Risen 2: Dark Waters strives to deliver something we really haven’t seen before, an open-world pirate RPG that tempts players with the allure of a fully realized swashbuckling fantasy. Given that the developers of Risen 2 have chosen a pirate theme, it has a unique advantage over other open-world RPG juggernauts like Skyrim, as very few games have dropped anchor on the swashbuckling side of the fantasy world. Unfortunately, pirate games don’t have a great reputation, despite their great potential, and sadly Risen 2 does very little to repair that standing.
The game begins well enough, delivering a great introduction; the unnamed hero – a member of the Spanish Inquisition – is tasked with terminating the sea monsters that have been threatening the safety of ships and merchants around Port Caldera. Immediately you are off to search for the pirate Steelbeard as you try to find a way to destroy the beasts. Along the way you will slay countless monsters that are threatening the local population. Risen 2 is a sequel in name only as it takes place many years after the first game – as the original game world has been sunk into the ocean by monsters. As such the pirate theme falls naturally into place.
The tutorial is very light, lasting literally only a couple of minutes. Early on in the game combat consists of hacking and slashing peppered with misses, frustrating hit detection, and plenty of reasons to put down the controller and walk away. Defeating the beasts of Port Caldera simply never flows as well as in Risen 2’s role-playing brethren; however, once you are far enough into the game’s campaign more combat skills become present and some much needed life is injected into the combat system. Unfortunately for Risen 2 though this help arrives several hours too late, and for the first portion of the game the combat system really drops the ball and many will just give up, turn off the Xbox 360, and never play again.
The control layout is straightforward enough, yet as stated earlier, it is a shame that Risen 2 takes so long to reach an interesting point in its combat system. The human-on-human battles hold some potential to be engaging once you unlock a sufficient number of melee attacks, but it was when facing one of many creatures in Calderra that I was confronted with some serious issues in this area that hampers one enjoyment of the game. It seemed to me that the developers take a cruel pleasure in overwhelming you with monsters that could end your life with only a few well-placed swipes. To top it off, killing the beasts requires an eternity of your chipping away at their health. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a challenge, but enemies in this game are often faster than you, so you cannot run away. I found that given this unbalanced feature enemies would constantly crowd me into a corner with their pals, making it impossible to break away because the animation for taking damage would prevent me from escaping. This was extremely frustrating.
Once I had managed to avoid this vicious cycle, I found myself intrigued by Risen 2’s unique leveling system. The strategic usage and spending of Glory points (more typically known as experience points) is required to ensure that even the most basic of pirating skills is covered: lock-picking, cunning, and what-have-you. Also, many abilities require you to spend your hard earned gold to purchase certain skills. So you need to search for gold for skills, but you also need skills to obtain gold. It is a difficult balancing act, but one that kept the progression system somewhat interesting. Furthermore, not only do you need gold and Glory, but you need to visit specific coaches to help you attain the skills necessary to survive. When you need to choose between what is going to earn you money and what is going to keep you safe, it is not always easy to make a smart decision.
Risen 2’s visuals appear a bit outdated. Given that the game is a PC port, it would seem that the original version received the most polish. Plagued with blurry textures, awful pop in, and some very invasive stuttering, Risen 2’s visuals could have used a bit more work. I don’t mind when a game’s focus is more on its gameplay as opposed to its graphics, but Risen 2’s performance on the Xbox 360 console renders it difficult to play at times due to its choppiness. It should be noted that installing Risen 2 onto my Xbox 360’s hard drive did improve its performance, but only marginally.
With appropriate clangs from swords clashing and gunshots roaring, the sound in Risen 2 was suitable. The ambient music provided a pleasant background while adventuring about too. There were a few times when engaging in conversation with an NPC the game wouldn’t load the voice acting fast enough, causing the audio to not sync to the character’s animations and lip movements. This was distracting and disappointing to me.
Risen 2: Dark Water’s leveling system has plenty of promise, many of the skills are a lot of fun, and owning your own pirate ship is pretty cool too. Unfortunately tedious, unimaginative missions and too much emphasis on the poorly presented combat system drags the rest of the game down. With serious technical issues afflicting the game, it would seem that Risen 2 performs better on its home turf, the PC. If the console version is the only you can play this game, and you’ve got an itch for an open-world pirate themed RPG, Risen 2 may satisfy you until something more polished sails into port.