Risen 3: Titan Lords Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Deep Silver
Developer:Piranha Bytes
Release Date:2014-08-12
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Introduction

Risen 3: Titan Lords is the third title in the exploration-focused action-RPG series developed by Piranha Bytes, a studio most well known for the Gothic series, particularly the first two titles. The original Risen was a return to the roots of Gothic and Gothic II after the ambitious Gothic 3 fell short of expectations. Risen 2: Dark Waters was an attempt to broaden the audience and pleased very few fans and critics. Clearly Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes must have noticed that, because pretty much all the marketing material available for Risen 3 (which, admittedly, isn't plentiful) focuses on the "return to roots" angle, the idea that Risen 3 is the return of the Piranha Bytes we all know and love.

After all, factions and crystal magic have returned, there's a new protagonist without an eyepatch, and all the environments shown before release had a more traditional fantasy vibe than even the original Risen. However, as anyone who actually checked Deep Silver's streams or any of the German Let's Play videos available pre-release already knows, this isn't actually true at all. Risen 3: Titan Lords is an iterative sequel that keeps many of the trappings of the setting, mechanics, and assets of its predecessor while trying to smooth its rough edges and (slightly) open its oppressive confines. Was this enough to make Risen 3 a good game? I'm afraid the answer to that question will take more than one paragraph.

In the interests of full disclosure I'll mention that this review was based on a press copy that was provided by Deep Silver, which also included all the pre-order DLC: Adventure Garb, Fog Island and Uprising of the Little Guys.

Story, Setting and Quest Design

Risen 3's story is based on a fairly simple personal premise. The new protagonist, a pirate with the same exact sarcastic personality as the original castaway of Risen (and the Nameless Hero of Gothic), has his soul stolen by a Shadow Lord while trying to dig up some fabled treasure on a tropical coast. This event has drastic consequences on him, though not quite as drastic as you might imagine. After being buried by his sister Patty (a returning character who now for some reason wears a cheap "sexy pirate" Halloween costume), the hero is resurrected by Bones, another familiar face from Risen 2. After coming to grips with his condition, our hero embarks on a quest to reacquire his soul before turning into a minion of the Underworld, ready to do the bidding of a mysterious master who seems for all purposes intent on conquering the world.

While the premise might not be extremely original, I'm convinced it had potential, but Piranha Bytes' crude storytelling squanders it. While occasionally referenced in dialogue, the protagonist's condition seems to come into play far less often than it should, and in the worst possible ways. Sleeping in a bed has a good chance of catapulting you into barely interactive nightmare sequences, which usually include some minimal exploration through a rather bland version of the afterlife (everything is white and under a thick layer of bloom). They also offer the opportunity to talk to cryptic spirit versions of deceased characters from the previous two titles. While I admire Piranha Bytes' ability to create settings that feel real and lived-in, their dialogue really only shines when sarcasm is involved and otherwise tends to be pretty bad. These sequences are a painful reminder of that: Only a few of the spirits have anything insightful to say, and even fewer have memorable personalities, making it difficult to see these encounters as the blasts from the past the studio's writers no doubt considered them to be.

The protagonist's condition also provides justification for a new gameplay addition: A morality system. The game now judges your actions and subtracts or adds soul points, which determine your overall alignment, on a scale from 0 (a despicable, demonic individual) to 100 (a full-blown, good-hearted human being). Wait, did I say actions? Pardon me, I meant to say conversation responses, as your actual actions in the game have absolutely zero effect on your alignment. To give you an idea: I was asked by a native to find a token of friendship for her. A pirate gave me a tip about a golden bowl in one of his crewmates' storage that was fit for the task. Mentioning to him that I'd get it legitimately earned me a soul point, stealing it had no effect on my alignment, and finally being honest with the native about having stolen it had me lose a soul point. Another ridiculous occurrence happened when the protagonist spontaneously decided to extort some money from a person I was trying to save, without any of the dialogue options hinting that might happen. The punch line? Despite doing that, I earned a soul point. Go figure.