Risen 2: Dark Waters Preview

27 Feb 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Deep Silver
Developer:Piranha Bytes
Release Date:2012-04-24
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Near the end of the third area, you have to join either the Inquisition or the Natives. The Inquisition makes muskets and shotguns available to you, the Natives voodoo magic, and joining them is the only way to obtain these unique items and skills, at least at this point in the game.

Muskets and shotguns replace your main weapon if you opt to use them, and use up (very cheap) ammo. You aim by holding the right mouse button and fire with the left, or alternately if the enemy has gotten too close you can use it as a close combat weapon, though this is not usually effective unless the weapon has a bayonet. There is no real aiming involved, the game shows a very large circular reticule, and will target the enemy highlighted inside this area. Nor is either weapon particularly long-range. They rarely kill an enemy in one shot, the result of which is a fight plays out mostly by avoiding the enemy by running around in between quick shots. Stats determine your to-hit chance, as well as your critical hit chance (which can be improved by certain firearm skills), though the hit chances at close range are pretty good. Improving the skill means more chances to hit at longer ranges.

The main weapons of voodoo are the scepter and voodoo doll. The doll isn't a combat weapon, instead it is an alternate means of solving many quests by taking over the mind of a character. You can not use such possessed characters to fight, but you can learn new info by using him to talk to people, or get the possessed character to pick up items for you. I unlocked the skill very late and only got to use it once, but it has a very high potential for creative usage. In combat, you can use scepters. At a distance, they can be used to cast spells, like a fear spell that stuns opponents, and can also be used to attack with at short range simply by bashing enemies over the head with them. Whether or not you can use a scepter on an enemy depends on whether your black magic talent is high enough to match his level, which at this stage of the game was usually not the case. It's not immediately clear to me if the scepters are ever a fully viable offensive weapon or if you're meant to switch between them and swords.

Mana has been completely removed. Instead, scepter spells, muskets, shotguns and pistols all work with cooldown timers. There is no reload animation or action for the guns, they just cool down automatically, taking a few seconds for muskets/shotguns and 20 seconds for the pistol type I carried. This is one of the most curious design decisions in the game, and will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way. It didn't work all that well from a gameplay perspective either, but keep in mind I didn't get to play around with either firearms or voodoo all that much, so it really depends on how it's implemented later in the game.

Speaking of curious design decisions, the weirdest ones are these: the main character can not swim, when he enters deep water you are transported back to land. Saving on swimming animations, I suppose, but it feels odd to be a pirate who can not swim. And second, despite not being very good at animations or particle effects, Piranha Bytes decided it was a good idea to add a killcam. It wasn't, it looks absolutely horrible. It's not triggered often, only when you fight a large number of enemies does it show the killing blow on the last one in slow motion. This killcam often highlights how the sword barely makes any contact with the enemy at all, or highlights the awkward motion of the PC, so I think this is one thing best cut completely from the game.

The final thing to note for combat is the companions. Patty and others join you throughout the game, and they are immortal, though they can be knocked out during combat, and will not get up until combat is over. They are also often more powerful than you. The player gains full honor for kills made by his companions, so this is a fairly easy mechanic to abuse to get through fights that should be too difficult for you. Patty accompanies you for most of the second area (unless you make the mistake of triggering her dialog with her father too soon), while you spend most of the third area alone. The jump from fighting with companions in the second area to fighting alone in the third is pretty jarring, though companions are apparently a mainstay later in the game. I fear this the immortal companion mechanic is probably something that can easily be abused for many of the tougher fights in the game, which would be a shame.

Quests

While the character system was a bit disappointing, I was impressed by the improvements Risen 2 made to quest design over its predecessor. Where Risen was filled with overly simple quests with weird solutions, too often a “beat up this guy” one, Risen 2 does a lot more with dialog and stealth skills, and gets much more creative with its quests.

A lot of quests, especially early on, do lack multiple solutions, but often enough they're there if you're willing to look for them. For instance, to get into the Pirate camp you have to get past the pirate guarding the gate. You can bribe him, or persuade or intimidate him if you have a talent level of 15, or get him to let you in if you picked up a sugar delivery quest from a nearby watchtower, or circumvent him completely to go the other gate by way of the beach. The game doesn't suggest you can beat him up to get past him, yet if you opt to try this out, attack him and win, you'll then find new dialog opened once he gets back up, and he will let you in, suitably intimidated.

The game excels where Piranha Bytes often does. It does offer map markers for quests, but only if you were explicitly told where to find someone or something, and only for your active quest (which I didn't realize was the case early on, making me struggle to find treasure from treasure maps). There is no quest compass. For most quests, people can only give you vague hints or a rough idea on where to go, and you have to pay attention to the dialog (which is logged and easily accessible if you forgot an instruction or name) to figure out where to go.