Risen 2: Dark Waters 2-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: August 27, 2014
Released three years after the first game in the franchise, Risen 2: Dark Waters is a direct sequel that has you continue the story of the original playable character. Many other familiar characters also return and everyone has had a nice visual upgrade. Of course you will also encounter many new characters and places as you sail the seas as a pirate.
Like its predecessor, Risen 2 is an open-world adventure RPG, but has had a significant change in setting from a fantasy world to a pirate/naval world. You are still trying to save it all as you hunt for a means to destroy Mara, a Titan Lord set on enslaving humanity and destroying resistance.
Risen 2 has received an M rating for the ESRB for blood, strong language, use of alcohol, and violence. If such content is inappropriate for you, chances are this review is as well.
With two years passed, should we return to the sea again, or leave humanity to be swept out with the tide? Time to find out.
At only two years old, Risen 2 cannot be accused of looking dated yet. It has full and colorful environments, detailed character models, and actually some gorgeous lighting. However, it is not perfect and some of its graphical imperfections are hard not to see.
Among the first visual issues I experienced, and continued to experience throughout the game, was mesh pop-in. Textures always seemed to have loaded very quickly, so I never saw those appearing in front of me, but meshes routinely changed shape as I looked at them, as though they were actually being streamed in. Considering how near I was to many of the objects as this happened, it is nearly impossible to excuse it. What perhaps made this even worse was how it played with shadows. As the geometry would snap to a new shape, so would the shadows, which was somewhat jarring. It is weird to be talking to someone in the sunlight and then suddenly be in the shade.
The shadows themselves were not always that pretty either. Those projected on the ground were okay, but had an odd interference along their edges. Unless you specifically look at the shadows, there is a good chance you will not spot this, thanks to how far from the camera they are. Sadly, up close some of the shadows can be quite hideous. During one conversation, shadows were cast on my character's back and the camera was right there to see some of the jaggiest shadows I have seen of late.
Shadows are not the only things projected, which, in context, is unfortunate. Given the pirate aspect of the game, there are buried treasures for you to find, and to help you find them, red X's are placed on the ground once you have the map. These X's are not just applied to the ground though, as you can see the red being overlaid on the shovel as you dig, and even your character. At least that makes it clearly a HUD element, and not just pirates being stupid enough to mark their buried treasures.
On a positive note, the environments can be very lush and filled with grass, trees, and, depending on the plant life, a lot of color, too. Of course the grass is all sprites, which can make them look out of place compared to their surroundings, but it is not that bad. The sun beaming through the trees is definitely a great sight to see.
Unfortunately, there are places in the environment where texture seams almost jump out at you. Really I am not sure how most people would not notice this when they come across it.
Animations are not what I would call impressive. Too often characters would seem to throw their hands and arms around for no better reason than to have some movement. It is almost as though their limbs drive their diaphragms. Faces were not very emotive either. There are also AI issues, but I will cover those in the gameplay section.
Being a pirate-themed game, you would expect the water effects to be good, but you would be disappointed. Actually the effects looked near identical to the original game released three years prior. Moving through water does disturb it, but simply by placing an effect on the surface of the water. Do not expect to see character-generated ripples. Actually I cannot say there was much in the way of ripples to begin with. There were definitely waves though, and those had their own graphical issue.
If you walk along a beach, you will be able to see the waves coming in and changing the water level. No foam, just changing water levels. The issue is that the waves clip through the beach, instead of reacting to it or just stopping when they reach shore. Sure, water is pushed up a shore as it comes in, but that is not what this looks like.
Fire is pre-animated, but does have some character to it. Nothing too special about it, one way or the other, except that I noticed my torch would occasionally go out for no apparent reason.
Time to cover performance, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
I had every setting turned on and up to its maximum, with the exception of depth-of-field, and almost never had any issues. There was the pop-in I mentioned earlier, as well as infrequent bouts of stuttering. I am not sure what caused the stuttering, but it did look to me like my computer started doing something else that was taking resources. I am not sure what it would be, but I did experience it.
I am not sure where best to put this, but here seems as good a place as any. You NEED to check the save files for Risen 2. This is a game that you want to save frequently in, but quick saves and auto saves do not overwrite previous copies. As each save comes in at 6 MB that can really add up, especially if you play like me, constantly pressing the quick save button every time you see something that could induce a re-load. When I spotted this I had almost 2 GB of saves. Luckily they compress easily, if you want to keep a complete archive of them.
To put it all together, the graphics of Risen 2 are decent, which is a step above mediocre. If it were not for that pop-in I experienced, I would have a better impression of them to share. The clipping waves do not help it either, but at least that does not hurt the graphics. It does not look good, but it does not hurt anything.
To be both honest and fair, I am a stickler when it comes to story; much more than a lot of people. It is not because I have a high standard for stories, but because of how I recognize their purpose and value that makes me so sensitive to their quality. The story of Risen 2, in substance and execution, I would describe as lousy and deliberately crude to the point of hurting the experience, substantially.
First we can consider its relationship to the original title. Only years separate the two games, evidenced by the returning characters, including the playable character being the same in both. The first game was set in a fantasy world with ogres, gnomes, magic, skeletons, swords, shields, and suits of armor. This game is set in a pirate world with more realistic animal threats, firearms, cannons, heavy clothing for protection, and voodoo. Such a drastic change is ridiculous, just from the technological standpoint. We are talking about a shift from medieval times to late renaissance, or post renaissance in what looks like less than a decade. Suspension of disbelief only stretches so far.
Add on to this the connections to the original game's events and things get even screwier. Apparently in the years that separate the titles, your character has joined the Inquisition; the Old Empire has been destroyed by the combat between two Titan Lords, one of which is supposed to be an incorporeal spirit and the other has not been introduced before; another Titan Lord, Mara, has been released; and apparently the destructive storms of the original game have also subsided. Some of this is explained, but not enough of it and not well enough for my satisfaction. For crying out loud, it was hours into the game before I even had a clue what the antagonist, Mara, looked like and then still longer to find out what she was.
For your benefit, here are some light spoilers. Mara is a Titan Lord, which means that she was once given the tools needed to control and even kill the Titans of the world. Apparently at some point after defeating the Titans, she tricked certain leaders of humanity to enslave their people for her, in exchange for the very tools she wielded against the Titans. Eventually these leaders turned on her, but instead of killing her, left her imprisoned. Her unintentional release has led to many of the events of this game and set you on the path to find the artefacts and kill her.
Now why she was not killed in the past is never truly explained. It is implied that it is because of the weakness of humanity to completely betray her, but that does not make much sense because if you are going to betray such a dangerous being, you would go all the way with it.
To avoid further spoilers of the general story, it is time to move on to more specific elements and the storytelling. Actually there is just one specific element I want to mention, which is the depiction of the natives. While it is understandable how firearms would do well against spears, voodoo that allows you to control other people and create powerful potions should still make a decent showing. At least a better showing than what we see. Even without that, the native tribes are very old, so why would they be so small and restricted to ruins of their past? There should be grand cities they had built more recently as their population grew. Sure the cities could have been captured and the people we see are the remnants of the societies, but where are the cities? It just does not make sense. Granted I may be putting more into this than I should, but things just do not add up.
The storytelling and scripting of the characters seems to swing between crude humor and sophomoric humor with obscenities everywhere. Honestly I am surprised there were no fart jokes, or at least none that I remember, and one would have stood out. This is not a positive, to be crystal clear. Typifying it all would have to be a talking gnome named Jaffar. He learned to speak English from pirates, and somehow that translated to practically every other word being an obscenity. He actually never says 'yes' without 'f*%$' before it.
The only thing impressive about the story is that it is coherent enough to connect the events of the game. It was not the story that was driving me to the end, it was the desire to finish the game before writing this review that did that.
The gameplay experience is the most important aspect of any game, in my opinion, so things must be done right. For Risen 2 some things are done right, but a lot, too much, is not. How about we focus on the good first?
The inventory system has been completely re-done from the original game, with the useful impact of having a ranged weapon 'always' available to you, instead of requiring the time to switch from a melee weapon to a ranged weapon. The reason I put always in quotes is because there is a delay for actually pulling out the weapon, an action that can be interrupted, and because there is a reload time for many of the weapons. At least these times are not too terribly long.
The map system has also been redesigned some, especially with regards to the fast-travel system. Once you have the map of an area and visit certain places, you will unlock their fast-travel points and save some time walking.
Companions are available to you for much of the game, which has its good and bad points. The good is that they will help you out in combat by doing damage and taking hits for you. The bad is that companion AI can be pretty darn stupid. I have seen them walk on tables for no reason, get stuck on rocks and unable to move until I dismiss them, get so thoroughly lost that I probably played for twenty minutes to half an hour without seeing them, and they do not even engage enemies consistently. One companion consistently will come to your aid when an enemy engages you, but another will just sit there until after you start attacking.
Another issue that is less an AI issue than it is a design issue is their climbing ability. You will come across ledges that you can climb up to get to new places, and your companions will follow. The catch is that they are slower than you at climbing, so you can lose them if you do not wait for them. This is legitimately annoying because the companions are so useful when dealing with enemies.
Voodoo is awkward, from what I have experienced. This is not some magical force you will be able to call upon, but something primarily only useful in contrived situations or when you prepare for it. Voodoo dolls, for example, require you to create them and have a strand of hair from the target, so you can only use them as part of quests. I have not actually used much more advanced techniques than that though, because I was focusing more of my resources to other abilities that seemed more useful, like monkey training. I am serious, trained monkeys are useful because you can control them to steal stuff more easily than yourself.
Leveling has seen some interesting changes, and not really for the better. Instead of being able to just learn new abilities and improve old ones, there is an implicit and invisible skill tree you must obey. To learn new abilities you have to visit and pay trainers (even those who say they owe you a favor), but you also have to have so many points into some characteristic, such as Cunning, which you increase by expending Glory points. By breaking the improvement system between the myriad of trainers and the character menu, it has become fairly difficult to approach. It is also frustrating as this system locks abilities behind walls that can take you quite a while to reach.
The health system has also been overhauled. In the first game when you ate or consumed a health potion, you immediately gained that health. In Risen 2 provisions and some drinks give you regeneration, to a point, while others will immediately heal you for so much. How you know which does which is unclear, and the regeneration speed is so slow that you really do not want to rely on it in fights.
The worst gameplay aspect of the game is easily the combat system. The only thing about it that I like is that it actually does resemble fencing and uses the proper terminology for sword techniques. Just about everything else frustrates me to the point of rage-cheating. There are enemies that will chain attacks so quickly that you effectively never get a chance to hit them without also being hit. (Maybe there are skills you can learn to help with this, but see the earlier paragraph on the leveling process.) There are enemies that have both melee and ranged attacks, with the ranged attacks always possessing perfect aim, so only an active dodge will save you. (Your aim can be so bad that you can miss enemies practically three arm lengths away.) Of course there are also enemies that hit hard and have very high health. Honestly you could probably double the damage of the player attacks and still not achieve parity with the lethality of enemies.
As bad as all that may sound, it is exponentially worse when facing groups of enemies. Not only will their ability to flank you come into play, and the ranged attacks become obscenely more dangerous, but also the targeting system starts to work its hexes on you.
The first title had a soft lock-on system that was quite annoying for how easily you could lose the lock and not be facing the right direction. Risen 2 is actually worse, because it is no longer a lock-on system but a targeting system with unknown behavior. One would be tempted to say its behavior is illogical, but that is impossible. Software cannot behave illogically if it functions, which makes some things all the more scary because that means it makes logical sense in some way. It does not target the enemy the camera is focused on, because I have turned the camera and not changed targets. But then, sometimes it will change when I move the camera. It does not target the closest enemy because it has targeted an out of range enemy while I receive melee blows from one much closer. But then I have seen it spin me around because another enemy got closer to me, but came from behind. It does not make sense to me, but there must be some rules it follows to even function.
This targeting system will orient your character towards the target, but because it does not lock-on, your movement is relative to yourself. If you move to the right or left, you will turn and go in those directions. It also resulted in me attacking the void behind my character because I would be moving backward when I press the attack button, causing me to turn around, attack nothing, and get hit in the back by my foe.
At the six hour and 26 minute mark, I finally got fed up enough that I decided to just cheat so I could advance the game and get it over with. Understand this cheating was not to avoid a single, specific area, but a systemic problem of the game's combat gameplay, so I turned to the cheats many, many times.
According to the game saves, I spent 19 hours and 13 minutes in Risen 2, which can be an underestimate with reloading, and according to Steam I spent around 21 hours in the game, which counts time in menus. That puts the expected playtime at around 20 hours.
Risen 2 has its good points and bad points for gameplay, but I find the bad points do outweigh the good. There is fun to be had with the good points, but whenever you come up to the bad, like the combat, the fun is practically undone with the frustration.
Additional Gameplay Screenshots:
Should we raise anchor and return to Risen 2 or leave it to the mercy of the seas? My vote leans to leaving it alone. There are some good aspects to the gameplay, largely from the exploration and some interesting quests, but then there is the combat and how some of the quests are very unclear in what to do. In fact I have even failed quests expressly because I needed to do one thing that I never would have thought to do if I had not looked it up on the Internet. The story also failed to entertain me once I realized its low humor was continuous, and never really served as a driving force to complete the game. The strongest, general aspect of the game is the graphics, which I summed up as just decent in its section.
Now, I am not going to say Risen 2 is a bad game, because it is not quite to that level. It definitely has some bad elements, but just enough good to keep from tipping over. It is a game I fail to recommend with a leaning to recommend against. If you have it you can check it out, but do not be surprised if after an hour or two you decide to uninstall it and move on to something more enjoyable.