Do what you want ‘cos a pirate is free, you’re a pirate!
It’s been three years since Piranha Bytes last put out a game. In that time we’ve seen rapid advances in visual technology, new approaches to RPG game design and the almighty Skyrim emerge from the undergrowth to satisfy our fantasy sensibilities. It’s no wonder then that rather than compete with braintrust Bethesda, the German studio has adopted a new, more piratey, approach for their latest open world RPG.
Well, we say new – the truth is this is the same kind of Risen you would have seen back in 2009, only where before you would’ve enjoyed an oppressive atmosphere, an intriguing island setting of Faranga and an unpredictable plot before; here all there’s really to relish is casual racism, pithy one liners and characters so unlikeable that you’d wish they’d walk the plank.
It’s a real shame as there’s been a long line of games which have flourished when emulating the trends of grog swilling men of the sea, but despite using every stereotype in the book Piranha never apply these established tropes in any meaningful way. Instead characters are mostly one dimensional drunken womanisers who enjoy prostitutes and killing each other – where’s the fun in that? The Inquisition aren’t much better either; the tyrannical faction has been watered down to fit the traditional role of an empirical police force and mysterious tribes people are now monosyllabic natives who are uncomfortably referred to as savages and commonly drafted as slaves Spending fifty hours in this cardboard cut-out world will frankly be a big ask for anyone who appreciates interesting character design and plot development, but that isn’t to say Risen 2 is entirely without its charms.
Like in the previous game, you’re usually free to approach quests and exploration in any manner you wish, with the campaign again split into different sections; funnelling the player into linear scenarios before letting them loose. It’s a tried and tested method which means you can take your time, picking up spoils from the ground, talking to NPCs, cooking, training and of course fighting. Combat still feels stunted when compared with other RPGs, but Piranha has added guns, and strafing in order to mix up the traditional click to win formula. You can even sick your parrot or monkey onto any enemy, utilising your pet’s as a skill in the hotbar, but unfortunately to get to the really good stuff you’re going to have to struggle.
Acquiring skills like pickpocketing, crafting and training little furry friends isn’t a case of merely performing the activity and getting better over time, instead you need to be trained by NPCs who are literate in any given craft. This bizarre evolution isn’t aided at all by the level up system, with attributes now only upgraded by investing XP ( Glory) earned into five different specialities: Blades, Firearms, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo. It’s a confusing yet limited system which leads to a lot of head scratching and mistaken dialogue choices as you ask trainers for help getting better at intimidating foes, only for them to refuse as your requisite rating isn’t high enough.
We won’t get too down on Dark Waters despite its litany of flaws, confusing design and archaic character animations – it still offers more choice than any other recent RPG, besides Skyrim. There’s also an oddly captivating feel to its slow pace and freeform design, which means you’ll be happily toiling away on the game’s different islands even though really you aren’t doing anything other than wandering around.
The big question that has to be asked though is that is this a substantial improvement over the original Risen and in our opinion that answer has to be no. Dark Waters feels a lot more disposable than its atmospheric predecessor and lacks a lot of personality, which for a Piranha Bytes game is really strange. Strictly a game for Risen or more appropriately Gothic fans only.
Tags: Risen 2: Dark Waters
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