The Games Of Christmas: December 15th

By RPS on December 15th, 2009 at 3:34 pm.

The photoshopping gets more wearying every day
Christmas is a time to appreciate the under-appreciated. Like rat milk, the later films of Steve Martin, and boating shoes. And, more earnestly, the game that the hand of the one true leader of the Autobots is trepidatiously gesturing toward…

Risen!

Alec:

The Risen Report, Coda: Is This Thing On?

There’s a reason my once-regular documents of my time in Pirhana Bytes’ divisive RPG sputtered to a halt. After an unsure start, I grew to love the thing – its lack of hand-holding, even the way its poorly-explained levelling up worked, turning every skill upgrade into something meaningful. This grim, half-broken thing got into my head and took over. It cost me a week of paid work, and it led to me having an excruiatingly embarrasing drunken argument with someone from a site that had reviewed it poorly that will probably haunt me for years. In a heap of ways, it got roleplaying absolutely right, and when a game does that, it will inevitably take control of me.

Then the spell broke. After 12 hours of trials, tribulations, abductions and proud hat collection, Risen just let go, gave up. Caves. Monsters. Monsters. Caves. The gritty glory, the constant balancing act of philathropy and self-interest of my adventures in the prison-monastery, the corrupt-as-Berlusconi town and the hate-fuelled bandit camp were gone, remembered as if from a dream of another game.

I couldn’t find the will to keep playing for long in this lonely new world of spelunking and thumping, let alone to find interesting things to say about hitting scorpion after scorpion and ashbeast after ashbeast with a staff. It did grow into a much more satisfying combat game, my (accidental) fighter-mage path allowing me to mix melee with roundly destructive magic, rather than being stuck to the somewhat inept swordplay of before. And there’s something to be said for its boldness in switching from a low-fantasy game of dark ages survival and subterfuge and into lizardman and steampunk-filled high fantasy. It forever had ambition, even if it couldn’t keep pace with that.

I have been back since, and for quite a while, but it was too late. The Risen Report was done – a document of a dozen or so hours of my scowling character’s rise, fall and rise. Survivor, prisoner, hero. It’s tale enough. I don’t need to know what happens at the end of all those caves and monsters. All I need to know is that, for quite a while, I had a far better time than Dragon Age. A wider world, decisions with consquences that instantly and dramatically affected me rather than a bunch of behind the scenes sliders, a type of magic that’s wierd and dirty, and the chance to use my cunning rather than simply my skill points to get what I wanted. I’m fine with praising half a roleplaying game. It’s a better half a roleplaying game than any other I’ve played this year.

Jim: It’s never really a good year for RPGs, at least not in this century, but 2009 was at least an interesting one. Risen, which I hadn’t expected to be able to get into at all, entirely took me by surprise with its agreeably taciturn and reactive world. One helpful beardy chap is about all you get to set you on your way in a remarkably unapproachable game that is, nevertheless, quite rewarding once you struggle your way – head-first, with a feeling of alienation – into it.

What is best about Risen is how it tries to offer a world fully-formed. You wash up the beach and get cracking, with plenty of options opening up as you explore. I found myself thinking most of The Witcher, and how it had stubbornly refused to open up until many hours into the game. Risen, by contrast, offers you the broadside of a world – limited as it is – from the outset. Run out of options in the bandit camp and you can head off to a nearby farm and the ‘orrible city beyond. I stumbled around, testing the limits of world and liking what I found. There were little reminders in there of plenty of other games that have attempted similar things – there’s even echoes of Outcast – and although it’s entirely imperfect, Risen is also a kind of notice that RPGs are the gaming form that’s still got the most unexplored potential. Pirhana Bytes do take some time to explore it, and you have to give credit for that.

That’s not to say that this isn’t willfully-rigid and typically under-imagined in places. (Ladies being heavily boobed and lightly characterised being one obvious problem). It sits very much in the realm of the Fantasy Typicals, contributing to that same conversation that has been going on in books, films, and games for far too long now. Despite this there’s some strong writing, decent voice acting, and occasional neat design touches. The non-lethality of combat with other humans is certainly one such fascinating feature, but the RPG functionality of weapons and magic are worth investigating too. Allowing, as Alec points out, the creation of a character with unexpected inventories.

Risen is a thing that responds in interesting ways to your input, and that, I feel, is how RPGs should be.

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28 Comments »

  1. SirKicksalot says:

    The underground portion of the game was the best dungeon experience since Dark Messiah for me.

    • EthZee says:

      @SirKicksalot:

      Unless Risen happens to feature kicking things, then I highly doubt the veracity of your statement. KICK THINGS INTO OTHER THINGS!

      DMoM&M (as well as having the worst acronym ever) has one of the best fantasy/RPG melee combat systems I’ve had the pleasure to use. Only games like Mount & Blade or (actually, M&B is all I can think of) come quite as close.

    • Draken says:

      @SirKicksalot : I found the mid of the game (after the ship and before leaving the island) rather uninspired. Cave after cave, goblin after orc after orc, no new abilities (only stats boosts)… However, the awesome battle system was enough to push me through it… twice. Which made me realize that the Stealth build is way cheaper than the Warrior one. Gotta love backstab though.

    • MarkN says:

      I firmly believe that Dark Messiah was made by two entirely separate dev teams who never met or even talked about the game together. One team delighted in placing spiked racks against walls on precarious wooden walkways high up in the mountains to provide endless opportunities for mischief and tomfoolery, whereas the other dedicated themselves to crafting tedious caves full of hateful poisonous spiders and zombies that absolutely wouldn’t stay dead that needed slogging through joylessly. These last guys probably handled the boss fights too.

    • oceanclub says:

      I really liked DM, but got hopelessly lost at one point and never finished the game. May try it again at some point.

  2. AndrewC says:

    I never did find a hat.

  3. DMJ says:

    This is turning into the “Great Games Ruined By Design Teams Made Up Of Monkeys” of Christmas.

  4. Taillefer says:

    Risen is a step back from from the Gothic series in several ways, but it’s nice that RPS finally got to experience some of things that Gothic fans keep bringing up in RPG-related threads. Risen is a great game, but hopefully it’s just the start of something beautiful.

  5. lhzr says:

    seems that alec’s experience was very similar to mine. i loved the game until around the half of the second chapter, where it turned into a boring dungeon crawl that made me stop playing.

    anyway, alec, you didn’t miss much by not finishing it, since, from what i’ve gathered, it’s pretty much the same up until the end.

  6. The Innocent says:

    I loved it until the last couple chapters. The problem that I had was

    LIGHT SPOILERS

    During the opening, you were presented with choices that had consequences that felt real and immediate, if only because there were so many skills and such. But then the game went entirely linear and it didn’t matter who you had helped or what skills you had emphasized, because you did one long and tedious quest for one suit of armor and an axe that had the bonus that it gave you +7 or whatever to your axe skill, and the boss fight was a tedious timing-fest in which the only skills that mattered were those that the game gave you with that one suit of armor and that one axe. It threw away everything — literally everything — at the end. There were no consequences to your actions that mattered, no meanings to your skill development, and ultimately, nothing.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed. The game was my game of the year until about two-thirds the way through, and unlike Alec (sadly for me, I know), I can’t love just half a game.

  7. Chiller says:

    I’m a part of the crowd that utterly loved this game, hated Dragon Age with a passion, and, yes, thinks that the final battle was totally uninspired.
    Might be a pretty small crowd, though.

  8. Wulf says:

    To be honest, after playing Risen to about the half-way point I uninstalled it and reinstalled Gothic III with the massive community patch, and I’m having a much more enjoyable time. The thing is, it seems like Piranha Bytes can’t make a game that isn’t ruined by its own ambition, and the same is true of Risen, so it’ll probably take three years or so before a community patched is released which sorts out Risen.

    I honestly should have seem that coming.

    Gothic III though was a better game in its own right, and should be played by everyone. They made massive step backs in Risen. For example: No one ever spots you stealing in Risen (this annoys me) whereas you get questioned about it in Gothic III, and in Risen the creatures you encounter are just dub experience-bags whereas in Gothic III they had an entire bloody ecosystem for animals, monsters, and people alike (which was truly amazing and beautiful to behold). Not to mention that the Gothic world was bigger, and far more interesting.

    In fact, the only reason to play Risen is the voice-acting, which is actually really very good and much better than what one finds in Dragon Age: Origins.

    If you’ve never played Risen or Gothic III though, do yourself a favour and play Gothic III first.

    • Taillefer says:

      Wulf,

      People attack you if they see you stealing.

      There’s not actually much to fix in Risen with community patches. It’s been purposefully scaled back and is less ambitious than their previous titles. I expect they wanted to get something smaller done for a cash injection, and now they’ll make something bigger and better. Similar to the cycle Gothic went through.

      I agree Gothic 3 is underrated, though. It’s broken and buggy even with the community patch. Not to mention the community patch completely messes up the NPCs by making them almost invulnerable to monster attacks (unless that’s an optional toggle I missed). However, for exploration, it can’t be beaten. But that’s not what appeals to most people. So, for most, I’d have to recommend the other Gothic games instead.

  9. Drakkheim says:

    Never made it past the monastery.. Had a lot of fun up until that point. Then I got distracted by something.

    Its a beautiful, unforgiving and rough n tumble world to play in.

  10. AndrewC says:

    @Wulf And Risen was a massive step forwards from Gothic 3 in that reducing the size of the world meant the designers could focus on making those fewer places and quests more interesting. Much better than the endless, beautiful and entirely cookie-cutter MMO repetition of Gothic 3. Also it enabled them to create a game that was playable without years of community patches, which is always nice.

    I’m glad that it was the game for you, but it it isn’t even the game for most Gothic fans.

  11. Zaphid says:

    Not many games have the balls to let you fail if you act like a retard. Risen does and should be respected for that if for nothing else. Their design is in my opinion incompatible with any sort of mass market and it will stay relatively niche type of RPG, mostly unknown outside of Europe.

    • h4plo says:

      Erm, we Americans aren’t all tasteless clods, thanks. Believe it or not, I know more than five people that have played a game other than Halo 3 in the last two years.

  12. SirWhat says:

    world was too small, lizard caverns too long, final boss figth too easy

    now what should i do with these million health potions?

  13. yaster says:

    For me the only meaningful way Risen was step back from Gothic 2 was the lack of progression in npc interaction. I loved that in G2 – coming back to old map in act3 and seeing that every npc has at least few new lines of dialogue, maybe even new quest, new situations they are involved in – one side-quest (at least) taken at the beginning of the game, even before entering the 1st city, with player might considered competed long ago, didn’t fully resolve until act3 with some dire consequences. Splendid stuff. So organic, I really miss it.

  14. Vinraith says:

    This one is really intriguing, but I’ve held off thus far because 1) I have a ridiculous glut of RPG’s I need to play that I’ve already bought and 2) I’ve heard about that final 3rd of the game. It’s hard for me to invest in an RPG I know is going to turn to shit after awhile, which is the reason I can’t bring myself to play Bloodlines again.

  15. slybri says:

    I played Risen all the way through and loved it. Except for the lousy “Dance Dance Revolution” final boss fight and the total lack of denoument, I had a great time. It was really well written and I thought the melee combat was actually pretty fun once I got my strength up. The game went from ridiculously hard in the beginning to ludicrously easy once I trained alchemy (and realised I could dodge left and right and back). I played the whole thing in stereo 3D with the Nvidia glasses and it was glorious to behold. And that armor and sword you get near the end are badass!

    I think I’m gonna give Gothic III a try once I’m done with Dragon Age.

    • AndrewC says:

      Seriously Slybri: Gothic 2 first if you haven’t tried it, being as it is Risen only much wider. Oh, and with the Night Of The Raven expansion if it’s available. I’m pretty sure you can find the ‘Gothic Universe’ trilogy pack for super cheap. Then Gothic 3 if you are still in love with the world.

      Gothic 3, as Wulf says, is definitely an extraordinary thing, but it turns into a tedious slog if it is that sense of open-ended-but-meaningful (the holy grail of open world games!) narrrative you are after, rather than pure exploration.

    • Vinraith says:

      Gothic 2 Gold is on GOG for a pretty reasonable price, I think most people would agree that’s the best retail channel to get it through.

  16. bill says:

    See, this is why I think we need more short roleplaying games. But then I get accused of trying to take away everyone’s nice shiny 100hr long rpgs. *sob*

    Seriously though, if we can’t even finish the games we love, isn’t that a sign that they’re a bit too padded out? Split em into two games, each with a satisfying climax, and let us play them with a gap between. (plus get double the cash!!! )

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