Published by: Deep Silver
Genre: Action, Role-playing
Play it if: You need something to satisfy that pirate RPG fix — there isn’t much else out there right now!
Skip it if: You want a meatier, more accessible adventure.
Pirates, swashbuckling, and RPGs, oh my! Aside from robots, zombies, dinosaurs, and all the other stereotypical “awesome” monsters joining forces to create the penultimate side-scrolling beat-’em-up, an open world RPG following the exploits of those who sail the high seas is one of the better ideas anyone could come up with. Enter Risen 2: Dark Waters, one of the first games of its kind since Redguard tested the waters. Piranha Bytes’ sequel to the 2009 RPG is an ambitious one, approaching a familiar genre and a road less traveled. But when you look past the tropical veneer and sea foam clouding your vision, is Risen 2: Dark Waters really the lost treasure gamers have been looking for?
There’s certainly much here to celebrate – if you picked up the first game, you’ll notice an immediate improvement in both tone and aesthetics. Right off the bat, Risen 2 is mysterious and gripping. It’s as if your secret pirate fantasies have come to life in the form of the perfect fan-servicing interactive adventure – you’ll dig where “X” marks the spot, recruit fellow pirates for your crew, Unfortunately, it’s not exactly accessible – or intuitive. There’s plenty of potential here, squandered fruitlessly on some rather bizarre design decisions that both directly and indirectly affect the player. And then thewalls come tumbling down.
A quick tutorial ensues after the scene is set at the port of Caldera. As a fellow member of the Spanish Inquisition, you’re tasked with offing a bevy of malicious sea monsters that have been threatening the safety of arriving ships. You’ve only just arrived and have been assigned a life-or-death mission to carry out. It’s too bad then, that the hero of our story is rather ill-equipped to stand up to the woes of the sea. On his search for the pirate legend Steelbeard (who may well have a way to vanquish the water-bound denizens), “Your Hero Name Here” runs into plenty of danger here and there, allies to run with, and plenty of irritating monsters that need a good felling. All good signs, and the mark of a pirate adventure that’s about to unfold in an intriguing way.
It’s after that where things slowly start to crumble. If by the first run-in with acquaintances whose painfully exaggerated gestures haven’t put you off yet (seriously, who moves around that much when speaking?), you’ll soon be puzzling over Risen 2’s core mechanics. Right off the bat you’re introduced to basic functions such as attacking, movement, and what-have-you – with more to come as you stumble along, making your way to Steelbeard and doing your best to discern what it is, exactly, you need to do in order to flesh yourself out more fully as a functioning pirate.
Earning Glory points (or experience points in pirate talk) is a bit of a process: it’s not as easy as slashing a foe to ribbons and racking up the bonuses. You need to spend it in order to up specific stats – say, you want to raise your Cunning skill. That requires strategic usage and spending of Glory points to beef up your expertise. But that’s not all. You also need gold to spend in order to attain certain skills, which isn’t always so readily available. This leads your incredibly vulnerable avatar susceptible to death by even the demonic-looking anglerfish early in the game.
It’s not that you can never level up, either, it’s just that the game makes it difficult to do. Not only do you need gold and Glory, but specific coaches (trainers) to help you attain the skills necessary to own this particular pirate quest. And when you need to choose between what’s going to make you money and what’s going to keep you safe, it’s not always easy to make the smarter decision. Therein lies a frustrating conundrum, and not one I wanted to see through to the end. When combat is mindless and repetitive as it is, you aren’t exactly compelled to press on.
It’s funny: I could do the same things in a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, or The Witcher 2, and have a blast. With Risen 2, I only ever felt as if I was performing a chore. A chore that required me to kill as many humongous spiders as possible while dancing the dance macabre – letting my health refill enough to tackle my next bounty, then repeating the cycle over and over again.
Failing the conventional RPG trappings that Risen 2 relies so heavily on, the narrative keeps the rest of the game afloat long enough for you to decide whether or not you want to see this pirating adventure through to the end. You do all the piratey things that’d make a landlubber blush. There’s intrigue. There’s a “sexy pirate” companion (par for the course for these kinds of games) and plenty of great scripted dialogue that furthers the illusion that you’re playing your favorite pirate movie in a neat way.
The Blast Factor: But stilted presentation, muted visuals (I refer back to awkward character gestures), muddy textures, and over-used combat dialogue combined with a combat system that just isn’t remarkable in any way, shape or form doesn’t exactly an epic pirate adventure make. There was much that could have been accomplished here, and at times you catch a small glimpse of greatness. With a bit more polish and care, Risen 2: Dark Waters could have knocked it out of the park. Opt for other RPGs that arrrrren’t as underwhelming.