People have a certain fascination with the glorified pop culture images of rogues throughout history. Whether it be cowboys, mobsters, or pirates, we love the idea of glamor that has been slapped upon these figures in movies and other media. Pirates, however, have thus far never really gotten a game that captured the true essence of everything we want from that kind of game. Certainly nothing like what Red Dead Redemption did for cowboys. Unfortunately, this disappointing mess of a game does little to change that, despite one or two good ideas.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is the sequel to the first Risen, which was a more cliché knight fantasy RPG. This game certainly seems as if they just took the basic mechanics and concepts of that game and slapped on a different setting instead of concentrating specifically on being able to do all of what people would want to do given the ability to be a pirate.
Before I get to that, though, lets deal with some other issues I had with the game.
First of all, this title very quickly established that I was going to dislike it just from the general presentation. In the opening moments of the game you view a ship being being pulled into the ocean by a Kraken. A nice idea, but the in game translation did little to stir emotion, or interest.
The narrative is delivered in such a stilted fashion and the wooden graphics do little to help. There is an enormous lack of interest or investment in anything that’s going on.
There is a sequence later when the main villain is finally unveiled, after you kill the first boss. The scene is supposed to have an emotional impact after a character dies. However due to the slilted soundtrack, sub par visuals and abysmal voice acting the scene fails dramatically.
Technically, the game has numerous issues. Terrible screen tearing, texture popping and rough textures pull you out of the experience, ruining it completely. The loading times are very frustrating. I imagine this is probably less of an issue on the PC version … but on the Xbox 360 it is almost intolerable.
Diving into actual gameplay, the combat system is utterly asinine and lacks any kinetic feel or excitement. Learning abilities are locked behind two separate barriers. One of those is the games version of XP which is referred to as ‘glory’, which you receive by defeating opponents and completing quests. The other is spending money on trainers to actually teach you things you need to know.
At the beginning of the game especially, this is an enraging dynamic because everybody demands 500 through 1500 gold pieces to teach you anything. Of course that’s assuming you find somebody who will train you in what you want to learn.
It’s actually very unbalanced because certain attributes have no expressed use for quite some time, such as voodoo which you cannot learn until you get to the second island. Considering thievery is the most lucrative method of gaining currency, you are completely out of luck. You do not have enough money to learn to be good enough at stealing to steal the money you need to learn to be good at anything (yes, I know). That becomes less annoying later on as you do eventually start working your way up to semi competence, but it’s still an unnecessary method of leveling up.
There are some cool mechanics though.
The minigame for opening locks is a neat little puzzle, however the drinking and target practice minigames are worthless additions (especially the later which probably worked better with a mouse, but is terrible with an analog stick). I also liked that you could train a monkey to help you steal or a parrot to distract opponents in battle.
Learning voodoo is also a neat aspect, especially using voodoo dolls to gain control over an NPC and use them to accomplish tasks for you or to steal their own stuff for you.
One thing I will praise the game for, is that it is fun to explore the islands you go to. Scavenging for supplies, looking for treasure and the tension that comes from wondering what could be inside the cave or tomb you just discovered is probably what the game does best.
Quests can be interesting at times, but often involve the main character completing meaningless errands, which really damages the joy of being a pirate.
Actually, there are many instances where people look down on the main character, making fun of him or demeaning him in some way despite the fairly impressive accomplishments he makes throughout the game. There were times I felt like I was playing as Guybrush Threepwood from the Monkey Island games because of how little respect he got.
Defeated titans, voodoo skills, slain legendary pirate captains… that doesn’t sound like anything that would command fear or respect. Right?
One of the biggest aspects of being a pirate captain is the command of a ship. Pirates were feared specifically because of their exploits on the sea, such as attacking ships and robbing them of their cargo.
Sadly, you never really get to do any of that.
Your ship is merely a travel point, you get on it, tell the helmsman you want to go, choose an island and watch a cutscene. I understand this game isn’t really trying to innovate the genre, and certainly wasn’t trying to create the perfect pirate game, but this seems somewhat of an oversight.
There is an addictive quality to the exploration, but the game really does little to deliver on its premise or setting. It just feels like a soulless, spineless game that left me massively disappointed. I don’t recommend it to anyone even if you’re curious about some of the cooler sounding aspects like the monkey training or voodoo. Avoid.