Washed up on an inhospitable island called Faranga following a ferocious storm, you enter the world of Risen with nothing but the tattered rags on your back. Arming yourself with a makeshift driftwood club, you bring around fellow survivor Sara, then boldly venture together into the dense forest ahead.
A slight introduction perhaps, Risen’s opening is enough to gently ease you into a deceptively complex RPG game with scant tutorial aid or guidance, throwing you straight into combat and exploration with Risen’s very own equivalent to a swift kick up the arse.
See this bloke here? He looks like almost every other NPC in the first village you come to – a phenomenon known as "sameface".
Gnomes are ugly little sods that can be pretty tough to handle when they attack you in groups.
Learning through doing is the way Risen works and happily, this is made far more acceptable thanks to the game’s accessible controls and only slightly fiddly interface that have been well adapted to the Xbox 360 controller from the PC version.
Your menus are accessed via the D-pad and navigated using the analogue sticks, which is nicely streamlined and intuitive. Your bland, shiny-faced (but brilliantly cocky) character is less effective in combat however, despite having the ability to dual wield a sword and bow. He prances around like an inept gimp when fighting, exchanging weedy blows with very little feedback.
Flailing around with a sword and shield, you’re able to parry and defend against attacks - if you can time your button presses properly, which is nigh on impossible. You can also execute quick steps in any direction by pressing X, which is much more useful, helping to evade strikes if you’re sufficiently fast enough.
When you finally feel your way towards the island’s first inhabited area, you can talk your way into gaining credibility and trust among the locals, meaning that they’ll rush to your aid whenever you’re visibly under threat. Therefore the best thing to do when a Grave Moth or Bog Body starts laying into you is run away like a little girl and get behind any nearby NPC.
You can then stand back and observe as the fight unfolds, before wading in to deliver the final killer blow and collect the experience points. Trouble is, the lack of an enemy lock makes accidentally hitting your helpful friend a regular occurrence, at which point they’ll instantly turn on you, give you a sound kicking and loot your unconscious body. Great.
!Ah, I see. Yep, you’ve got a cracked filling."
What a boar…heh. Groan.
This wouldn’t be a problem if during the early stages of the game we were well enough equipped to take on the nasty creatures that surround the village, lurking in the fetid swamps. Finding armour of any description seems to take forever and learning abilities of any kind takes both reams of conversational text and hundreds of gold coins.
Although levelling up is a frustrating grind, obfuscated by a decidedly dodgy menu screen, there’s plenty to see and do within such small populated areas and there are loads of different characters to chat and interact with, keeping you well occupied until you manage to make sense of it all.
Each character has a different, eccentric personality, speaking in varying, (mostly) well-voiced regional British dialects too, making every NPC a distinct individual despite the majority owning substantial face fuzz and hazy, wonky features. Risen’s deep and involving story is almost entirely related through its interactions with the island’s inhabitants, with members of the village filling you in on the power struggle between their simple way of life and the fearsome Inquisition, as well as their own internal issues with the brutish Brogar and the village’s reclusive leader, Don Esteban.
It’s a shame then that the characters are so poorly realised from a visual standpoint, symptomatic of the rest of the game’s graphical presentation, which is mired in blurry, smeared textures accompanied by shonky, floaty animation. While the graphics may be somewhat lacking in finesse, they adequately serve in building a tangible fantasy world filled with imaginative creatures like giant rot worms, slimy bog creatures, aggressive gnomes and towering, violent ogres that smack you around the chops with a giant bone as soon as they look at you.
Risen’s volcanic Faranga island is rich and captivating enough to keep you unequivocally hooked for hours. The sheer wealth of activities and quests on offer is staggering if you possess a sufficient tolerance level for the clunky, scrappy combat mechanics and slight interface issues. Persevere though, and you’ll be rewarded with a game world chock full of opportunities for adventure and intrigue. Whether you’re foraging for buried treasure, poking around gloomy caverns or repeatedly thwacking a gnome with a club, Faranga is an expansive location that rewards the patient in spades.
Risen is occasionally quite beautiful.
You can learn all sorts of abilities including weapon forging, alchemy and tap dancing (ok, maybe not that last one).
Riding on the success of Gothic - Piranha Bytes’ first title - the German developer has crafted a worthy new IP that provides an enormous amount of depth and scope that any RPG fan will duly appreciate. Unfortunately, Risen is plagued by a number of technical shortcomings that tarnish the overall experience however.
Lacking in polish and attention to detail, Risen still stands up as an absorbing and hugely playable RPG title. The PC version is inarguably superior to its console counterpart, this Xbox 360 iteration feeling somewhat unfinished and unrefined. Yet, for a sophomore console effort, Piranha Bytes has done a solid enough job in adapting an intricate role-player for Xbox 360, which bodes well should the dev decide to bring future releases to the platform.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Engaging in sweary, verbose dialogue with a drunken henchman is always a pleasure.