A little bit Gothic
RPGs are in short supply until later on this year and Mass Effect 2, Alpha Protocol, next year. So Risen has appeared to fill that void, by the same developers of the Gothic series...a pretty decent if somewhat bugged PC RPG that did a lot of interesting things before Oblivion and introduced an artificial life system for the various NPCs that populated the world.
Risen can be described as a console remake of Gothic, which isn't really a bad thing.
You are a stow-away, along with a friend, on a ship that's carrying the Inquisition to a far off land. During a bad storm you find yourself shipwrecked and cast onto a beach with this friend, now you must fend for yourself against the many hostile creatures and people on the island, discover what's going on and more.
Risen is a third person action-RPG adventure that brings to the table similar systems used in Gothic. The combat is tricky at first but once you get the hang of it, the battles become a matter of skill and timing rather than just madly pressing a button and hoping that your enemy falls down before you do. You can use simple 3 hit combos with the A button, block using the B button and when you learn the skill, Parry/Counter with the Y button. You can lock onto an enemy and the combat camera will attempt to keep them in view. If they evade your strike however, then it can break the lock and leave you vulnerable for a few seconds as you have to orientate yourself back to their direction.
Risen has no class based skill system, so it's all up to player choice as you undergo quests and reap the rewards of exploration. Kill enough monsters, loot enough people, do enough missions and the xp will come flooding in. A level up grants you with learning points and other boosts. This in combination with gold will allow you to use the many in-game trainers to upgrade your character.
You can take strength upgrades and weapon skill upgrades along with numerous other skills. All of these cost a certain number of learning points and sometimes a combination of gold too depending on the skill in question. As you raise the skills you unlock perks inside that skill like blocking, parrying and so forth. Magic is likewise the same, you can use it and develop magical powers, alchemical formulae and other abilities by spending points at various traders.
Risen is packed with side missions and it can be a tad confusing to work out where you're supposed to go, since just like Gothic, there are various factions all willing to let you work for them and do their dirty jobs for very little reward.
The D-Pad controls your various character screens, equipment, skills and so on. It's a bit tricky to navigate since once you open the screen you must now use the stick to move around rather than the D-Pad itself. That can cause you to close the inventory by accident if you're using to navigating using the pad. The in-game quest log and journal does a good job of giving you the information you need but only tracks important conversations and can sometimes leave you with a very sketchy idea of where to go next. The map screen requires a physical map of the island or location in your inventory to work.
Risen also borrows the idea of character jobs from Gothic, you can learn to be a smith, forge your own weapons and magical jewellery. You can till fields, cook, and so on. This all helps to draw you into the game and builds on the game's atmosphere.
Risen has a fairly decent graphical style to it, some of the characters appear to be copy/paste versions of the standard mercenary grunt in several of the locations, this does cut down the sense of immersion a little but it's tolerable enough. Overall the facial models aren't bad, there are some slight erroneous features and some of the characters look pretty ugly but it kind of fits when you consider the setting. The game has a nice day/night cycle with some pretty good weather effects, especially when in a thunder storm. In general the monster design and NPC design is fairly decent and there are some interesting bad guys to fight.
Texturing on the levels themselves looks a little wonky in places, especially in the one cave I explored. There was some serious texture warping inside across the walls and it really didn't look like rock at all, unless in the days of fantasy yore there's a candy rock cave where delicious guarded sweet treats reside. The frame-rate is solid enough apart from a moment where a physics bug caused it to turn to slide-show treacle.
The animations in Risen are a little on the stiff side and there are often misfires where you can coup-de-grace a guy on the ground and your character stabs the earth beside him. Overall though, they're not eye-bleeding bad.
There's a rag-doll physics system in play but again, things seem fairly stilted and a couple of hilarious physics bugs caused a flight of Stingrats to come at me and the dreaded Tree Leaping Wolves return from Gothic, where a monster spawns in the trees above by accident and drops on your head. In this case, I survived the attack this time. The Stingrat flight caused the game to slow down and judder quite badly.
It's fairly decent in combat, it will block, it uses tactics when in a group and several battles play out differently each time. Out of combat the NPCs follow their own lives, engage in conversation, eat, cook meals and do their day to day job. This concept drawn from the original Gothic really made the game feel alive and it does so with Risen this time as well.
A pretty good musical score accompanies the game, shifts in mood and ebbs/flows when the tide turns to battle. All in all, it does a good job of providing an excellent atmosphere.
The sound design is not bad at all, there are nice ambient effects, some creepy spot effects in certain places and the rumbles as the land shakes from time to time add something of a sense of urgency to the game. Sword fights and the clash of steel and steel or flesh are rendered in a nice manner and the various taunts from combat don't get annoying.
Dialogue and Voice
The good news is that the game has a much better script than Gothic, and certainly a much better script than Two Worlds. There's not a verily or a forsooth in sight and the dialogue is fairly well written. The voice acting isn't too bad, it's a bit off and stilted in some places and the regular cast don't hold a candle to the likes of John Rhys Davies and Andy Serkis who both lend their voices to certain NPCs in the game.
There is none, sorry.
We are Risen
Despite those annoying bugs and some short comings, Risen is a pretty solid RPG that deserves at least a place on your shelf. You won't be done with it any time soon and it's a pretty big game in terms of things to do and quests, whilst the actual land isn't massive really it's still packed with content and should keep you occupied slaying monsters and rescuing dragons from damsels for quite a while.