Fantasy is something that children steep themselves in while growing up, which is why entertainment options based on fairy tales and out-of-this-world adventures are so popular, even with older audiences. Take gaming’s broad role-playing genre for example and you’ll find all sorts of immersive escapes. In most instances, their plot lines follow regular people who do extraordinary things in order to save the ones they love and/or the worlds they cherish, though other end goals appear throughout the genre. In the end, it’s all about finding the digital journey that is right for you, no matter what its focus is on. If you want to become a galaxy-saving space soldier, or would prefer to take on the role of a magical being who must save a fictional kingdom, then both options are at your disposal, as are many more.
Those who find the pirate lifestyle of interest can now look to Piranha Bytes’ latest offering, Risen 2: Dark Waters, as a chance to experience it through digital means. The sequel’s storyline is set after the conclusion of its predecessor, wherein an unnamed hero was forced to look to a mystical titan as a way to prevent a maniacal Inquisitor from destroying the large breed. This time around, the very same protagonist, who has become a member of the Inquisition and its military ranks, is tasked with saving his island-filled home region from a water-based threat.
After we’re re-introduced to our booze loving avatar on his home island of Caldera, the game immediately sets its sights on creating the foundation of its lengthy quest by telling the tale of a mystical creature named Mara and the gigantic Kraken she’s unleashed upon the area’s seafaring citizens. Fed up with living in fear of the ship destroying beast and its heinous overseer, the Inquisition has decided to send one of its recruits on a dangerous journey to bring peace back to the land, and their chosen man just so happens to be our drunken friend.
In order to keep things quiet, the above-mentioned mission is kept quiet from everyone; even those who have sworn allegiance to the Inquisition’s blue coat regiment. It’s thought that if the questing soldier’s mission is kept under wraps then Mara won’t find out. That way, the element of surprise will still be in play as a necessary advantage. For that reason, a ruse is created, wherein everyone is told that the peacekeeper has been banished from the island, effectively removing him from the religious military group’s ranks.
Unsurprisingly, going up against an evil creature like Mara is no easy task, meaning that a successful attack will not only require someone with nerves of steel, but also a disassembled magical weapon that happens to be in the possession of pirates. That’s why it becomes the unnamed hero’s responsibility to infiltrate the skull and crossbones adopting criminal group, in order to discover their secrets and hopefully enlist their help. His target is one Captain Steelbeard; someone who happens to have had previous contact with the ungodly summoner.
From start to finish, Risen 2: Dark Waters offers fans of the genre an interesting storyline that is easy to become immersed within. Featuring interesting twists, choices and authentic dialogue, it creates a quality escape for those who grew up dreaming about being a pirate for a day. However, although its narrative happens to be of high quality, the game is certainly not for everyone.
As with every other type of video game out there, role-playing titles are always evolving, regularly offering new mechanics, updated visuals and enhanced customization options. Unlike its peers, however, Piranha Bytes’ Risen franchise happens to prefer the days of yesteryear where breadcrumb trails and helpful hints were not a major part of interactive entertainment. As a result, Risen 2: Dark Waters happens to be an unforgiving game that won’t hold players’ hands or give them any helpful hints. For most of the adventure, one must progress through exploration. Although talking to the locals also helps, their answers are sometimes basic, and can also be quite cryptic at others, providing limited clues that must be put together. That means getting from point A to point B will require reading and listening, in addition to knowing the difference between north, east, south and west.
These days, we’re used to looking at maps for hints as to where to go next, in order to progress a modern RPG’s quest line, but that type of crutch isn’t available here. In fact, although the game’s environmental diagrams are helpful, they’ll rarely show you where to go next. Quest objective locations are occasionally displayed, but not often, leaving only a beige X to indicate who the quest was given by. At those times, it’s important to go over related dialogue more than once, in order to pick out necessary tidbits of information. Granted, not all of the title’s quests are vague, but quite a few are and it’s easy to get lost.
Several different landmasses must be traversed before all is said and done, and some of them happen to be quite large. That’s where fast travel comes in, allowing those who’ve discovered a map to travel to familiar locations. It’s a helpful and almost instantaneous maneuver, but its speed does come with an incredible amount of pop-in. A lot of the time, you’ll appear at the chosen destination and only a few things will have loaded in. After that, it takes several seconds for all of the area’s buildings, torches, design elements and inhabitants to load in. It’s jarring and is a good example of how technically unstable this console port is. In fact, a lot of issues mar what could have been a much more entertaining gaming experience, but we’ll get to them in a bit.
Whenever it comes to combat, pirate tales based in this type of era happen to focus on both swordplay and gunplay, in addition to sea-based cannon battles. You may be disappointed to hear that the latter option is not included here, but the other two are available in spades, along with some dirty tricks in the form of coconut and sand throwing. A varied assortment of both blades and bullet shooters can be purchased or created throughout the experience, providing variety and a two-tiered combat focus. New abilities can also be learned, allowing for more powerful attacks, weapon-specific maneuvers and the like, but the combat is generally quite basic. One must simply equip two weapons, assigning each one to a different button, with the left trigger acting as a way to block incoming melee attacks.
Those who wish to go in a different route can do so by adding glory (experience) points to either the cunning or voodoo skill categories. The latter one offers the chance to take over enemies’ bodies, create special potions and utilize magical spells, but it’s more of a secondary option than something you’ll want to focus on. Furthermore, cunning presents interesting secondary options like the ability to tame a monkey for use during combat, or to pull off dirty tricks, as well the opportunity to enlist the help of a parrot. They’re both mechanics that traditional RPGs don’t feature, but most encounters are so challenging (yes, even on easy) that you’ll want to make sure that your version of the hero is as good with blades and guns as he can be, as opposed to worrying about secondary skill sets.
Thanks to its high challenge level, this large-scale sequel will only appeal to the more seasoned crowd. Casual gamers will enjoy its unique narrative and the idea that you’re essentially on your own with only a limited amount of allies – something that is is further accentuated by the fact that one must skin conquered enemies in order to get healing provisions and/or pick-up coveted bottles of booze in order to heal at a quicker rate – but will most-likely become frustrated by how difficult enemy encounters are. That’s especially true during the first half of the game, because things get a bit easier after that. Though, even then, random encounters with basic enemies can result in death, with the same being true of falls from moderate heights. Saving often is the only way to combat related frustration, because the auto-save feature cannot be counted on, and your one tag along ally can become stuck or lost.
Frankly, there’s nothing remarkable about the combat mechanics that are focused upon within this game. The entire system happens to be quite basic, with dated animations that harken back to PC RPGs of years gone by. Though, with that being said, the repetitive hacking, slashing and shooting became more enjoyable as time went on, but that was partially due to my increased interest in finding out what would happen next. Actually, I must admit that I didn’t like Risen 2: Dark Waters much when I first started playing it, but it grew on me and I eventually became drawn to seeing how it would conclude. Over that time, I found it easier to overlook a lot of its deficiencies, of which there were quite a few.
During the twenty-five to thirty hours it took me to complete this exotic campaign and its two on-disc DLC packs, both of which are included with new retail copies, I encountered quite a few unnecessary issues, leading me to believe that this console port should have endured extra time in the proverbial oven. Sound effects would cut out during battle sequences, momentary freezing would occur after I killed an enemy and screen tearing was noticeable from the start. On top of those issues, lengthy loading times, floating enemies, lag and disappearing quest objectives also became a problem.
All of the above-mentioned technical anomalies combined to create an experience that should have been easier to enjoy. The simple fact is that Wizarbox shouldn’t have released this port as is, because it seems as if they overlooked the quality control portion of the porting transition. We’ve grown accustomed to encountering occasional glitches in new release video games, and especially open world titles, but this is simply inexcusable.
Thankfully, technical problems only mar the campaign, as opposed to actually ruining it. They’re there in spades and do become frustrating at times, but it’s possible to overlook them and still enjoy what is a fair RPG. Doing so will be an easier task for seasoned gamers and long-time fans of the genre – not the type of people who buy games because they’re pretty. However, even if its glitches didn’t exist, Risen 2: Dark Waters still wouldn’t be a beautiful game. It has its moments; however, the use of a dated engine has prevented it from looking like something that was released in 2012. Stilted animations, some bland texture work, an over-use of bloom and visuals that happen to be too dark on default settings are to blame. Plus, I’d be remiss if I did’t mention how hard to read the in-game text actually is, and there’s a ton of it. In order to be able to read quest objectives, listed menu items and archived dialogue, I was forced to turn the brightness up quite a bit.
Despite its noted downfalls and deficiencies, Risen 2: Dark Waters is a relatively enjoyable RPG, although its campaign takes time to blossom. Presented here is a type of genre experience that consoles don’t normally receive, which further cements its status as a niche title. Those who can live without hints and happen to enjoy a nice amount of challenge once in a while should give it a try, because they’ll find an immersive storyline and some interesting gameplay mechanics.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.