There was a time not so long ago that pirates weren’t considered a saleable property any more, thanks to the atrocities committed in the name of the Jolly Roger by Cutthroat Island. That bloated “epic” was a mess of empty bluster, proof if ever it were needed that assembling as many camp stereotypes and unimaginative cliches.
Since then, of course the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has just about restored the ticket and game buying public’s faith in rum-soaked, eye-patch-wearing ruffians on the high-seas. And thankfully Risen 2: Dark Waters is very much closer to the revivalist films in terms of quality than Cutthroat Island. It isn’t quite as cliched as the sight of Captain Jack Sparrow sashaying about with a bottle of rum in one hand, a treasure map in the other, offering a more thoughtful and intriguing picture of pirates than Disney did.
The game is set on a group of exotic and nicely designed tropical islands, which is something of a departure from the more expansive world of Risen, but which still offer plenty of space to explore and plenty of wonder in their design and execution. It’s a shame that you can’t make your own way between islands, but that might have been pushing the limits of the engine a little too much – we can only hope any subsequent games released to the next generation do add sea-faring missions and segments though.
There’s a levelling up system based on acquiring glory (dressed up XP) which boosts basic attributes, but the more interesting levelling up like black magic requires you to spend money (and quite a lot of it) with trainers. That’s easier said than done, as gold is at a premium in the early stages of the game when you need it the post for development, and it’s hard not to feel like a weakling when facing even the least testing of opponents.
And combat itself has its problems, lacking fluidity and finesse, and featuring some frustrating features like the heavy response to being hit by an opponent which all feel unnaturally accomplished compared to our own unnamed and annoying under-skilled hero. Too often it’s a case of leaving missions altogether to return later when you’re more equipped to take on the necessary baddies. That might follow a real learning curve closely, but it’s a frustratingly disjointed experience for a game. And the impact of that learning curve is undermined by fact that there are way too many auto-save points to take away all of the drama.
To be perfectly honest, the basic set-up of the missions is nothing particularly innovative, with elements borrowed from the original game and various other RPG adventure titles on the market, but there are some extremely neat sequences along the way, like the clever use of a voodoo doll. And though some of the characters – especially chief villain Mara – feel a little bit light-weight, the game’s biggest strength is in how it strings together it’s story elements in the environments. They might not be new, but the missions are still fairly engaging, and the environments are so well designed, and so irresistible to the explorer gamer, that the experience is still fun.
The dialogue used to flesh out some of the characters is a bit of a mixed bag, some is pleasantly pithy, and makes for colourful background noise, but there’s too little real development to make any of the characters really stand out, including the protagonist unfortunately. When there was so much potential for interesting characters with bucket-loads of angsty charisma, that unfortunately feels like a missed opportunity.
And that’s about the rub of it for Risen 2: the good points are too often undone by some fairly distracting technical faults, and some frustrating moments during combat sequences, which can quite frankly be trials of patience. But then, if you’re already a fan of the Risen property you will probably have come into this game fully expecting that. There’s still a good deal of fun to be had, but it takes a long time to get there, and I suspect that some will have walked the plank of their own accord well before that stage comes.
It all smacks slightly of a lack of finesse, and though the technical issues are actually a step up from its predecessor, it’s a shame that wasn’t a pronounced step up in quality from the first game. If the rules of a superior sequel state it should be bigger, better and bolder, then Risen 2 didn’t quite meet those specifications, despite how entertaining it can be at times.
Risen 2: Dark Waters is available to buy now.