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E3 2011 Preview: Risen 2: Dark Waters

By Jeff Buckland, 6/30/2011

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The European RPG sub-genre is alive and well, and now, it's finally hitting both PCs and consoles in force. The latest effort will be coming from Piranha Bytes, arguably the great grand-daddy of Euro RPG developers, with Risen 2: Dark Waters. While we got to see the game at GDC in March, a lot of stuff wasn't really quite ready yet, so the demo seemed like it was just missing something compared to many other games we saw. After seeing it again at E3 and getting our eyes on some of the latest things the team has added, things are looking much more well-rounded.

Risen 2 continues the story of the nameless hero in the first game. He's vanquished the evil that was attacking the first game's isolated island, but had to lose an eye in the process. It's been quite a few years and he's gone a little crazy, especially after he found out that he didn't save the world at all - the titan he defeated was one of many that attacked the civilized world, and now the landscape has become something like a medieval post-apocalyptic landscape. There's very little in the way of humanity left, but there are a few islands that weren't hit too bad, and our hero is going to center his adventures around trying to work to keep the few survivors left alive. Risen 2 takes on a swashbuckling pirate theme, as he's got to infiltrate these outlaws' society to figure out how to defeat the monstrous sea creatures that have been dredged up from the bottom of the oceans, taking out the ships that are now the lifeblood of what's left of humanity.

So while you'll still be exploring tropical islands - multiple ones, this time - and using a sword to fend off enemies as well as ferocious new monsters, you'll also have access to muskets and some form of magic, although this is one area that Piranha Bytes was still hesitant to talk about. (I got the impression that they were still working on how to get medieval fantasy magic into a pirate game, which frankly, could look really weird and awkward if not done just right.) We saw a lot of footage of the console versions of the game, which look much better than the rush-job that was the Xbox 360 port of the first Risen, although our time spent seeing the PC version clearly told us that this is where the game is at home anyway. Even though the pre-alpha code was clearly unfinished, we saw glimpses of brilliance in the design of some of the areas, and the monster designs are really quite original. The game seamlessly transitions from outside world to bulidings and on to dungeons with no loading times - although landing at an island will incur some loading.

Combat includes traditional swordfighting the way you remember it in Piranha Bytes' previous games, but you can also weild both a pistol and a sword simultaneously to mix up attacks, distract enemies with a parrot, fight dirty by throwing sand in people's eyes, kick, and perform parries and counter-attacks. The lack of diversity and rhythm in combat has always been one of my least-favorite things about this studio's games, but I think they're finally adding enough variety this time to get me excited for it.

In Risen 2, you'll also have your own pirate ship with crew. (Like Mass Effect's Normandy, but with sails and a mast.) Over the course of the game, you'll pick up new members of your crew, an interesting cast of characters that you can also recruit as sidekicks when going inland. I asked whether this is a full sailing sim or whether it has any elements of Sid Meier's Pirates!, but was told that no, it diluted the focus of Piranha Bytes' own brand of action-RPG, and didn't feel like it fit in the world. So the answer is that while you do have your own ship to explore and play around in, you'll likely just be clicking areas on a map to go to them. It's unfortunate, because I feel like maybe the team could have done some really fun ship-to-ship battles along with melee and ranged person-to-person combat as one ship boards another.

Still, I'm very impressed by what I saw of Risen 2, and it looks like they're refusing to compromise by way of removing depth just to make the game more accessible. I suppose we shouldn't expect any less from the most prominent developer of European RPGs, and while I imagine that the console-based experience won't generate quite as many sales as the more accessible RPGs by BioWare and Bethesda, this kind of game is perfect for the hardcore PC gamer. Risen 2 will be coming for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 - it has no release date, but 2012 seems likely at this point.



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