A solid RPG that is bogged down by technical issues. Patient, dedicated gamers can still have an enjoyable experience.
GAMEPLAY (7.0) - Risen is a game that does not give much direction to the player, instead letting them explore and discover things for themselves. At the outset it's rather obvious that the top priorities are to grab a weapon, search the beach and then follow the path leading into the forest. It's not long after taking the path that aggressive creatures appear and present the first opportunity for battle. The hand to hand combat is a matter of pressing A to swing/attack and B to parry/block. At first it seems easy enough to dispose of a large bird or rat, but the combat system is something which holds the game back. Players have the option to 'lock on' to their target with the right trigger, that means if the enemy sidesteps a little, the character will still remain focused on the enemy. Unfortunately this only works if the enemy moves a small amount, if they decide to do a complete side jump then they will be on the flank and should they choose to attack quick enough, there's little chance of being able to turn in time and defend. The lock on system also seems to lock on to whoever is closest, so if there are other enemies or even allies, its far too easy to lock on to them, losing the player valuable time.
Another common problem is getting outnumbered and ganged upon. Enemies at he beginning of the game become too problematic because if there is more than one, fighting is difficult as the player can only lock on to them individually, so a giant moth can fly to the exposed side and attack unblocked. As the player becomes stronger and gains better weapons and armor this does not pose as much of a problem but for those first hours the player will spend more time running from enemies instead of fighting them. To help offset this the game does pause when the character looks into his inventory to grab a healing item, and it does have the ability to save at any point. It doesn't take long to realize that saving often is necessary in order to prevent a lot of frustration.
The character can learn several crafting skills, including smithing, to make jewelry and weaponry. He can also cook the raw meat that he collects from the various animals he'll defeat by using an open flame and a frying pan. The different factions he'll meet in the game feature not only different motives involving the main quest, but also different bonuses and playstyles. There are several different skill sets available and the character isn't restricted into a specific class, allowing the player to customize skills as he sees fit. As usual, players gain levels as they accumulate experience by either defeating enemies or completing quests. What's a bit unique is that players then give skills points (and gold) to trainers that will either increase attributes, such as increasing strength for warriors, or teaching new skills, such as lockpicking or the previously mentioned smithing. The island itself is sizable, and provides for some great exploration opportunities. The game also features a decent variety of cleverly designed enemies to fight, and one can quickly buy into the world and the story being told within it. The level of detail and sheer volume of things to do in the game lends the world a level of credibility that is unfortunately lacking on the technical side.
GRAPHICS (6.0) - The graphics are muddy and bland, textures are almost non-existent and the character models would not have looked impressive on the original Xbox. The camera is also over sensitive, as only a slight touch will cause the character to spin too quickly. Most players will be able to adjust to this, but it's still something that should have been corrected. On the plus side, the game features no loading while walking around the island, with the only load screens coming after death or when loading a previous save. While this would normally be considered an impressive technical feat, it is offset by a considerable amount of framerate problems and longer than normal hiccups when the game is autosaving. It still manages to build a decent atmosphere through its night and day cycles and it does do a good job with lighting.
AUDIO (9.0) - While exploring the island the game will play pleasant acoustic guitar background music which compliments the atmosphere nicely. There's nothing that really stands out about the soundtrack, but it fits well given the style of the game. The voice acting for the most part is solid, there is plenty of dialogue and it seems fairly straight to the point most of the time. The quality of the speech is good and there is an abundance of information to discover if you're committed to listening. Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies and Lena Headey are among the voice actors and unsurprisingly do an excellent job.
VALUE (8.5) - Risen is a game that will provide plenty of hours of adventuring, not quite on the massive scale of Oblivion but still more than enough for what a person would typically buy the game for now. It also has decent replay value in that many specific quests will be based on what faction the player decides to join.
SUMMARY - To get the most out of Risen, players are going to have to really invest some time into it. In most action-RPG games, equipment drops are fairly commonplace. In Risen, though, equipment drops are fewer and far between. In fact, most useful goods will come about as rewards for completing lengthy quests. Players will really have to earn that choice weapon or armor, as opposed to stumbling across it through a random treasure chest. While some gamers will relish in seeing their hard work and investment pay off in a tangible way, there will be plenty of others frustrated at just how much effort has to go into feeling any sense of accomplishment. Risen presents an unusual problem when it comes to making a recommendation. The developers managed to get nearly all the RPG details right while getting most of the technical elements wrong, leaving behind a somewhat broken game that still can be enjoyed by a small group gamers. Dedicated RPG players who enjoy open world style games will find plenty of stuff to like if they can push themselves past the games numerous faults.