Eastern Europe has long been known as a hotbed for high creativity mixed with awkward execution. While games like The Witcher 2 have proven that highly polished product can come out of the old communist bloc, most games are still amongst the wonkiest released to retail. So, going into Risen 2: Dark Waters, I knew exactly what to expect and it mostly hits those expectations, but it also has a surprising amount of natural charm that gives clemency to a lot of the nagging issues at play.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is a follow up to developer Piranha Bytes tepidly received roleplaying game, Risen. Having not played Risen, I cannot tell if the story of Dark Waters directly follows the events of the original or not. Regardless it seems that those events are mostly inconsequential as Dark Waters takes the series out of the stock fantasy realm the original was based in, instead taking pirates as the theme. As such, with so many games where players fight generic fantasy monsters, Risen 2 is a breath of fresh air.
Players will take on the role of the nameless hero as he sets out to infiltrate the world of the pirates on a mission to track down the whereabouts of a legendary weapon. Unlike many Western styled roleplaying games, the main quest in Risen 2 is actually well thought out and thoroughly engaging and there is surprisingly some very solid writing with excellent characters in the game.
It is the story, characters and the ability to live out the life of a pirate that define Risen 2 and make it worth playing. Unfortunately, the game takes its sweet time showing these things to players, instead choosing to put its worst foot forward with a sluggishly paced opening and a tutorial area that highlights the worst aspects of the gameplay and progression system.
It seems to be a calling card of games developed in Eastern Europe to make their players suffer before getting any enjoyment out of their products. Risen 2 follows suit and during an extra-long training session, masquerading as a prologue, Risen 2 forces players to do tiresome fetch quests, complete multi-tiered quest lines with no direction, navigate an atrociously designed map, and fight monsters that cannot be defended against. While some of these things are part and parcel with roleplaying games, they generally do not show themselves in the opening act when the game is trying to hook players with a reason to keep playing. And the biggest of these issues is something you will do throughout the game, combat.
Combat in Risen 2 is designed around three different disciplines, sword fighting, gunplay, and voodoo. The default system available is sword fighting and it has major design issues that hinder it from being an all-around effective choice for battle. The biggest issue is that unless combat is against human characters, the intricate defense/parry system is useless. This makes all fights against wildlife and monsters troublesome even on lower difficulty levels. It can be highly frustrating dying repeatedly at the hands of a fire-breathing chicken because it has un-blockable attacks. And it is even more frustrating when you realize that you were mistakenly on the wrong side of an island when it happens.
Navigation in Risen 2 is troublesome to say the least. In all my time with the game I was never able to get the quest marker system to work properly with the map and without a waypoint to aim for there is a lot of aimless wandering. I will fully admit that maybe I missed the instructions for how to utilize the map but even so, it is not intuitive.
Worst of all the awkward design decisions though might be the progression system. Leveling revolves around two things, glory points (experience points) and gold. Glory points, awarded for doing just about everything in the game world, can be used to buy levels in the game’s core proficiencies like sword fighting or gunplay but each proficiency has skills that can also be leveled up. However, all this sub leveling is done through meeting trainers in the game world and paying them large amounts of gold to train these skills. Being as gold is hard to come by for over half of the game, leveling can be somewhat of a chore.
As someone that generally gets turned off by a noticeable lack of polish, sticking with Risen, despite its issues, rewarded me with a very unique gaming experience and a charming story that captivated me and made me want to continue playing. The fact that it is noticeably different in setting from every other roleplaying game out there also helps it quite a bit. In the end though, these issues may not be enough for some players to overcome but that is alright, Risen 2 is after all a janky game and will not be for everyone. If you are however, in the mood for sailing the high seas with a bottle of rum, this game will scratch your itch quite well.
- Engaging main quest
- Solid writing
- Charming story and characters
- Combat is unbalanced
- Navigation can be a chore
- Progression is frustrating
- Weird animation issues and clipping problems
3 / 5