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Risen Review

by Corwin, 2009-12-07

Redemption is a wonderful word. After the disappointment that was Gothic 3, games developer Piranha Bytes knew it had a hard road to forge if it wanted to win back the support it formerly enjoyed. It was in this cauldron that Risen was released and redemption was found.

The game isn’t perfect - no game is. However, those elements which set the original Gothics apart as classics of the genre are present in abundance here. Does it contain many of the standard clichés we’ve come to expect in RPG’s? Yes, of course it does - but we’d all probably line up to complain if it didn’t. It’s how those clichés are presented and handled that makes a game successful and the people at Piranha Bytes know how to make it all work.

You begin as a nameless hero (sorry girls, but there’s no choice of gender here) washed ashore on a semi-deserted beach wearing rags and little else. From this humble beginning, you have the opportunity to Rise to greatness. If your heart is pure and virtuous, you’ll probably fail. This is a very rough land you’ve ‘chosen’ to visit and survival is not an easy option. You’ll have to fight, steal, lie and sometimes cheat your way to success; it doesn’t come easily and you’d better not get caught.

The story is not the strongest part of the game but it’s adequate to serve the purpose of moving you forward from quest to quest - and there are plenty of those. Some quests can be completed in different ways, and even for different people with differing rewards. They vary from simple to complex, short to long and involved, serious to humorous, tedious to entertaining. All provide those needed experience points which help you Rise to new levels of skill and achievement.

Skills are the name of the game. As the game progresses, you can develop your character in one of three ways; bandit, soldier, or mage. Each needs to learn certain distinct skills to be successful, but all skills are available to every character, though not all skills can be maxed out during the game since learning these skills costs points as well. Each level grants you 10 Learning Points and each level of skill usually costs either 5 or 10 LP’s to advance. As some skills such as swords, bows, or fire magic have 10 levels, not to mention axes, frost magic, crossbows and so on - you can see that with a limited number of levels (few reach 30) that there are only a finite number of points available to cover a multitude of skills. This means not only can you customize your character’s skills as you progress, but there is plenty of replayability, not only with choice of profession, but also with the choice of skills you choose to develop.

The game has a threefold focus: combat, consequence, and exploration. You can travel virtually anywhere, which is great, especially if you want to collect ingredients for either spells, or potions. The alchemy system is excellent and it allows you to brew a wide assortment of potions, assuming you’ve developed sufficient skill. However, as you’re enjoying strolling through the countryside collecting flowers, be aware that you share nature’s bounty with packs of ravaging, hungry beasts, which tend to look upon you as their next delicious meal. The graphics are good, though not brilliant, but real gamers don’t care about that, do they.

When in confrontation with either these beasts, or even some humans who might wish to separate you from your possessions, you’ll be glad you developed at least one of the various types of combat. The three main forms are melee, ranged and magic. However, as it takes awhile before you’re able to learn magic, you’ll need to develop some skills in the more mundane forms of delivering death and destruction. The three melee skills fall under sword, axe and staff, while ranged has only two; bow and crossbow. The choice is yours. Shields are available and work very well as a defence. The catch though is that you have to have a very high skill level with two handed weapons to be able to use a shield as well.

The key to melee combat is timing. As your skills improve, so do your attacks. As your strength improves, so does the damage you inflict and better weapons also become usable. The best ones require great strength and that means lots of LP’s must be spent. The game is not really a clickfest; you’ll die quickly and often if that is your only method of gameplay. As I said earlier, you must learn to time your attacks and balance them with defensive manoeuvres. Each type of opponent attacks in a different way, so what works with one group might not with another. This is not a simple game.

Your actions produce consequences; either through what you do, or through what you say. Annoy a person and they might not talk to you again, or a quest might fail. Get caught stealing and you will be attacked, frequently by several people. Choose to support one group and you might close off quests for a different faction. There are plenty of choices to be made, but their consequences can permeate the entire game. Yes, some quests are of the tedious variety; find 3 golden bowls, collect 5 pieces of armour, but these are balanced, if not outweighed by others, such as helping Patty, where you’ll end up exploring much of the island while having some fun and perhaps getting rich.

Magic is a staple of most RPG’s and Risen is no exception. Everyone can use at least some magic, in the form of scrolls, but only a mage, or soldier of Order can use the more advanced forms. Magic consumes Mana and it’s expensive to increase your limited supply. One LP gives you one extra point of mana. The life of a mage is not easy, either, but eventually, with sufficient mana potions, you can be devastating. Just don’t plan on acquiring too many additional, non-magic skills. Lockpicking and alchemy are the most helpful and I believe that alchemy is essential for a mage.

The music is wonderfully atmospheric, which is what we’ve come to expect from a PB game. The voice acting in the English version I have is charming; I love the British accents. Sound effects are helpful, rather than intrusive and the developers have given us a living, breathing world to explore.

The other pleasing feature, after Gothic 3, is that the game was relatively bug free. I found one minor one which stumped me for quite some time. You get a quest to seek help from Ethan. Unfortunately, there’s no such person in the game. Using the helpful quest map, I was eventually able to work out that someone (possibly during localisation) had changed the name of Ethan to Vince, but hadn’t changed the dialogue to reflect that. Problem solved.

Negatives are really mainly personal. The ending is disliked by many including me, though others seem to enjoy it. In my opinion, when you spend an entire game developing a character the way you want to, then you should be able to use all those developed abilities in the final, climatic battle. To change the entire style of the game at the very end leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Some of the animations are ‘rugged’. Quests can be a little obscure at times and the journal is not as helpful as it could be. The game can be a trifle unforgiving at times also, but there are many who find that a plus. Nothing stood out for me as a strong negative, other than the ending. True, there are some restrictions which people might not like; only one city (which is what you’d expect on a small island), no deep friendships such as those formed in the Gothic series (though Patty comes close), and no wildly divergent scenery, or alternative cultures (though the lizardmen are perhaps a nod in that general direction). However, after all the criticisms levelled at G3, who can really blame PB for playing it a little safe. Hopefully, they’ll spread their wings a little in a sequel.

In summary, if you liked the original Gothic then you’ll love Risen. PB laid a small egg with Gothic 3, but this time they have sought redemption and have definitely Risen to the occasion.

 

Box Art

Information about

Risen

Developer: Piranha Bytes

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Action-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
World
· Homepage
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2009-10-02
· Publisher: Deep Silver

North America
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2010-02-23
· Publisher: Deep Silver

World
· Homepage
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2009-10-02
· Publisher: Deep Silver

More information


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • Very similar in style to Gothic 1&2
  • Living, breathing explorable world
  • Wide skill set
  • Good selection of useful spells
  • Different paths available

Cons

  • The ending
  • Second half fairly linear
  • The ending
  • Island becomes restrictive (Only 1 town)
  • Did I mention the ending

Rating

Review version

Retail Release (UK)

Opinions from other editors

Michael 'txa1265' Anderson: I look at Risen as a natural and wonderful game in the lineage of the Gothic series, and completely agree with Corwin's use of the word 'redemption'. Gothic 2 was one of the first few games I played when I 'returned' to RPG's after a several year absence, and at first, it absolutely kicked my butt. I enjoyed going off the path in Risen and getting destroyed by enemies I had no business approaching. I enjoyed the combat system that represented the best of everything the developers had learned through the years. I enjoyed the feeling of a living world filled with interesting characters, hidden treasures, terrible monsters, and loads of stories to uncover. I loved the new additions of the Gnomes and many of the monsters; I also loved how familiar some of the monsters felt, as though this world was an adjunct to the world of the original Gothic games. I played as a Mage and a Warrior of the Order, and made heavy use of the various types of magic and alchemy systems, as well as melee and ranged combat. I found the general construction and balance of the game quite excellent.

Sadly, after a first half that was full of some of my favorite moments in gaming this year, several flaws began to emerge. What was once a huge and open-ended experience became linear and confined - but that was mitigated by the emphasis shifting to solving puzzles over a large area. The quests also shifted from containing optional and required elements to almost exclusively main quest specific tasks. By the time the final chapter started the game had really closed in around the hero. While it wasn't bad, it had that 'Divine Divinity' feeling of an abrupt transition from being story-driven to end-game driven. And the ending battle itself? I'll go on record calling it one of the worst in any RPG in recent years. So I was glad for what I did next - I started yet another game, played a few hours, got myself firmly into Chapter 1's main quest and then set it aside. Risen isn't going to win any awards, but it is definitely one of my favorite games of the year, and I am thrilled to call it a return to form for Piranha Bytes!


Gorath: Risen's strengths and weaknesses have to be seen in the context of the game's focus and its origin. When Piranha Bytes' last game, Gothic 3, turned out to be a train wreck, the community vocally demanded a back to the roots approach: a smaller world with more depth, a better story, interesting NPCs, good combat, a huge final dungeon, a memorable boss fight and pretty please, with sugar on top, some polish and no bugs. For better or for worse, Risen is exactly that!

At its heart Risen is a story-driven game in an open world. You spend the first 60-70% of the game exploring a gorgeously beautiful island full of secrets, free to go wherever you want. Then suddenly the story leads you into an endless stream of dungeons. Sure, most of them are of supreme quality. Big, hand-crafted, full of traps and puzzles, simply light-years ahead of all the generated excuses for a dungeon we've seen over the last couple of years. But unfortunately there are too many of them and not enough side quests to mix things up. So the dungeons are only a weakness in the context of a game focused on exploring an open world. Somebody who enjoys dungeon crawls for hours could actually see this part as a strength.

The amount of polish came as a surprise. Risen is relatively bug-free, has nice visuals, an intuitive UI, fair balancing, a decent tutorial and not such a steep learning curve as the Gothics. Therefore Risen is the most accessible Gothic style game so far.
As expected the world design is still Piranha Bytes' core strength. Every corner of the world is filled with little details like a treasure chest or ore. Exploration is both fun and rewarding. The story on the other hand is pretty unremarkable fantasy stuff, while the dialogs on the other hand are often quite funny - and often more subtle than their German equivalent. Unfortunately, Risen doesn't have enough interesting NPCs and creative side quests. Both points are clearly better than in Gothic 3, and above genre average, but certainly not even close to Gothic or Night of the Raven.

Piranha Bytes once again relies on the proven formula, the gameplay is pretty much a best of Gothic 1 & 2. Nothing to complain here, everything works as it should. It should be mentioned though that the game is almost completely devoid of innovation. Hopefully Piranha Bytes decides to inject some fresh blood in the unavoidable sequel.

Risen is the true Gothic 3 with a different name. Another ten hours of quality content woven in at the right places and a worthy final boss would have made it a candidate for a 5/5 instead of a clear 4/5. As it is now, Risen is one of the best RPGs in a year rife with strong competition.