It's a good game I play and replay at least once a year, along with the original spiritual predecessors: Gothic 1 & 2. No, I hate Gothic 3. And if you think Risen is hard, wait till you play Gothic 1 & 2. CRPG experience is not complete without mentioning these two rare gems. Guaranteed!
You'll enjoy this fascinating and intricate role-playing game in spite of its troublesome combat and scattered bugs.
- Choices result in tangible consequences
- Large cast of interesting, well-acted characters
- A lot of well-constructed, interconnected quests.
- The combat is awkward and unsatisfying
- Various technical glitches
- Takes a long time to get interesting.
If you judge Risen on its first act alone, you may be convinced that a better title for this complex role-playing game would be "Errand Boy." But while you spend many of the early hours as a shipwrecked message courier, you should stick with it, because things do get better. You explore dark caverns, clash with pirates over buried treasure, stab lizardmen in their faces, and earn the help of a furry friend with a talented nose. Some of Risen's issues stay with you up to the end; there's no escaping the problematic combat and a number of bugs and presentation glitches. But a large and memorable cast of characters and an array of multilayered quests will keep you pushing forward. While it's too technically inconsistent to rise to the top of the genre, Risen still provides plenty of enjoyable adventuring for RPG lovers yearning for a game they can get lost in.
The setup may sound familiar: You are a nameless protagonist washed ashore on a remote island after a disaster at sea. Eventually, you find yourself in a dank swamp ruled by the infamous Don Esteban, a domineering rogue at odds with both the local monastery and the leadership of the island's primary coastal town. Risen's first act drones on endlessly, sending you from one fetch quest to another (distribute these potions; deliver this message; find me some weeds) while confining you first to the swamp, then to the city, and then to the monastery. The downside is that the early hours are tedious and light on action. While island politics eventually play a large role in gameplay, there's nothing initially compelling about the faction struggles, and it takes a while before the world opens up and the story takes hold. The upside to this slow start is that you get to know the world's inhabitants. The characters make an impression, such as the stubborn and manipulative Don, the local barmaid afraid to reveal her secrets, and a mother worried about her missing sons. When a greater threat is eventually exposed and the story expands, you realize that you care about them and their fates. By the time your real enemy is revealed, you'll embrace your role as hero, because you know how desperately these people need one.
Some strong voice acting helps inspire this kind of empathy. Some of the voice-overs could have used a jolt of energy, including that of the main character, who often sounds uninterested. However, most of the acting is quite good, which is a wonderful thing, considering that almost every line is spoken as well as displayed on the screen. As your standing within your faction rises, characters will offer words of encouragement and react to your presence more positively, which lends a nice sense of social progression. Even a few of the quests themselves display personality, such as one in which you place a severed cow's head in someone's bed (an amusing reference to The Godfather). The main story regarding the forces responsible for a bunch of temples rising to the isle's surface is standard fantasy fluff, but the peripheral touches keep you involved and make the island come to life.
Risen's greatest strength is the number of choices it gives you, and how well it balances them. Your choice of faction is the most obvious example of the decisions you face, and it affects which quests you can take, the skills available to you, and even how the world evolves. But even many side quests can be approached in multiple ways. Do you betray a friend and steal a pirate's bounty, or do you remain loyal and fight for your due? Do you scheme with scoundrels, or do you turn them in? These kinds of choices don't pervade the later portions of the game, but even when progression becomes more linear, the questing is still enjoyable. Not only will finding the scattered teleport stones complete a quest line, but these magical objects will make getting around the world a lot simpler. And the relationships you build with other characters add extra flavor. Digging up graves looking for clues is fun on its own because you get to explore various parts of the island; knowing you're performing the task for a character you like sweetens the deal.
Progression isn't limited to leveling, which occurs relatively slowly. As you advance, you visit trainers who teach you the skills needed to get the most out of your exploration. Eventually, locked chests won't be a problem for you as long as you improve your lock-picking skills and have enough picks (or the right spell or scroll). Some trainers teach you how to skin creatures; others help you with your alchemy skills so you can create potions out of herbs and roots, or teach you to make swords and jewelry. You also train up your combat skills and related stats, such as strength and dexterity, by visiting helpful citizens. Risen offers a lot of flexibility as a result, and the side activities are varied enough to keep you interested. For example, smithing a new weapon is a multistep process that involves using an anvil, a trough, and a grindstone (though it's admittedly annoying when you have to wait for a non-player character to finish using the tools first). Picking a lock entails entering a sequence of key presses in the correct order, and you can use a frying pan to cook raw meat over a campfire. These activities are simple on their own, but they're nice diversions between temple excursions and result in helpful items and equipment.