Unfortunately, the first few hours of Risen 2: Dark Waters will be a let down to a lot of gamers. The promises put forth by developer Piranha Bytes of pirate life and plundering the high seas ARE in this game however, it will probably take you a good 6-8 hours before you can even touch the best parts of this game.
Risen 2: Dark Waters takes place after the events of Risen 1. Not all is lost if you have not played Risen 1, as the connection is mostly focused on world events and is explained well enough within Risen 2 itself. Some old characters return to Risen 2, including the male main character known as the Nameless Hero, and this will delight those familiar with them, but overall it is not a necessity to have played the first game.
The first few minutes and indeed hours might turn players off though. With good reason, as the biggest impression the game makes on you during this time is one of being bland. In practically every department. Gameplay-wise, from the get-go you feel that control of the Nameless Hero (henceforth known as the main character) is very clunky. His movements are not fluid and not as responsive as one would hope. This is apparent outside of combat, but even more in combat. The game requires players to be adept at movement during combat, but it lacks any dodge button or a good lock-on mechanic. Hence avoiding attacks requires running or jumping (which is awkward) which just does not work well especially against monsters or a group of enemies. Things become more bearable once you upgrade your character’s stats, however fighting against monsters which rush at you and can hitstun you can still be an annoyance as the basic requirement of good flowing movement is not present in the game.
One-on-one fights against human opponents however can be very fun and rewarding, especially once you have leveled up your character. The early parts can still be rather bland and slow, since you begin the game very weak in comparison to those around you. Other human enemies can easily overpower you if you do not get accustomed to constantly holding the block button. This results in a slow and not-all-that-fun combat experience especially since your damage output is low too. Once you start learning things and gain other abilities, more options open up to you to handle these situations and hence combat becomes more exciting. Your best bet at times though is to travel with companions you meet in the game. Companions can hold their own in battle and more importantly, draw fire away from you. It is an unfortunate side-effect of the combat system, but relying on your companions is a good strategy to get through the game.
And the more you level-up, the more options become available. You start to learn how to use guns and further on, voodoo (the equivalent of magic). Guns can be extremely powerful and can quickly dispose of foes, making for an ironic setting where the game becomes much easier later on. The problem is, you barely get to touch these skills and talents even after 6-8 hours in, and the process is still slow throughout the game. There are various reasons for this, the high cost of skills and talents or how the teachers who can teach these abilities are not available until later in the game are just a couple.
There are five major skill categories: Blades, Guns, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo. With five main skill trees, and various talents that you can learn under these categories, it becomes a long and slow process to learn decent abilities, especially considering if you focus on non-combat abilities (like increasing persuasion, learning to pick locks or training a monkey) you suffer relying on basic abilities for combat. You level-up through ‘Glory’ points which you gain from completing quests and fighting. You also require gold to pay the teachers who can teach you talents, which is not cheap early on.
Exploration in the game is decent enough. Risen 2 is not a fully open world game, but it does allow a good degree of exploration. The only hindrance to this aspect being the shoddy combat, as fighting multiple enemies can still be bothersome no matter your character level. At least there’s a good fast-travel method to camp areas for those not to keen on traveling. Thus at times you simply do not want to explore unless you have companions by your side. Exploration also plays a part in the questing in the game. Each area you visit tends to have a lot of quests to undertake. You will want to do plenty as not only can you earn more gold and Glory points, since quests can be failed, you might need to undertake a lot anyway.
Quests can at least be interesting at times, if a bit straight forward. Treasure hunting, sneaking, ship tracking, heavy drinking and pirate butt-kicking to name a few. All of that amongst the standard RPG questing components like fetching items and killing monsters. Again, questing too becomes better the more you level-up as you can start using various unique skills and talents to complete said quests. For instance, utilizing voodoo to solve quest problems can be very satisfying. The unfortunate aspect of voodoo though is that it does not have great offensive uses during combat itself. Overall, the quests in the game kind of keep the pirate theme, but unfortunately it never feels fully immersive.
A good part of that is down to the story and character interactions. The story is based around finding a way to fight a giant sea monster. Our main character thus has to travel around the continent to find ways of accomplishing this task. It is not a truly immersive story, and is not helped by the main character having a weak voice actor. He does not sound anything like a seasoned or experienced adventurer, more like a newcomer to sea life. The other characters you meet on your journey sound better, fitting into the pirate theme of the game with some characters being more than decent. Most of the dialogues are humorous, but can also feel superficial with it’s subject matter. Overall, none of it is truly outstanding as dialogue and story just do not draw you into the game world.
Graphics in the game are nothing to shout about. Weird character animations are very noticeable during character interactions. The characters themselves do not look that good either. Background landscape and scenery are more passable. Quite often though you will see plants and tree leaves randomly change, becoming bigger or smaller, as if the developers were trying to include wind movement to affect the flora, but instead coming out with a weird mechanic where the plants consistently become big or small as you travel about. Buildings tend to be the most lacking, as they lack definition that allows them to stand out.
Final thoughts: Risen 2: Dark Waters does not stand out against the top quality RPGs that have released lately. If anything, Risen 2 is the epitome of an above average game. If you only care to play the best RPGs, Risen 2 is unlikely to wet your appetite. If you just simply like to play RPGs, and find even the average RPG better than games in other genres that receive high critical praise, then Risen 2 is just for you. It gives you a new world to explore with the added niche pirate theme. If you can bear through the first few hours, you might come to like all the ideas implemented in the game, even if none of them are perfect.
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