Risen 2: Dark Waters is an RPG that has you playing as a scurvy sea dog pirate. Pirates are cool! So what other reasons do you need to get excited about it? Well we found out that there are plenty, when we went hands-on with the game last week.
The story follows the same unnamed hero from the first game, but since the events of Risen he has become a broken man and turned to alcohol; you could say that he is somewhat of a reluctant hero. With the threat of the Titans still very much an issue, our down and out hero sets out to become a pirate in the attempt to get his hands on a weapon that could put an end to the Titans once and for all.
What makes Risen 2 so different to most other RPGs out there is that there is no custom character creation or classes to choose from. What you get here is an experience system that allows you to become the character you want to be through how you play. Defeating enemies, solving quests and other such things awards you with experience points. Get enough and you level up, earning yourself a set amount of Learning Points. You can then spend these points on new skills that you can learn from many of the characters you meet along the way. These range from combat skills and thievery, to using guns or voodoo magic.
It’s obvious from the outset that Risen 2 is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, even though it does have a serious side to it. The dialogue between characters, and how that dialogue changes depending on the choices you have made previously or what companions you have with you at the time, always borders on what you would expect to find in a game like Monkey Island. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Risen 2 is what Monkey Island would be like if made today – but obviously without the crazy off-the-wall humour. Or if you have never experienced Monkey Island, then think along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean.
A couple of the areas we got to explore included dense jungles, tropical paradises, old temples, caves, a tribal village and a dock area. Each island location is fully open, allowing you to proceed however you wish. NPCs are also scattered about, offering anything from the previously mentioned training, side missions or details on your current location or mission. Being pirates the language can be on the colourful side, sometimes it comes close to being too much so. But on the whole, the dialogue is entertaining enough for you to want to sit and listen rather than just skipping ahead.
Combat is also deceptively deep. At first I just hacked away swinging my cutlass around as if trying to swat an angry wasp. Parrying attacks, and good timing is certainly the way to win fights in the world of Dark Waters. Plus, being a pirate means you can fight dirty, so you have the option of unleashing your parrot to distract an enemy, throw salt in their eyes, or simply pull out you pistol for a quick shot in amongst the sword play.
But it’s the freedom of choice in Risen 2 that is the most satisfying. Any situation you face, be it a side mission or part of the main quest, can be completed in multiple ways. For example, you could choose to draw your cutlass and dice up any enemy that stands in your way, or you could decide to drop them from a distance using a rifle. But the most satisfying is playing smart and using a combination of each and taking advantage of your surroundings. You can also use Voodoo Magic to manipulate enemies and bend their will to your own needs – which never stops being fun!
If you choose the path of Voodoo Magic and side with the natives, then you won’t be able to join the Inquisition; the same guys from the first game. Obviously this works the same the other way around. Joining the Inquisition gives you the ability to use more powerful guns such as rifles. In other words, it’s a little like choosing the path of a warrior or mage in other traditional fantasy RPG games.
When the first game arrived on Xbox 360, it felt clunky and the menu system just felt awkward to navigate using a controller. This was down to being a direct port of the PC version and designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard. This time around the game has been developed with each format in mind, so the console versions have a menu and control system more suited to a controller, while the PC version takes advantage of mouse and keyboard commands.
There is no doubt about it, Risen 2: Dark Waters is shaping up to be something very special indeed. With a lot of RPGs already available and looking for you attention, it does enough to really stand out in the crowd. As I said at the beginning of this preview: it’s a pirate RPG, pirates are cool, what isn’t there to like? Risen 2 will be available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 27th April, and it’s certainly looking to be worthy of your pieces of eight.