Risen 2: Dark Waters Review
See PixlBit's Review Policies
On 05/11/2012 at 12:00 PM by Stanton Daries
Why is it always a kraken? Throw us a nautilus every now and then.
For anyone who is a fan of RPGs that will make you earn every ounce of gold and experience.
It isn’t often you find yourself enjoying being kicked in the face, but I guess the fantasy of being a pirate has to be grounded every now and then with a harsh dose of how a world with monsters has to work, and Risen 2 has every intention of being a nasty educator. Developed by Piranha Bytes, the house that brought us the Gothic series and the first Risen, Risen 2: Dark Waters feels both familiar to its pedigree and oh-so much nastier.
Continuing from where the first Risen left off you find yourself back in the shoes of the same nameless protagonist from before. Unfortunately I never had a chance to play the original Risen and while your goals are pretty straightforward you can likely find it difficult to figure out what exactly is going on (I spent the first hour of the game thinking Mara was a pirate queen and not a primordial goddess).
If you take the time to talk to as many NPCs as you can you will be able to piece together most of the world you find yourself in. Primordial titans were released upon the earth from their prisons. Your character was able to kill the fire titan in the first game at the cost of his eye—and his apparent sanity—and has sunken into a miserable state, trying to stay as drunk as possible so that the nightmares he has don’t wake him. Unfortunately there are still other titans on the loose and one of them, Mara, is using a kraken to sink the Inquisition’s (your organization) ships and generally make life difficult. It turns out that the pirates have found a way to keep this kraken at bay and if someone could go undercover and become one of them then the Inquisition may find a way to survive.
So you are nominated, probably because of your constant practice at drinking rum, to set off undercover as an aspiring pirate. If this sounds exciting to you, think again. The world of Risen 2 is incredibly cruel and you will have to start your way from the very bottom before you have any chance at earning respect. You will have to run the gamut of setting up jail breaks, fetching supplies, constantly sucking up to pirate captains before you attempt to overthrow them and gathering treasure before you have any hope of achieving your objective.
The purest example of this “cruel world” mentality can be found in the combat of the game. From the very beginning, when you ask a fellow Inquisitor to spar, you will discover that your enemies are stronger, faster and cheaper than you are. The smallest opponent will gladly corner you and pummel you with unblockable attacks and put you into animation locks repeatedly until you are nothing but a quivering heap on the shores. Eventually, as you level up and gain new skills/tricks, you can begin to turn the tables on your opponents, getting your own animation locks while throwing dirt in their eyes, but that sense of frustration and fear never truly abandons you. This is particularly true with creatures as both their attacks and defenses are relatively unfazed by your plethora of tricks that can be brought against humanoid opponents.
After a few hours of clawing your way through the dirt you will begin to reach an understanding of exactly what it will take to survive. The real pivot point is when you are able to get your own ship and assemble a crew with one member accompanying you on missions. Just that extra bit of help can be phenomenal in making things a little more bearable. You will still be in constant fear of your life, but at least you have a private captain’s cabin to cry about it in. This is really the centerpiece of the enjoyment of the game, it is similar to working on a complex puzzle and getting that eureka moment that allows you to win, only this puzzle will force you to reload each time you are killed.
The quests, as mentioned before, are pretty varied and fit into the typical molds of talking to a random village NPC, killing/finding/gathering your target, and returning. Even though they are familiar none continue on long enough to reach a tedious level. Each successful quest and opponent defeated gains you glory points, which is Risen 2’s version of experience. You are able to invest glory in several attributes which will unlock the option of purchasing skills from trainers when your attributes reach certain levels.
Thankfully at the very least you will have some nice scenery to be mutilated in. The environments are beautifully rendered and some of the tropical environments are fun to behold and a nice change of pace from the typical brown/gray/white surroundings that many RPG games have been known for in this console generation. There are some quite noticeable hiccups though when it comes to NPC interaction as every now and then the camera will sort of spasm as if it isn’t quite sure where to focus on and instead become almost jittery. While this can be incredibly annoying it never happened to me during any actual combat.
In complement to the visuals the music and special effects are pretty on target, though I did encounter the occasional section where even after my opponents were killed the combat music kept playing for some time, leading to some tense stretches. The voice acting was pretty on point; the main character’s performance was solid, and only the occasional “funny” characters gave me the desire to find a way to hide a corpse. Something to be aware of is the game is also unapologetic about not being politically correct. If you are someone who could be easily offended by anything with a –ism on the end of it then you may have some uncomfortable moments.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is a game that’s difficult to fully embrace. While I did ultimately end up enjoying my time in the world it took work—and a full restart once I realized skill allotment / money spending mistakes— to really come to terms with what I had to do and start getting that sense of satisfaction at achieving despite the odds. I have heard this game compares in mean spiritedness to Dark Souls. If that is the type of game you enjoy, then you will find yourself more at home with the pirate’s life than me. (I had to reference that at least once!)