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Risen 5-Years Later Review



I firmly believe that gameplay is and always should be the most important aspect of a game. Describing the experience for Risen is going to be tricky because, to do it justice, I will practically have to compartmentalize my opinions when writing them. Primarily this is because of the combat experience being… what it is. To that end I am going to put combat at the end of this section, and focus on the other gameplay aspects first.

It did not dawn on me at first, but after playing the game for several hours the idea entered my mind that the design of Risen had the goal of making a semi-realistic game. In most of the cases, this either works well, is neutral, or just adds a potential for annoyance that other games do not make you suffer. Let us start with the leveling system.

Instead of being awarded stat points to be assigned as you level up, or receiving predetermined bonuses, you are awarded Learning Points as you advance. You spend these points and money with trainers who 'teach' you how to do different things, like wield weapons better, pick locks, or mix potions. This system is a little awkward, as it delays you from using these points and risks you forgetting about the points, but it does fit that semi-realistic goal. When you go to a trainer to improve your sword handling, for example, you are not just mystically improved, but are actually given an explanation of what you are learning. The trainers actually tell you what to do when you learn skills from them. To a degree, you do not need to listen to what they are saying because it either does not matter or the game tells you what to do anyway, but it is still an interesting touch. Personally I kind of liked this, although I would still skip through the lesson to get on with things.






After you learn new skills it would be nice to put them to use, and here is one place I really would get annoyed with the realism. Crafting new weapons requires heating a sword blank at a forge, hammering it at an anvil, dousing it in a water trough, and sharpening it at a whetstone wheel, and you have to do each step individually. The annoyance comes from an NPC using any of these objects, because if they are using it, you cannot. It would be nice if the guy trying to save the world was given priority access to the facilities.

Speaking of forging weapons, there is one mechanic I wish were present. When you craft and sharpen a sword, it is labelled as a sharp sword and does more damage. Without sharpening, it is dull and does less damage. Why is it we cannot take a sword we picked up and sharpen it? I can understand the desire to give people the entire in-game forging experience, but honestly, it would have been nice if the sharpening system was extended to all weapons.

The time system is also a little funky, in some situations. Time does flow on the island, shifting through the hours of the day from dawn to dusk and through the night. However it seemed to move somewhat slowly whenever I was on the surface. If I was in a cave or teleporting somewhere, the time would shift significantly. I could enter a cave at noon, spend what felt like ten minutes there, in real time, and come out to the dark of night, but ten minutes on the surface seems to barely move the sun. This would seem to align with the idea that people underground can lose track of time, but also seems a bit extreme. Consistency would have been appreciated, or an in-game clock.


I think what really spurred my mind to recognize the semi-realistic design was the quest log system. The quest log of Risen is not some omniscient device to lead you to your destiny, like in many other games. It is very much a log of your quests and what you know about them, such as the character dialog associated with them. Unfortunately not all of the pertinent dialog seems to be recorded or acted upon. I am fairly confident one NPC once gave me a quest and told me to approach it from a back way, but that specific note was not written down. For another quest, I know the NPC said that they would mark where I had to go on my map, but it was not until a later dialog option that they actually appeared. Considering that quest literally has you crossing the island, those quest markers are very useful. Another character with a similar quest also has to be taken through additional dialog to get the quest markers, but at least you are not teased about them first.

While it may sound like I had an irritable experience for the bulk of the gameplay, I actually did not. Truthfully I found the gameplay to be a lot of fun. There were those minor annoyances I mentioned above, but these are truly minor and I really did have an enjoyable experience, for what I have described thus far. The spells and puzzles they solve were also fun, although some puzzles can be frustrating when there is not enough light to see switches and such.

Now let us talk about combat. The first rule of combat in Risen is to save often. The second rule is to save again. Combat was frustrating in the negative sense of the word, more often than not. Some enemies seemed to have the ability to attack so quick that they could hit you while you are in the middle of your attack. Other enemies simply do have the ability to break your defense and hit you directly. You do have the ability to dodge, but I would not recommend trying to, unless you have a lot of practice at it. This is not because of the dodge system, but because of the soft lock-on system.


When you have the camera facing an enemy, you will be locked on to them, so your attacks will be directed to them and your movement will be relative to them. That is as it should be. Quick movements however, such as dodging by you or the enemy and even some attacks, can cause the lock to be lost, which only puts you at risk. You only block attacks from your front, so without that lock on, you are exposed. Enemies never seem to lose their lock-on for long. They can lunge past you, exposing their side to you, but they will quickly recover. The camera system also prevents your own quick recovery as it will almost make a cinematic pan if it has to move too far.

If there are multiple enemies, then you are really in trouble and, from my experience, there are only two options available to you. One is to run to hopefully space out the attackers or find a narrow corridor, and the other is to just spam the attack button, hoping to kill the enemies quickly. For small enemies, the latter strategy works okay, because these enemies are not a dire threat at mid-game. For larger enemies though, you do not want to spam attacks because they will hit you and they will hit you hard. Even with some of the best armor in the game, I was being three or four hit by enemies, and those hits can come very quickly.

Assuming you are able to make it one on one, or at least keep the enemies in single file (by the way, enemies can attack through each other to hit you), I found the only viable strategy was to keep my block up all the time, and only stop blocking to quickly attack. Shields work marvelously well most of the time, so take advantage of them. I am not sure when I learned it, but apparently there is an attack you learn that is quick and meant to stop incoming attacks, but I found it to be somewhat lacking most of the time, so I kept behind my shield. I wish that were not the case because cowering behind a shield is not much fun, even if it works.


Companions, which you do have occasionally, help significantly. Not only can they do some damage on their own, but they are also alternative targets for enemies to go after. The groups of enemies you will encounter become much more manageable when there is someone else to take hits for you.

Traps can also be put to use, but are more limited as they are environmental and not something you can place.


Thankfully, group fights are not too terribly common in places that you cannot manipulate your surroundings to simplify the encounter. Also the final boss is more of a puzzle boss than a combat one, but even then, there is only one enemy to deal with.

While the combat was definitely not enjoyable for me, I cannot say it felt like it dominated the game. It definitely is a significant portion of the game, but it was the exploration I think of when considering what I spent my time doing.

According to the game save, I spent 26 hours and 38 minute on this review playthrough. That does include a decent amount of time adventuring. However, as it was recorded with the save game, reloads would cause it to undervalue how much time I actually spent. According to Steam I spent 31 hours in the game. I cannot say I believe I lost four and a half hours with reloads, but regardless, for a first-time playthrough, I think you can easily expect over 20 hours of gameplay, and possibly around 25. That can then be multiplied by three as there are three paths you can take in the game, if you choose to try each path.

Despite everything about the combat, I would still say that Risen offers a fun and enjoyable experience overall. It does have issues, and some may make you want to pull your hair out, but if you stick with it, you can have a lot of fun saving the world.

  1. Risen Review - Introduction
  2. Risen Review - Graphics
  3. Risen Review - Story
  4. Risen Review - Gameplay
  5. Risen Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Risen Review - Conclusion
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