Death By Swordfight
Gears of War mastermind Cliff Bleszinski once said that “if you’re going to make a shooter, you better make sure that those 30 seconds that you do over and over again are more fun than anything else in the game.”
As it happens, Risen 2 isn’t a shooter; it’s an action-RPG. But its designers should have taken Bleszinski’s message to heart anyway. Simply put, whenever any video game features combat, the combat needs to be at least a little enjoyable—and the fighting in Risen 2 is excruciating. Even if the rest of the game were flawless—and it’s not—Risen 2 would not be worth your $50. In fact, because playing Risen 2 is so often a negative experience, most gamers won’t want it even at a much lower price.
To its great credit, Risen 2 is based on a novel idea. It seeks to bring the world of pirates to life in the form of a massive fantasy RPG. At the outset of the game, your Nameless Hero is sucked into a new adventure when, amidst a giant battle between gods known as Titans, Kraken monsters attack ships near his homeland. From there, a group called the Inquisition sends this drunken layabout undercover as a pirate—rumor has it that the pirates know how to get rid of the monsters. You’re off to a series of islands, exploring and picking up assorted quests along the way. It’s hard to think of a setup more intriguing.
This is all especially surprising, given that it represents a huge departure from the original Risen, which was a more traditional fantasy game released in the wake of The Elder Scrolls IV. To make matters even better, Risen 2 keeps some other Elder Scrolls elements that work well—such as the accumulation of numerous quests at once, the quick-traveling, the ability to shape the world with your decisions, and the inventory and bartering system. In terms of basic mechanics, the main difference is the third-person view—or so it seems at first.
Then you get into your first fight, and right then you realize that for all the unique storytelling and Elder Scrolls familiarity of Risen 2, you will be dealing with far too much frustration for this game to be worth it. At the story’s outset, all you can do is strike and parry with your sword, which makes you painfully inadequate to the tasks at hand—there isn’t any way to block animal attacks, for example. There’s no dodge button, and all the animations take far too long to unfold, including the stun animations. You can pretty much either mash buttons and reload if you die, or find a cheap way to kill your enemies—such as exploiting the shoddy A.I. or letting your NPC companions do most of the work. Even winning is far more annoying than it should be; health doesn’t regenerate on its own, so you’re stuck gobbling down your consumable items or finding a bed to rest in between fights.
Oh, and some consumables don’t even work immediately. Instead, they slowly recharge your health, leaving you vulnerable if another beast attacks right away. If you intentionally designed a combat system for the purpose of increasing players’ blood pressure, I’m not sure you could do any better than this.
In fairness, the combat does get better—very, very slowly. You’ll find firearms, which are a lot easier to use than your sword. You can also pay people to train you in sword skills, which is incredibly expensive but also incredibly helpful. You can buy protective gear to shield you from attacks. And last but not least, by accumulating “glory”—Risen 2’s EXP—you can level up your various skills to become more lethal. Eventually, after spending hours unlocking features that shouldn’t have been locked to begin with—I kid you not, you need to unlock the ability to kick—combat starts to feel like a routine chore.
That’s progress, I suppose, but it’s not the kind of progress that makes an RPG compelling and addictive. Instead of trying to improve your character in fun and interesting ways—making him more effective in the game’s branching conversations, for example—you’re primarily focused on giving him the most basic capabilities, such as the combat skill to defeat a tiny animal without losing half his health first.
The combat is bad enough to drag Risen 2 to the bottom of the sea all by itself. But numerous other flaws weigh the ship down as well. Despite the game’s huge environments and emphasis on freedom, it does relatively little to help you get around. There is a quick-travel feature, which is nice, but there’s no mini-map or artificial path pointing you to your next destination, and the quest markers on your large map aren’t always useful. What’s more, you’ll need to acquire your own large map for each new area you encounter, Zelda-style. While you can sometimes enjoy getting lost in Risen 2’s gigantic world, sometimes you just want to get where you’re going. And the game should do far, far more to facilitate that.
The graphics are another low point. The pop-in is horrific, some of vegetation seems to magically grow and shrink as you move in relation to it, the character models are a little creepy-looking, and despite installing new beta drivers, I wasn’t able to get the game to work smoothly with the SLI feature of my graphics cards. There are some enchanting lighting effects, and the worlds you explore are big enough that the lack of detail could be forgivable in a better game, but if you’re expecting gorgeous visuals to offset the maddening combat, think again.
What makes all of this such a shame is that the storytelling in Risen 2 is genuinely good. Your hero is a lazy, smart-mouthed drunk, and it’s hilarious to watch him babble his way through conversations. The support cast is well-acted, and the story this game tells is epic enough to fill roughly twenty hours. The music and sound effects are good as well, capturing the pirate theme with panache. It’s clear that some serious talent and some serious work went into perfecting every aspect of the tale and the delivery—all of which is rendered irrelevant by the fact that the game the story is attached to is practically unplayable.
Essentially, Risen 2 feels rushed. With more time to spend, the developers could probably have fixed the combat, cleared up the most annoying graphical glitches, and implemented a better navigation system. Instead, they released a half-completed game. It’s possible that further patches will help matters—other reviewers have pointed out that The Witcher 2 had similar combat problems until a patch overhauled the system. But barring some serious improvements, Risen 2 is an obvious candidate for the “do not buy” list.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
A lack of detail and a variety of glitches place Risen 2 well behind the competition. 2.0 Control
Long animations make it impossible to control your character in combat. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great voice acting and good music. 2.8 Play Value
The story is wonderful, but the combat is so bad it makes the game hard to play. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best