The Complete Risen Report

By Alec Meer on January 3rd, 2012 at 10:49 am.

I maxed out clothed bathing

In 2009, the bulk of RPG commentary on PC was all Dragon Age this, Dragon Age that. Me, I ended up sinking more time into something rougher, readier, odder, 50% glorious and 50% drudgery. Piranha Byte’s spiritual Gothic sequel Risen was a hell of a place to visit for a time. Here’s my fall and rise and fall again on its peril-packed, amoral island of adventure.


Which makes me suddenly rather excited for the impending, piratey Risen 2. Must look into what’s going on with that…

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29 Comments »

  1. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    Yay, this is what got me to read RPS on a daily basis.

    I love this series.

  2. Revisor says:

    In a bold attempt to confuse the readers, Day 4 links to Day 3.
    Day 4: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/10/13/the-risen-report-4-crisis/

    • The Army of None says:

      New Games Journalism at its finest. Symbolic of the cyclical and self referencing nature of modern RPG design, no doubt.

  3. Alien426 says:

    The fixed link on Day 4 needs to be re-fixed (quote removed from the end).

  4. Jumwa says:

    I never could get into the Gothic games, though I kept trying.

    I think the biggest turn off is the lack of character customization. For some reason I can’t wrap my head around a big open RPG that doesn’t even let me make a female character should I want. Strikes me as pointless to go that far then stop short of letting the player create a character they’re comfortable with. But then I can’t play the Witcher games because I hate staring at Geralt, so take that for what you will.

    But giving these a read anyhow. RPS has a habit of writing interesting pieces on games I haven’t even played or don’t like! EVE online seems the perfect mix of pain for me, turning stress in gaming to a new height that I couldn’t bear even were I inclined to try, yet the series on it was quite a good read.

    • MondSemmel says:

      If I remember correctly, the nameless protagonist in the Gothic series is fully voice-acted. In that case, character customization past a certain point makes no sense and/or would stretch the budget of the game.
      Although I loved Gothic I and II, I can’t really defend the series on this point. However, I remember being completely overwhelmed by Oblivion with its endless options for character customization, then spending a few hours theorycrafting the kind of character I would create, finally creating one and then being so annoyed by the game itself that I quit it within minutes of exiting the tutorial dungeon…
      I guess I’m trying to say that there can be more important things in RPGs than (visual) character customization. But Oblivion is maybe too easy an example to give.

    • Jumwa says:

      I didn’t raise the point as some battle between the Elder Scrolls and Gothic/Risen. For me it’s less and less acceptable to play games where your only options to play are males, for various reasons.

      Not the least of which being, judging by these “Reports”, the game has a rather negative take on women in general anyhow.

      Regardless, my main issue is just that I like being able to create my own character in games, and consider it a must in open world RPGs for me to give a darn at all. I don’t say that it’s a requirement for all games for everyone, it’s just my take.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Jumwa – steer clear of Planescape, you’ll hate it.

      :-)

    • BlackestTea says:

      It’s interesting you should mention Planescape, Badger. I just played through it after picking it up on sale on GoG and I am getting the feeling that most RPGs tend to fall on one of two sides: a) Elder Scroll-esque open world with lots of customization and exploration, but little personal backstory and impact on the world. b) Narratives that revolve around your character and especially also his backstory (witcher, planescape) which give you a more directed experience but also more direct impact on the world. The two seem to be two different modes of storytelling. In the latter, I don’t really expect a lot of customisation as it relies on me being a certain person in that world. However, I don’t perceive Risen to fall into that category or require you to have any specified character. You are a nameless, seemingly inconsequential person washed up on the shore – you could be literally anyone. It feels much more like the sort of open-world RPG that you would expect to allow you to customise and in that I agree with Jumwa that is curiously fails.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      BlackestTea – spot on. Which makes the plot of KOTOR1 so much more impressive (although I suppose Torment has you playing an abolutely specific blank slate too…

    • Jumwa says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of games with fixed characters. Though I find the more quality games out there that at least give me a choice of characters (especially representatives of each sex) are growing in number, and making me less and less accepting of games that don’t have any choice.

      BlackestTea said it well. There’s a big gap between open world RPGs and sorts like the Witcher. My excuse in the Witcher is just that I really, really hate staring at Geralt’s pasty, white-haired self constantly with some irrational degree of dislike.

    • edit says:

      I’ll agree with the sentiment that a game that aims to be so open and option-laden falls a little by not offering character gender options or any customization, but there’s another issue which has been bothering me about these (and most) kinds of games for a long time. For a genre that pretends to be about letting the player do what they want, try finding one that doesn’t force you to relentlessly, endlessly, kill. There may be some examples but they are incredibly uncommon.

      This line of thinking has been provoked today partly because I’ve been playing Skyrim and it’s laughable how ‘automatically hostile’ just about everything is, and how rarely you have an option to finish a quest without slaughter. The only thing saving the land of Skyrim from plummeting to a population of near 0 is the fact that it’s player-centric and things don’t have a life outside of your presence. The A.I. seems to have no caution or will to live. Everything and everyone just runs to their death into violent conflict. Why must a “role-playing game” automatically be a “play the role of a killer” game? Like just about every other game?

      Yes ours is a violent and frustrating world at the moment, but that can’t exactly be solved by taking out our frustrations in further fantasies of violence. Surely that just feeds the obsession, which, to my mind is a great sickness in the gaming industry and media in general. Is nobody creative enough to come up with something engaging that doesn’t rely on death? Or is there an agenda being pushed by people with money? Or are we addicted to taking out our frustrations in this way and game developers are just supplying to that demand for cash? Are we all so numb that we don’t see a problem here?

      I probably sound like I’m nuts to most of you. I’ve played hundreds of hours of CS just like the next guy, but damnit, I’m sick of it. I love games, I love the potential and power of interactive digital experiences, but I want our world to improve, not get ever more obsessed with making everything bleed to death. Lets see some role playing games where you can immerse yourself in a world and have some impact on the course of its events without slitting throats.

    • Jumwa says:

      Great comment, Edit. I’ve brought up this topic a few times, though people tend to take me entirely different than as I intend it.

      The predominance of violence, especially in RPGs–a genre I think that has such potential for non-violent gameplay–truly saddens me.

      I’m not blaming media of any sort for peoples behaviour, but it would be nice to just try a society where violence, even simulated, was repugnant to people. As a historic occurrence, violence is on the decline, but it’s something I’d like to see continue. Especially as apparently bombing innocent people from drone aircraft without even a declaration of war is apparently completely acceptable to most people now.

      All that aside, however, it’d just be nice, speaking personally, to play games not intended for children that aren’t based in violence.

    • BlackestTea says:

      I have to agree with edit’s sentiment, to a degree. The big games we are talking about (let’s just say risen/gothic/skyrim/witcher) owe, I think, a big deal of their success to fantasies of being a total badass that can take on whatever the world throws at them – combined with living in a world that still feels rich and populated and a story or character that one feels a connection to. This is illustrated by just how much time is devoted to combat mechanics in reviews or fan discussions. They are defining and essential feature of the genre for many people and the major things developers seem to be concerned with is not to make combat less but more “visceral” or “satisfying”. This is just to say that I don’t believe we will be seeing any decline in the present trend anytime soon.

      An interesting counter-example is Deus Ex. If you look at the RPS coverage of Human Revolution a lot of it is about the joy of being allowed NOT to kill dudes but to take other routes through areas. However, I would hold that Deus Ex occupies a very particular niche in the games market (The thief games might also fit here). I would hope that similar concepts could be applied to other games as well, though. In general, it feels like there are always trade-offs between different areas of choice in games: Character customization and world exploration (skyrim), choice of storyline (witcher), choice of combat methods (deus ex). When a game focuses on giving you certain freedoms it generally seems to make compromises in the other areas. (Note that these are just were rough and not-well-defined examples).

      Personally, I completely agree that the abundance of (unchosen) killing in RPGs is deplorable (edit: not to say that RPGs with lots of fighting and killing don’t have a place – they certainly have one in my life, but rather that there seems to be a lack of viable alternatives). I do think you can tell meaningful stories in RPG fashion without any killing at all (though this seems to be more of a project for indie developers – they’ve probably done it already). However, I say “unchosen” because I believe there can be moments when you can meaningfully choose to kill/assassinate/whatever someone. What I abhor is the 500 goblins and other half-wits that run into my overpowered sword in suicidal insanity without giving me the chance to spare their lives or to argue that the world might be a better place for both of us if we just stopped slaughtering one another (or, me slaughtering them – “I have quicksave on my side”).

  5. ShadowBlade says:

    I just finished Risen. The two things I think were wrong, were the combat and the sluggish movement. I’d just completed AC: Brotherhood, which made moving around an open-world very fun. It’s combat is also among my favourite in any game.

    I wish developer’s would put more effort into the combat and movement of RPG’s. Most of the RPG’s I’ve played often have slow, jittery movement and bland, tedious combat :(

    • InternetBatman says:

      What’s weird about that is that Gothic 1 had wonderful combat if you didn’t use the mouse. It was pretty fluid, and it was full of nice little touches. When you weren’t trained in using a sword you held a one handed sword with both hands and attacked like you were chopping wood. The more they integrate the mouse in combat, the worse the series’ combat gets.

      And to be fair, there are completely different design philosophies and goals here. Assassin’s Creed is a parkour and stealth game. The rewards for wandering are extrinsic by use of collectibles, and the people in the cities are pretty much mannequins. Movement was more fluid because movement was the main focus of the game and other things suffer, as they do with every game.

      In Risen the focus is a believable world with intrinsic motivators for exploration, which means that you can’t just let people spiderman their way over every obstacle or stab it in the back. The difficulty is just a different strokes for different folks kind of thing, it serves as a reminder of how your character has grown and provides the real push to explore, but some people just aren’t into being mauled by wolves.

    • Tei says:

      I have never finished the first tutorial of assasin creed 1 and in assasin creed bro i am stuck on the tank canons on the begining. Is like you need 8 buttons to do anything and the movement is slughist. I have no idea how humans can play this game, it feel frustrating as hell. With risen i can climb to buildings that i ehere not supposed to. Are you my evil twin?

    • gritz says:

      I loved the combat in Risen. It was one of those rare RPG’s where you can feel your own skills developing along with your character’s.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Gothic 1′s combat was only “wonderful” if you were fighting one enemy at a time. If you were fighting groups, though, it was insanely tedious and frustrating.

      I still remember one section where you turn a corner and there are literally 15 bandits standing there with bows. When you get hit by an arrow there is a stagger animation which causes you to loose control for a split second, so with all 15 firing at once rapid fire you basically just get instantly stuck and die because you can’t dodge or move.

      Fighting groups of melee combatants wasn’t much better either, as even though aiming is cumbersome for the player character, the NPCs all attack you at once and from different angles as if they are in an entirely different game where combat controls are super fluid (or, you know, where you have a block button or something).

      I still really like Gothic 1 as a game, and I even kind of like the combat in one on one fights, but group fighting is terrible and is probably the game’s biggest flaw. This is fine in the beginning as there are very few battles and it’s more about survival, but by the end of the game there are constant battles so I got so frustrated and bored with it I’d just run past enemies whenever possible–experience be damned.

    • Wizardry says:

      I wish developer’s would put more effort into the combat and movement of RPG’s. Most of the RPG’s I’ve played often have slow, jittery movement and bland, tedious combat :(

    • Mehbah says:

      @Tei

      Try playing it with a controller. It’s a third person game, so it doesn’t benefit from M&KB controls anyway. Playing it with a controller is simple, while I imagine it might be a pain to hold down three keys at the same time on keyboard.

  6. ShadowBlade says:

    @Tei: I must be the evil twin then! :P

    First it was the boars in Risen, then the wolves, then the Ghouls, then those damn Lizards guys. My most pressed key was for “Quick-load”! I just found the movement and combat in AC smooth, fluid and satisfying. Different strokes I guess :)

    Edit: Doh, reply botched!

    • Multidirectional says:

      It’s also nearly impossible to die in Assassin’s Creed series, so perhaps we all got different needs.. Melee combat in Risen was some of the best ARPG combat I ever experienced.

    • ShadowBlade says:

      Yeah, guess we all just like different things! I liked a lot of Risen too though, and it looked pretty :)

  7. InternetBatman says:

    I totally agree with the final post on Risen. The first 12 to 20 (depending on how much time you spend in town) hours are absolute magic. The town was clearly the focus of their efforts and there are all these little side stories going on. The unexplored content in the town propels you when outside it; it encourages you to seek weapons and experience outside the bubble of safety.

    Then it stops. You finish all the town quests and there’s still a heaping ton of game quests. Combat gets grindy, and the really interesting areas are sealed off with a plot-devicium spell or an Ashbeast in a corridor. There’s a little bit of cool content in the training grounds, but it’s just not as interesting as the town. This strikes me as a lack of funding or time, since the Gothic games have always gotten a little grindy in the past, but normally the thrill of exploration and sidequests push it towards the end of the game. It’s a shame, but it’s also worth remembering how good this game is for the first part before judging it too harshly.

  8. LordHuggington says:

    I’ve always meant to give this game a try, but get distracted by other games during sales. This Christmas was worst of all when Risen was on sale the same day as Skyrim was. XD

    • lowprices says:

      Tell me about it. I bought Risen (my laptop isn’t powerful enough to play modern fancy-graphics blockbusters, so they get played on a console), and after an hour of play I decided it can go on the ‘play later’ pile. It’s not bad, but it’s not good enough to go above the 20 or so games I’ve got on my ‘bought in a Steam sale but never really played’ list.

  9. Kikimaru024 says:

    I worked on Risen.
    Allow me to break NDA for a minute (because credits are freely viewable, natch):

    My god.
    Dear developers, if you’re reading this, please note:
    3 PEOPLE PER LANGUAGE IS NOT ENOUGH!

    Especially with a game as big & expansive (and, dare I say, FUN) as this.
    I cannot believe just how many hours myself & my compatriots in Loctest had to put in just to view & test every possible option of the language trees; and I bet we still missed half of them.

    So, if something feels off in there, sorry guys. We did the best we could do.