Developer: Piranha Bytes / Publisher: Deep Silver / Played On: PC / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence]
What would you expect in an RPG about pirates? Swashbuckling enemy pirates and sailing the high seas? Would you pillage villages and swab the poopdecks? Perhaps you’d swig pints of rum and dig up buried treasure?
While those experiences ring true for the pirate game I had in mind, I can’t say that the same fully applies for Risen 2: Dark Waters. While you will down your fair share of rum and dig up a few chests of booty on your adventure, you’ll spend more of your time unraveling the mysteries of the southern seas and the people inhabiting them.
Additionally, due to the linear progression of your character and his storyline, Risen 2 doesn’t feel much like the RPG it really wants to be — mostly because it’s more like a linear pirate adventure with hints of RPG design in its roots.
The story of Risen 2 takes place several years after the first game, with all humanity fighting for existence in the wake of unending sea monster attacks. These creatures have begun attacking supply ships, effectively cutting off resources to major safe havens like the city of Caldera.
You play as the unnamed hero from Caldera, bent on finding a solution to the madness after he hears that the pirates of the southern seas have found a way to stop these creatures of the deep once and for all.
To do so, you join the pirate ranks under Captain Steelbeard, acquire their knowledge, and seek out ancient artifacts scattered about the many islands, which you then use to take down the oceanic threats.
You meet quite the variety of people–from natives to soldiers of the Spanish Inquisition, to drunken sailors to scurvy-ridden pirates to the undead in the underworld.
Many of these names and faces are easily forgettable. Not to say that every individual character you meet should have a significant impact on you or your story, but it is a shame that some of the more major players in the plot don’t have as much of an emotional effect as you’d expect in a story-driven adventure.
However, there were several NPCs that didn’t follow this notion — one in particular on the Isle of Thieves is the most comical character in the game. It’s sad that only one of the characters in Risen 2 really had me laughing, seeing as how so many of the characters attempt to deliver funny dialogue throughout.
While the story itself grows very dark quite quickly, there are fine layers of humor laced around many of the character interactions you meet. The lines of dialogue themselves are wholeheartedly cheesy, but suitably pirate-based to fit the theme.
As fleeting as they are, Risen 2‘s story has its moments of charm.
Put simply, the beginning of the game is slow on the uptake — more specifically, the first few hours are pretty rough, having you slog through fetch quests and lengthy conversations of narrative-setting dialogue. The game does get more interesting, but there weren’t many jaw-dropping moments of note.
Of the entire game’s plot though, it’s in the ending where you really feel like a badass pirate–which is a shame, because you really should feel like a badass pirate earlier on.
On the note of pirate badassery, it’s important to point out that while the theme and environments in Risen 2 are suitably tropical, you won’t find yourself performing as many pirate-related activities as you might think.
While you will swashbuckle with your enemies, dig up some buried treasure, and drink rum like it’s going out of style, these are pretty much the extent of your pirate experiences. Granted, you’ll climb aboard your ship and set sail for new islands from time to time, the entire experience is merely a loading screen.
Aside from that, you spend most of your time running fetch quests for NPCs, performing voodoo spells to unlock ancient tombs to take over and control your enemies, as well as fighting mercilessly difficult wildlife like panthers, giant crabs, cave bats, warthogs, and killer monkeys. Trust me when I say you will slay your fair share of killer monkeys.
Put simply – as much as the game told me time and time again that I was a pirate, I just didn’t feel much like one.
At the outset you’re fairly weak, but as you level up, purchase new fighting abilities, and increase your strength, you can handle the brutally difficult characters (and it helps to drop the lot of your experience points into the blade category.)
Take, for example, the ability for many of your enemies to use endless attack combos. This will likely result in reloading save after save after save when fighting many of the upper-level enemies– sea crabs that can endlessly bash you into submission, jungle panthers who can pounce on you at any moment , and pirate bosses who can whip out a pistol on a whim and down you with one shot.
I’m always an advocate for challenge in games, but some of these experiences feel unfair and frustrating.
Commendably, the game has quite a selection of weapons to find and equip on your journey–from sabers to swords, pistols to shotguns, and even spears and clubs. Each weapon can have a different bonus that makes you slightly more proficient at dealing types and variances of damage. Swords are for piercing, sabers are for slashing, and so on.
Using the party system allows you to recruit one or two followers to assist you in battle. While this helps with some fights, the party system isn’t readily available, with many of your party members waiting for you to complete tasks most of the time before moving on.
When they’re present, they’re incredibly helpful—but when they’re not, you’re bound to fight groups of five or six at a time without their assistance.
Like any RPG, you’ll have your main quest that has an assortment of tasks to complete, and side quests that follow that same format. You’ll explore island after island to complete them, but not many were particularly compelling, as many of the tasks require a hefty amount of fetch-questing, which is quite dull for players who don’t enjoy walking.
Which brings me to another point, walking — you will do a lot of it. While you’ll have a ship to get you from island to island (via a cutscene and loading screen mind you), you have absolutely no means of ground transportation whatsoever, meaning you’ll walk and learn to like it. While not massive, each of the islands are long enough that it’ll take a good three to five minutes to walk from end to end.
If you love exploring, walking shouldn’t be a big chore, as you’ll come across many beautiful environments — but after you’ve seen the same waterfall, beach, or forest twenty times, you might find yourself pretty bored or annoyed.
Visuals & Sound
Risen 2 walks a fine line. It’s made several impressive improvements over its predecessor, particularly in its environments. Forests and islands are lush and well lit, the ocean and its beaches are reflective and quite realistic, and above all, these entities animate naturally. Trees sway in the wind, waves wash up on shore, vines swing from tree limbs, and waterfalls pour water with a fierce roar.
The game also has a constant day and night cycle with dynamic weather patterns, which help in mixing up the “always sunny” feel to the environments. In fact, thunder storms in the game are very impressive — with crackling thunder, frequent flashes of lightning, and heavy downpours of rain.
Also, the game has one of the most impressive uses of natural sun-lighting I’ve ever seen, with some of the best displays of sun-shafts I’ve seen in an outdoor game.
Unfortunately, the majority of these impressive technological improvements are scarred by the game’s atrocious pop-in issues. Brush and fauna will expand and scale as you approach them closer, hills and wildlife pop onto screen at random, and tree leaves will fill in gaps as you walk across the game’s many tropical jungles.
It’s an unfortunate and constantly noticeable layer of rust on what could have been a very impressive visual set.
While the game’s very few cutscenes do their job well, the dialogue system for interacting with other players is jumpy and jarring. In nearly every instance, you’ll find that when conversing with a player, the camera position will shift randomly when every sentence is ended. The camera does not change angles, it merely shifts to the left or right several times during NPC conversation. Additionally, almost all characters use the same arm swinging and pointing animation while talking, flailing about unnecessarily in nearly every instance.
On the note of voice acting – it’s not very good. It’s unfortunately far from convincing, with emotion very rarely present, even in the most dire situations.
Risen 2: Dark Waters sets out to deliver an adventurous RPG experience in a genre that doesn’t see much attention these days. While it partially succeeds in exploring some of the aspects of pirate life, it doesn’t deliver on it enough to make the experience super exciting.
Its environments and visuals will draw you in, but the gameplay likely won’t hold the attention of the mainstream audience very long. The game has its moments, but put simply, I just didn’t have much fun.
If you’re a pirate fan looking for a basic but functional adventure set in the land of pirates, Risen 2: Dark Waters is only a decent arrrrrrrpg.
6 / 10