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Page 1 of 6Risen 2: Dark Waters is the latest release from Germany-based action/exploration RPG specialist Piranha Bytes. Compared to their usual fare, it does a lot of things differently in setting, character system and in smaller details, but at its core it has the recognizable strengths and weaknesses of a Piranha Bytes game. Therefore, those that enjoyed Risen will likely find much to like in Risen 2 as well, unless, for whatever reason, pirate settings aren't your thing.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts, let me just say that the review copy provided to GameBanshee did not include the pre-order Treasure Isle DLC, so we'll be taking a closer look at any and all add-ons at a later date. Without any DLC, the game clocks in at about 30-35 hours' worth of gameplay.
The setting has been shifted away from the grim fantasy that Piranha Bytes was known for, which is a big risk to take. But it's a risk that worked out fine, in my opinion. While the pirate setting may not be for everyone, the team executed the setting really well. Rather than just pasting pirates on top of the existing setting, the whole feeling of the world of Risen shifted, to the point where the two games don't really recognizably belong to the same setting at all, though thankfully the gnomes are back from the first.
The designers clearly took their queues in setting from South America during the age of the conquistadors. The native Molucca tribes use voodoo, fight with spears and wear recognizable tribal attire. The Inquisition is dressed in Spanish garbs and have clear superiority over the tribes due to their muskets and cannons. The pirates are the third faction, and look like you'd expect them too, in rough coats and wearing tricorn hats, though there's a lack of eyepatches and wooden legs.
The enemies you meet fit in with the setting. Claw monkeys, gorillas, crocodiles, wild boars and leopards give it the appropriate wild jungle feel, even though not a lot of them are native to our South American continent. Fire birds, giant crabs, giant ants and various undead opponents add to the catalog of typical fantasy monsters, while the aides of the main antagonist sand devils, leviathans and sunken ones have a nice "horror from the deep" feel to them.
In general, the setting works really well. It is consistent, it is plausible, it is evocative, it is well executed. What it definitely is not is well-explained. The transition from Risen to Risen 2: Dark Waters is jarring as hell, to the point where it's almost preferable if you didn't play the first (the only important things to make a return are Commandant Carlos, Patty and the nameless hero wearing an eyepatch to cover the ocular he's wearing). Rune magic has been abandoned in the few short years between Risen and Risen 2, but it's not really well explained how it could disappear so completely including the player character's knowledge of it. And while you get to meet the inventor of the musket, it's not really made plausible how it became such an effective and well-spread weapon in such a short time. I don't disagree with the switch in setting, but it could have been implemented with a little more care.
Graphics & Bugs
One thing vital to make a setting work is strong art design implemented well in the game, and Piranha Bytes didn't miss the mark there. Risen 2 is not particularly robust graphically, but it does show their typical signature, as the islands and coasts have numerous beautiful vistas, convincingly breathing worlds. As you switch from location to location, you come upon ancient temples, moluccan villages, pirate towns, Inquisition strongholds and more, and each is well-designed to present a convincing, living world.
As per usual, the high quality world design is off-set by pretty poor work in animations. While the human models are all decent, have some variation, and the garbs people wear are generally well-designed and fit in with the setting, the animations are really just bad, and that's quite a distraction in a game where you spend most of your time looking at your player character (stiffly) run or (awkwardly) jump around.
As for bugs... I had two saves in place after playing the preview version, which ended at about 8-10 hours in, which is where you choose to either learn voodoo or gain access to guns. I picked up the game from my voodoo save, and everything was going well, I'd gathered all but one of the artefacts, and...the game didn't spawn an NPC and I was stuck. Since I visited that island pretty early and he never spawned in any save going hours back, I effectively lost 10 hours of playtime. Piranha Bytes veterans will just smirk at this, because quest-breaking bugs are a staple of the Gothic and Risen games. Ignoring that big bug, the game ran without too many problems, occasional AI bugs and graphical glitches aside. However, it did run terribly on my PC, which is hardly top-of-the-line, but Risen 2 performed worse on it than a console port like Batman: Arkham City did. Troubling. Not to mention I kept having to turn down graphical options as it would reset them every time I booted up the game.
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