control of a mayor or somesuch and go wondering around town, using his power to help you in your mission. Sadly, th0ugh, these moments are carefully limited: you can’t just go around taking control of every person you see. It’s also a bummer that you don’t get to learn voodoo until a decent bit into the game, or that more wasn’t done with it.

But what about the swordplay, I hear you cry? Well, yes, as a pirate you’re understandably going to be doing a lot of fighting during your adventure. The bad news is that combat in Risen 2 is terrible.  Allow me to explain. The entirety of combat in Risen 2 is based on  just one primary attack button  with a few other options thrown into the mix. Usually your primary weapon is a sword of some description, though guns are a possibility as well, as are spears for throwing. In your left hand you can have pistol or something like sand to throw in an opponents face, referred to as a”Dirty” trick, which is actually a pretty cool idea, if I do say so myself, fitting in nicely with the pirate theme Pistols of course have fairly long recharge times in between use to stop you simply abusing them, as do things like throwing sand in an opponents face. You’ve also got a block button, which, according to the name, should block incoming strikes. However, it’s not as simple as that, you see, because in Risen 2 enemies often have unblockable attacks. In particular, the various nasty animals inhabiting the islands have nothing but unblockable attacks. Why bother giving me a block button, developers, if it doesn’t actually block attacks?

The result is that most battles consist of you standing there hammering the attack button and hoping that the enemies health runs out before yours does. Perhaps even more baffling is that many animals and even some human opponents have  attacks that are much faster than your own lumbering attempts and that also actually interrupt your own attack animations, stopping your strike in mid-swing so that the enemies attack can hit yo in the face. If you happen to be moving when you get hit, then you suddenly stop moving. And so it’s possible to get locked into a fight where you just keeping getting hit because you can’t block and you can’t land enough attacks of your own thanks to your own animations being interrupted. On the PC version of Risen 2 this was at least partially solved by providing a dodge button, but strangely this feature is missing from the console version. Hopefully it gets patched in later as it would significantly improve combat.  Nor can you effectively manoeuver around enemies because the sticky camera, which we’ll get to later, often forces your character into a slow walk or stops you from making a quick get away altogether.

It’s in the first few hours of the game where this is at its worst. Since you’re essentially useless with a blade, incapable of doing more than a sliver of damage per strike, you’ll face a lot of annoying deaths at the hands of the local wildlife, including pigs. I kid you not, in the first few hours taking on a few pigs at once is near suicide. In particular  jaguars and Grave Spiders are the worst of the lot, though. They are the bane of my existence, I swear.  It’s not until later in the game when you’ve levelled up a bit that you feel capable of doing anything, but even then fights take zero skill: you just hammer the attack button with the occasional pistol show thrown in and keep chugging the Rum to get your health back. You do get access to some more advanced tricks that help make combat a bit more enjoyable, but not until much later in the game and only after investing copious amounts of gold. Meanwhile your opponents have access to these fancier tricks right from the start, often allowing them to come back from the brink of death in an instant It is, quite honestly, one of the worst combat systems I’ve seen in a good while: it requires little to no skill, is often frustrating and is simply poorly designed from the ground up.

And yet the fighting  does have glimpses of something more enjoyable. While large fights with humans can become annoying due to getting locked into a battle with a single opponent while the rest of them shoot you, one-on-one fights can be quite entertaining. The back and forth nature of these fights, while still downright clumsy, does at least require some skill from the player and resembles those classic swordfights from the old movies. Or at least, it would if the animations, both in combat and elsewhere, weren’t so horrible. Seriously, just go on Youtube and watch a few clips. The animation where you get stabbed by an opponent is just so bad it’s funny!

And that brings us neatly around to the games presentation. And its important to mention that there a few moments when Risen 2 looks nice, such as stepping off the ship onto Antigua, an island with a thriving pirate town.You’re greeted with a wash of colors and a lovely looking sea-side town filled with the filth of the Earth. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the vistas and visual style the artists were aiming for. The  character model for the Nameless Hero is also fairly well detailed, though the rest of them can’t really boast the same. But aside from these few things, Risen 2 is a rather ugly game to look at that’s plagued with numerous glitches and hiccups. The worst offender is easily the games animations which are some of the worst to grace console in quite some time: from combat, to jumping, to climbing, the animations are incredibly poor, especially during conversations. Take, for example, the animation for sneaking: it literally looks like your character has had several poles rammed into him and is now inching himself across the room. And then there’s the jumping animations. Oh god, the jumping animation. Sweet mother of my grandmothers hairy-ass cat is the jumping animation horrendous! It’s when you venture into the jungles that you really notice how bad the graphics are, though. You’ll notice that everything looks rough around the edges, stuff pops into existence, a problem at it’s worst when using fast travel, and the lighting looks a bit weird. All these things are more than obvious in the towns, but in the jungles they just become that more obvious.  But there’s one scene in particular where the poor presentation is at its most noticeable, a scene involving the sinking of ship and the death of a character. In this one scene, which should be a dramatic and hear-rending moment, the shoddy animation, lack of detail and background music as well as the crap sound effects leaves the whole thing feeling like a badly done pantomime rather than stunning cinematic moment. Also thrown in to the mix is a occasionaly jerky framerate that can almost come to a grinding halt when things get hectic, or sometimes  even when you face off against a single Grave Spider.

You can toss into that a camera system that works in only the most vague definition of the word, “works”. Exactly how the developers screwed up the camera I’m not too sure, but it’s a sticky mess that sometimes refuses to move or will slow you from a run to a walk for no apparent reason why you’re trying to reposition it, which becomes absurdly annoying when you’re trying to run away from things or just trying to outmaneuver them

Other problems, bugs and glitches include such things as the text being faint and blurry in inventory menus, subtitles failing to match what’s actually being said, the fact that your character sheathes his weapon every time you enter your inventory to chug a health potion, characters walking through each other and a host of other little niggles and oddities. King of the irritations, though, definitely goes the traps in the game, which are thankfully encountered very rarely. It’s impossible to see these cheeky little buggers, and when they activate you literally have a split-second in which to hit the correct button or you die, leaving you to hope that you remember to save the game a little bit before. I mean, who the hell thought these traps were in any way balanced? But hey, one thing the game does have in its favor is that fast travel is incredibly fast! Hurrah! And did I also mention that you can kill a turkey or even a Fire Lizard and get raw chicken from their corpses? I have no idea why you can, but it’s awesome in a sort of strange way.

But happily Risen 2 does at least have one more strength hidden up its sleeve: there’s a comedic streak running throughout the entire story that rarely failed to have me smiling. Due to the pirate the dialogue makes use of plenty of swearing, but not in overly forced manner, combining with some genuinely witty bickering and banter. The characters may be fairly one-dimensional, but the conversations between them are often hilarious. All of this comedic talent is at its best in Jafaar the Gnome, a scruffy little Gnome you recruit to your crew during your adventure. This cheeky little Gnome loves to steal and was tought to speak the human language by pirates, resulting in him have a rather interest speech pattern. His joyous shouts of, “Fuck yes!” and description of his elder as a, “clever old fucker” had me in stitches. Sure, it’s not clever humour, but Jafaar is some incredibly charming that you can’t help but like him, making him by far the most fun companion you gain.

Risen 2 isn’t the grand pirate adventure I was hoping for, nor is it even a decent RPG. There’s a few good things about the game, and the potential is certainly there, but this is just a mess, from the horrible combat to the sub-par graphics to humorous bugs and problems, this should have been so much more. On PC it showed such promise, but on console it’s a technical mess. And yet, truth be told, there is a sort of endearing charm to it all. Not enough to blind you to the problems, though.

The Good:
+ Pirates!
+ Jafaar the Gnome!
+ Digging up treasure!

The Bad:
– Combat
– Ain’t no looker
– Mundane quests

The Score:

Graphics: 5.5
Rough edges, terrible animations and numerous problems stop this from being even a decent looking game.

Sound: 6.5
The music is okay and the voice acting is largely decent, but the sound effects are often terrible and sometimes even disappear entirely.

Story: 6.5
A decent and largely predictable fantasy adventure with some good dialogue, but flat characters.

Gameplay: 5
The combat is a mess, the levelling up is poor implemented and even the damn camera doesn’t work properly.

Lifespan: 8.5
Around 25-35 hours should see everything done.

The Verdict: 5.5
A playable RPG that boasts a decent tale and some good comedic value, but little else to recommend it. Unless you’re an absolute RPG fanatic and a lover of pirates, there’s no reason to pick this up over the many other high-quality role-playing games out there.

Categories: Reviews

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