Tested using an R9 270 graphics card provided by AMD.
The Risen games have never been exceptional RPGs, and yet somehow over the years they’ve gained a small but loyal group of fans who are willing to overlook the many flaws in order to find the sense of adventure buried beneath. While the first Risen was actually kind of good, Risen 2 was poor, so can this third game get things right? Sort of.
You play as the son of legendary pirate Steelbeard and brother of Patty, a name familiar to series veterans. As the game opens you and your sister are hunting for some treasure along the Crab Coast. Naturally something goes terribly wrong, namely you stumble across a strange skull portal from which spews forth Shadows, a strange evil hellbent on taking over the world. Sadly, you are killed, leaving your sister to bury your sorry carcass on the beach, but as luck would have it a mere three weeks later a crazy shaman by the name of Bones manages to bring you back to life. Even then, though, there’s still a problem; your Spirit is gone, taken by a Shadow Lord and leaving you a strange not-quite-dead-but-still-walking-and-talking thing.
Your ultimate goals are to find a way of reuniting your body with your spirit, thereby saving yourself from a terrible fate, and to persuade several powerful factions to form an alliance in order to stop the encroaching forces of darkness from destroying the world. In a nicely symbolic gesture Piranha Bytes manages to say goodbye to much of the pirate goodness of the second game with the death and resurrection of the player character, who largely ditches his pirate affiliations for the greater good, setting the stage for an adventure that takes place in Risen 2’s world, but with more emphasis on traditional fantasy and only a little pirateness. Is that even a word? It is now.
Neither Risen nor Risen 2 had what could be described as stellar writing, characterisation or voice acting, and Risen 3 is no different in this regard. The narrative chugs along a predictable path with poor writing almost every step of the way. Dialogue is consistently awkward, and indeed some conversations don’t even make sense. This fact is only made worse by allowing players to select what to say next, frequently leading to jarring changes of subject and conversations that flow as well as mud uphill. There’s a few genuinely awesome moments along the way, such as visiting the island of Gnomes, but they can’t rise above the plot’s many problems. Lurking behind it all, though is a sense of adventure that carries you along.
Along the way you’ll recruit many companions that join you on your ship, and during missions you’re free to take one of them along, trusting them to lend a hand when the fighting starts. None of them are ever given time to develop anything more than a surface personality, though, and only a couple even stand as being interesting people. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s your first companion, Bones, that manages to steal the show thanks to his mutterings of sacrificing and incredibly cheesy, emphatic voice-actor who places great emphasis in all the wrong areas, creating a strange, offbeat character. He sounds strangely like a character of Matt Berry’s, but is actually played David Rintoul, AKA Grandad Dog from Peppa Pig. Other than Bones the second most amusing character is Jafar, another returning face from Risen 2. Patty rounds out the trio of interesting companions, largely because she’s one of the few characters with a voice actor that could be described as reasonable. On the other hand her low-cut pirate outfit looks like it was bought in a costume shop.
As for everyone else they are left largely in obscurity. I’m more than willing to bet that like me you’ll opt to take Patty, Bones and Jafar just about everywhere, neglecting the rest of your crew simply because they’re not all that interesting. As for the acting it’s pretty bad across the board. The main character, who remains nameless throughout the game, is one of the worst offenders with a growl that only ever does surly or sarcastic. Considering that the first game managed to attract some names like Andy Serkis, it’s a shame to see the quality of acting go considerably downhill.
And yet despite the weak writing, bad dialogue, lack of characterisation and questionable acting it’s hard not to enjoy the plot and become strangely enamored with the world and people. Though anyone with even a slightly objective mind can see how badly put together the narrative is, there’s a certain quirky charm to it all, a charm bolstered by burst’s of cheesy humour and laughable swearing. As bad as it is, there’s the sense that it’s genuinely a labour of love, and because of that it has a certain schlocky B-movie style appeal that can draw you in. I doubt that many people will feel that way, but it’s certainly how I came to feel about Risen 3.
The game takes a relatively open approach to its structure. Once you’re clear of the very first island you’re free to do whatever you want and sail to any of the game’s other landmasses, chatting to the inhabitants and taking on quests as you go. Each island is a decent size and jammed full of quests that can be acquired just by chatting to the locals, and before long you’ll have an almost daunting quest-log packed with things to do. Most quest objectives don’t require you to venture off the island you’re currently on, either, so if you want you can opt to focus on one area before moving on the next. Fairly generous teleporters make getting around easy, although for reasons beyond my own comprehension the developers have chosen to implement a system whereby a teleport location can only be activated if you have a teleporter stone as well. It seems pointless to force players into searching for these stones just so they can more quickly get around.
Some problems do arise from the freedom, though, namely in how the game is terrible at communicating what you need to do next to get the storyline moving along. There’ll be moments when you’re staring at the logbook wondering why the story won’t shift. Perhaps the local mage has told you to come back later for the reactor switch on, but no matter how long you wait around he’ll never call you back. What you actually need to do is go elsewhere and get through certain other quests. For some this will be a good thing as it encourages you to further explore your surroundings and head out to the other islands, for others they may find themselves a little irritated at being left in the dark.
The way certain quests are handled also presents a couple of issues worth chatting about. Quest markers frequently didn’t show up correctly or weren’t removed when they should have been. Attempting to cash quests can also be a pain due to some seriously dumb handling of the dialogue. In order to hand in a quest that had, for example, four smaller tasks associated with it, you must go the quest giver and proceed to chat about each smaller task in turn, before then selecting yet another option to acknowledge that the quest as a whole has been completed. Other times important quest dialogue seemed to be hidden away, forcing players to click through other options to finally find the piece of dialogue they need to complete a certain mission. These aren’t huge problems that will ruin the game for you, but they do represent a lack of polish.
Risen 3 doesn’t hold your hand overly much, and encourages you to explore. Venturing off the path usually yields some new quests to check out. The lands are quite vast enough to simply pick a direction and spend an hour wandering like you can in Skyrim, but by time you take into account all the islands there’s a decent amount of places to explore and caves to delve into. Swimming has been added, so now you can go for a dip and make your way round the coast to find new areas.
Combat has been improved a tad since Risen 2’s frankly bloody awful offering. As before tapping the left mouse button initiates a swing of the sword that then leads into a basic three-hit combo, but timing your presses correctly results in extra damage and better speed, while screwing up obviously does the opposite. The right mouse button is used to block attacks, and eventually riposte as well. Pistols can be mapped to your free left hand in order to unleash a quick shot to the face, and this time around there’s no horribly lengthy recharge times dictating their use. That’s not to say you can spam pistol attacks, though, as the animation for using them is relatively slow and can leave you vulnerable. The biggest and best addition is being able to dodge by double-tapping any direction, giving combat a far nicer feeling and making dealing with multiple opponents easier. The dodge can be spammed to avoid any and all damage, even if you’re rolling into a wall, but it’s an improvement.
Small details have also been worked upon. Enemies now generally react to your attacks, for example, whereas in Risen 2 they tended to ignore your strikes in favor of smacking you in the face. The foes you face do still have an array of attacks that can put you on the ground for a few seconds, but no longer tend to spam them for unfair victories.
As improved as it is, though, the combat still suffers from severe problems that stop it from being anything other than merely okay. The animations and movements are stiff and awkward, making the combat feel clumsy and badly paced. Targeting specific enemies is still a major headache, one that resulted in the accidental injuring of bystanders and otherwise friendly characters far more often than I would like, thereby causing quite a few problems. At one point I ended up killing a character important to a quest because the auto-targeting decided I wanted to slice him up, despite his position being directly behind by about 10ft. Needless to say I had to load up a previous save. It also bothers me that such an essential talent as being able to riposte is locked away until you can find the correct trainer and hand over a chunk of gold in order to learn it.
Risen 3 does at least offer up a stiff challenge in its combat, a welcome change over most games which tend to make things overly easy. Partially this is due to the slightly awkward, clumsy nature of the mechanics, creating a false sense of difficulty at times, but largely it’s because enemies attacks are swift and groups of foes can overwhelm you without mercy. Good use of dodge and quick blocking responses are needed to come out of a fight alive against all but the weakest of monsters. Human-esque enemies are also quite fun to face because they can block incoming attacks, leading to nice back and forth sword duels.
Magic makes a most welcome return, letting you spice up fights by hurling fireballs and such. No matter which of the three factions (Demon Hunters, Guardians and Natives) you choose to align yourself during the story you’ll have access to magic in one form or another. It’s worth investing points into magic and learning a good array of spells, because you’ll find having some offensive abilities at your disposal makes things much easier, though you could always choose to stick to the swords, pistols and muskets if you fancy a more traditional pirate lifestyle.
If you’re looking for plenty of interesting loot then Risen 3 may not be the game for you. New sets of armor and cool new weapons are far and few between, leaving you to spend hours and hours using the same gear. Even items that would appear to be more interesting are often a let-down, sporting just slightly better stats. One of the biggest draws of RPGs is the ability to gather loot and use it to customise your avatar in order to better suit your style of play, so the lack of cool gear in Risen 3 is a bit of a blow. It also means that quest rewards are limited to piles of gold, which you’ll use on standard healing items and bullets, and Glory. As an example, over the course of fifteen hours I changed my armor once, and my sword and pistol twice.
If you’re the kind of gamer that gets hot under the collar about pure content, then Risen 3 has you covered. Pretty much every quest follows the standard, generic RPG tropes of going somewhere and killing some stuff or going somewhere, killing some stuff and grabbing an item. Indeed, some of them are obviously weak padding, like a quest where you go on a night patrol which involves walking in a very small circle while killing a couple of things. Still, between the main storyline, side-questions and hunting of Legendary Items – which provide a stat boost – there’s somewhere between thirty to forty hours of gameplay to be had here. In truth, I can’t provide an exact number because I simply didn’t have time to do everything, but nonetheless that’s a lot of content for your money.
Worth talking about for some is the fact that some of the content has been recycled from Risen 2. A large amount of the environments you’ll visit have ripped directly from the last game, albeit with some tweaking along the way. It doesn’t feel like laziness on the developer’s behalf, though, more like they simply wanted to tell a new story in the same world they created before. Plus, there are new environments, too.
Levelling up is handled through the acquisition of Glory, earned by killing things and completing quests, as per glorious RPG tradition. Glory can then be spent to upgrade one of eight basic stats, such as your Cunning, Melee, Ranged and Dexterity, which in turn will affect how well you can do things like us a pistol or pick a lock. In order to acquire entirely new skills or even provide a large upgrade to existing abilities you need to find trainers scattered across the land before handing over a large sum of gold, assuming you’ve also got the requisite amount of points in whatever base stat that the trainer demands. Take a tip, it’s worth investing on lockpicking due to the mind-boggling amount of locked chests that will taunt you with their hidden treasures, and the riposte skill to make fights a bit better.
Having to hunt for trainers in the last game was a controversial design choice, but I must say that despite its innate frustrations it does encourage you to talk to everyone and check out the islands. Still, when attempting to find a specific skill scouring the islands can become annoying. It’d be nice if you were at least allowed to start the game with a skill or two picked from a list. I mean honestly, what kind of pirate can’t riposte? Failing that, conversation hints pointing you in the direction of trainers with certain talents would have been nice.
The fact that your spirit has been lost to some douchebag of a Shadow Lord gives rise to a strange morality system, the implementation of which feels rather rough and half-hearted. Certain dialogue options and actions can increase or decrease your morality rating, but it’s often unclear as to how this system works. Sometimes making what seems like an indifferent comment will suddenly drop your morality rating, while another time genuinely offensive or brash dialogue choices don’t. Many times I made what seemed like fairly neutral dialogue choices, only to see my morality rating drop. Not that it matters as morality rarely seems to effect the game aside from some passing comments from NPCs, though to be fair I never went far enough to the “other side” to see if everybody just refused to talk to me like one NPC informed me would happen. Mind you, I doubt the main plot could work if that happened.
On occasion the game also throws you behind the wheel of a ship using a system vaguely similar, but far less impressive, to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. In these situations you can control both broadsides as you steer the ship, plus a deck gun. These sea battles pitch you against giant monsters rather than ships, though, which is a tad odd given the pirate theme running throughout Risen 3. Though they don’t have the same detailed physics or incredibly graphic seen in Ubisoft’s work, these sections are a lot of fun and serve to break up the pace nicely. The only problem is that your monstrous opponents have attacks than can be escaped or dodged in your weighty ship, so fights are about maximizing damage before the enemy hits you X amount of times.
Running on PC the game throws up some lovely environments that are brought to life by a solid lighting model and plenty of lush foliage. It’s an illusion easily shattered, though – start to look a little closer and you’ll notice a lot of low-res textures strewn around. Animations are also stiff across the board, especially noticeable during conversations where gestures tend to look clunky and out of place with what’s actually being said. Performance is a little patchy too. The game generally ran at a decent framerate, but I did not quite large drops in certain areas. Taken as a whole, though, and Risen 3 looks rather nice.
The Risen series by this point is almost demanding to be great, and doubtless the potential is there. Despite the clumsy writing the worlds that Piranha Bytes manages to craft are interesting to explore, and a rough charm pervades the game. Although certainly a better game its own predecessor, it’s not by much. Risen 3 has many problems that hold it back from becoming the truly absorbing RPG that it could be.
+ Plenty to do.
+ A couple of good characters.
+ Looks good.
+ Interesting world to explore.
– Poorly written.
– Combat is still weak.
– Lack of characterisation.
– Lack of loot.
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
While it arguably deserves a slightly lower score there’s a good-natured charm to Risen 3 that won me over. Not the best RPG, but one that’s worth checking out if you’re a big fan of the genre.