Risen (PC) Review
Two things that are key to my enjoyment of an RPG are an immersive world and a character that I care about. With Risen, Piranha Bytes almost had me. Almost.
When you first wash up on the island it seems like your standard RPG fair. But that is where you’re wrong, Risen is a very peculiar beast. In some areas it excels but in other important areas, it has faults. Your struck by Risen’s odd yet well executed tendencies very early on. You have to find food for your damsel in distress, to do so you have to take the meat off a slain monster. When you have the raw meat you have to find an open fire and a frying pan.
This is one of the things I like about Risen – besides the slow, boring cooking animation – the attention to detail. I loved the fact that as your hunting skill develops you can de-tusk boars and clip birds wings. I can easily lose myself doing these non-story based tasks, even collecting herbs for potions, making scrolls and even finding ingredients to make recipes. It’s just really good fun. But doing these little personal errands means braving the outside world and in Risen and it’s not a pretty place.
It is pretty in a visual sense, with lots of scenic views and lush forests, but the characters sadly don’t fare as well. You will see the same face over and over, although not so bad at first you eventually lose any connection with the NPC’s. You can talk to one really interesting, compelling character, then turn the corner and there he is again, but it’s just his face (it’s like some twisted island of clones). At least your character looks different, maybe he will be interesting and charismatic, but then he speaks. Dull, charmless, badly acted voice over can ruin a game but gladly in Risen it does not as the dialogue in the entire game is pretty much the same. A few characters are well narrated but these are few and far between. I found myself reading the subtitles and skipping the audio of the conversations which is criminal in an RPG but I had to do it.
There is a good story hidden away under the clunky dialogue. The island is littered with monsters, spewed forth from strange temples that have burst from the land. White Robes of the Inquisition guard these temples and if you don’t want to join them then trust me when I say it’s best to stay far, far away from them. The only other option is joining Don Esteban and his bandits. By joining a faction you get to pursue that side of the story and gain their respect. You don’t have to join a faction right away, instead you can pick and choose your way through the quests, playing each side against each other and getting the best out of each situation.
A lot of the quests are relatively open-ended as you can use whatever skill set is at your disposal to work it out. Are you a pesky little thief? Then pickpocket the items and sell them to the highest bidder. Are you a crafty business man? Then buy the items and make a profit. Or do you just like to beat people up? Then beat it out of them. You dont have to kill people in Risen, you just whack them around a bit then they fall over and eventually get up. It’s a good touch as you can really be a ruffian and not a murderer.
I tried to stay away from the fighting option as I prefered the more subtle approach of paying people off and then robbing them. Although I love this option it was not one of choice, but more of necessity, as I found myself getting beat up a little too much. The combat in Risen is quite a simple affair – left click to swing your weapon, right to block, dodge by double tapping the movement key – but somehow I just could not grasp it. Even at the later levels I still ended up spamming the attack button and hoping my health would last out. I’m usually fine against one enemy but against multiple opponents I often find it a bit clunky. They swing around behind you and you have to quite heavily flick through the slight auto aim to target the character you want to block. A few of my key fights I won by managing to glitch the enemy up against a wall then beating them to death.
Monsters are even worse as they are (although impressive creations) really tough to kill. As a low-level character I could not even take down a couple of giant spinerats. I found myself running through open areas of country with a tail of wolves and giant moths just hoping I’d either run into some help, or they would get bored and leave me be. The one good thing is that the enemies don’t re-spawn, so over time you can empty an area. Normally no re-spawning is a bad thing but there’s so many monsters in Risen that it’s a saving grace. If they re-spawned then I doubt I would have made it past the first few levels. It’s such an unforgiving game to new players, but I kind of like it. It’s nice to struggle at times but at others it made me just turn it off.
Maybe using magic would be easier but I’ve not had time to start a mage yet. One thing that amused me about being a mage is that they’re alcoholics. Seriously. Drinking alcoholic beverages increases your mana bar and, unlike other games, does not have any negative effects. Sounds like the perfect world for drunks. Even if you’re not a wasted wizard you can still use magic scrolls and boy does Risen have some crackers – telekinesiss, healing, levitation and snail metamorphosis. Yes, in Risen you can transform into a snail. It’s actually a very handy spell as you can sneak past guards and through small doorways. Using the spells are key to accessing secret areas and bypassing traps.
Levelling up makes combat a lot easier and once again, Risen does it in its own strange way. You gain experience the standard way by killing enemies, completing quests and eating the occasional plant. When you’ve levelled up you can seek out a trainer to train you in your ability of choice. You also need to have a fair amount of gold coins to cover the training expenses. I like the fact that you can choose the skills you want but it has its faults. You have to buy the sneak skill which is basically paying for the ability to crouch. This seems a little senseless but maybe I’m just a fan of the Oblivion style of levelling; the more you use a weapon or trait then the more it upgrades. The upgrades are good but I found myself not having enough gold, or not knowing what to spend it on; I want to learn the parry skill yet I also want to be able to lock pick. I ended up with a character who was a jack of all trades but a master of none. It may have been my fault but it feels like you have to go down this route as you can’t get by without a foundation in all the skill sets. Maybe on my next play through I’ll concentrate on one ability and see if I can have more of a stress free time.
As you can tell, my thoughts on Risen are quite varied; there are things I loved yet things I disliked. It was a journey of frustration filled with pockets of fun. As frustrating as it was, it created a refreshing environment, making the world feel real. The creatures were tough from the off set and unlike most RPG’s you really felt out of your depth. The main character, although boring, did feel like an untrained foreigner washed up in a strange land with no one to connect with, no one to befriend. The game successfully conveyed the feeling of unease and isolation which is probably the most impressive thing Piranha Bytes have managed to do.
So, If you’re a fan of RPG’s then go out and give this game a shot. I cant promise you will love it – I’m still not 100% sure if I did – but it’s an interesting game that really deserves to be played. The faults are out weighed by an impressive world, interesting depth and a refreshing take on the fantasy RPG genre.
Hi-Score – Captavating World, Impressive Range of Skills, Unique Creatures, Realistic Enviroment
Lo-Score – Voice Acting, High Difficulty, Poor Characters, Random Bugs
Score – 7/10