Risen 3: Titan Lords / 14th of August 2014
Much like Sacred before it, I have come into the Risen series without ever having played any of the previous games, having avoided them until now, and reducing my only “contact” with the series to being just second hand information, typically taking the form of unrepeatable slander. Now, however, I have embraced the opportunity to sample what the Risen series is all about, and I have to say, I’m not entirely sure if I like it or not…
From its opening cut scene, it is made remarkably clear that Risen 3 is a low budget crack at the RPG market, highlighted by a downright hideous pre-rendered sequence, that would immediately, and rightly, fill any gamer with dread, yet their fears at this point are only the tip of the iceberg. Developed by German studio, Piranha Bytes (creators of both the Gothic and Risen series’), Risen 3: The Titan Lords comes across as a directionless romp upon the high seas that borders on being entirely devoid of plot, it’s world is comprised of rather similar looking locales, each populated by a strange collection of enemies and packed full of one dimensional characters-the island natives being the most poorly treated of them all. In short, it’s just that it isn’t that good, at least to begin with anyway.
Players assume control of a nameless pirate captain who has had his soul taken from him by a dastardly, underworld dwelling foe, making the primary focus of the game his quest to become whole once more. In between though, players will find a vast quantity of side quests to complete, and foes to vanquish across the numerous islands that comprise the game world. There are factions to support and join, and a larger war against the forces of darkness that sees our protagonist change from a rogue pirate to mankind’s only hope for salvation, a Commander Shepard of the high seas, if you will.
Invariably, a quest to vanquish the forces of evil leads to combat situations, and plenty of them, and here we find one of Risen 3’s weakest points. Much like most of the game, combat feels drawn out and often tedious, particularly at the start of the game when even the smallest of creatures will prove to be faster and stronger than the protagonist, and this along with its horrendous writing and voice acting, will render the first five hours or so of the game into a particularly painful experience. However, much like Obsidian’s Alpha Protocol, Risen 3 does gradually improve over the course of the adventure, though it is still not without its flaws, and many of them. The controls are simply not responsive enough, typically leaving the player open to attack, and combat moves when they are performed can often miss their target or see the animation interrupted by the smallest environmental object. Combat is never enjoyable, but as the character grows in strength, it does become less of a chore.
Healing items typically take the form of food and drink, though outside of rum and water, these take an inordinately long time to restore health, making them not particularly helpful in battle. Even worse than this, I found that the health bar was at times impossible to see, and I would find myself charging into battle believing that I had full health, only to die from a single hit as it turned out that I actually had no health left at all. Animals can be killed for their meat which can be cooked at campfires, though the player can unlock numerous perks for their character that make him considerably stronger and more adept at surviving in the wild, these are invaluable as they also boost the rate at which the player’s skills evolve too. Risen 3 doesn’t have a traditional RPG levelling system, instead, player’s amass glory from defeating foes and completing missions, this is essentially XP that is then used to improve such skills as melee combat, toughness and magic, and the increments that these increase at are determined by the perks that the player has managed to unlock. It’s certainly different, though it does take some time to get used to, and if I was to pick a flaw in the system, it would be that perks cost too much gold to unlock-evidently, the designers intended Risen 3 to be a game that lasts a long time, yet given how horrid its opening is, it is unlikely that most gamers will see even half of what the game has to offer.
Graphically speaking, the game does not impress either, with muddy textures adorning most surfaces, fairly simplistic character models and rather underwhelming animation, yet it isn’t an entirely hideous game either, despite the pop-up, texture drop in and terrible depth of field effects that Piranha Bytes have attempted to include. The locales do enough to set the scene, but they lack the graphical polish that would have given the game’s tropical setting the vistas necessary to fully immerse the player into the experience. There is plenty of land to cover and tons of side quests to spend one’s time on, much like Bethesda’s offerings, Risen 3 lets players tackle the missions in any order, and whilst its storytelling suffers immensely from horrendous voice acting, shoddy writing and rather poorly produced cut scenes, it still feels epic-which brings me back to my earlier Mass Effect comparison. Being the only hope for man’s survival means that Risen 3’s protagonist must venture from island to island recruiting the best forces that he can lay his hands on, settling old squabbles and reuniting the game’s factions if he is to have any chance of succeeding in the final battle. Remind you of anyone? Commander Shepard had to do the exact same thing, and it is such a shame that the two games are a gulf apart in terms of quality, because Risen 3 probably could have been a very good game indeed.
It’s a pity that Risen is so glitchy, frequently subjecting me to crashes, giving me locks that could not be picked (the mini games are substandard stuff too), missions that could not be completed and a map and mini-map that border on being useless. Waypoint markers are difficult to see, they simply do not stand out enough, leaving much of mission progression down to guesswork on the part of the player. Sometimes missions will not advance either, seemingly requiring a part of another, ostensibly unconnected quest to be completed before new dialogue options will appear, it’s lucky then that, for those gamers who can survive the appalling opening, they are likely to find many hours of gameplay within the unattractive shell of this game, because surprisingly, it somehow ends up being a pretty solid, open world RPG.
Ultimately, Risen 3 is not entirely dissimilar from Sacred 3 in that, at its foundations, there lies the potential to be a very good game indeed, and seeing it fall so far from where it could be is rather disappointing to be honest. Given that the team at Piranha Bytes have, as far as I am aware, improved so much over the lacklustre Risen 2: Dark Waters, they have perhaps done enough to warrant one more crack at turning their disappointing pirate RPG into an indispensable gaming experience, and given that I eventually found a game worth playing within Risen 3 is indicative of Piranha Bytes’ growth as creators of worlds, now we just need to wait to see where it will take them.