Hands On: Risen 2: Dark Waters

Putting aside everything else that Risen 2‘s RPG heritage might suggest, I have to say I appreciate the efforts made with that fantasy pirate theme. It’s occasionally silly, but certainly harder-edged than your Pirates Of The Caribbean fare. There’s something reassuring about this continued focus on jungle islands and salty sea-dogs, particularly after the shipwreck promises of the original Risen. The world the Pirhana Bytes team have crafted is both vivid and atmospheric.

Needless to say, I’ve been sacrificing precious hours of my life to a preview version of it, so I urge you to read on to find out more about its buried treasures.

While the theme here is far more about sea-monsters and pirates than Risen was, the game also follows on from the original. It’s the same nameless protagonist, and features Risen characters Carlos and Patty from the start. After a quick prologue against an apocalyptic backdrop, you are sent off on an epic quest to deal with the kraken. Dealing with Old Ones From The Deep is no easy task for one man, of course, but there’ll be plenty of inexplicable errands and inventory-filling before the main quest makes sense. You also find Patty accompanying you and providing the first major sub-plot.

After the necessary scene setting you land on the jungle island of Ticuragua, shirtless for reasons of plot, and have to get yourself some clothes before your mission can be pursued in earnest. While this seems a bit silly, the game does seem to be trying to teach you without the iron-shackles of a typical tutorial. Freedom is there within twenty minutes, but it’ll take longer to really make use of it. There are some appealing touches from the off: you have to obtain maps of specific areas, as a pirate would be inclined to do, rather than having a magical mini-map to everywhere you visit. This makes up one of the early missions, and I suspect it will provide for later missions, too. I tried running off into the jungle immediately, of course, but got lost and then was eaten by a spider.

The spider-death is indicative of the kind of RPG that Risen 2 is. It retains that notion of baddies too tough to kill being just down the road, demanding that you spend a bit of time buffing up in the local area before you set off on your quest. After last year’s Skyrim and The Witcher 2 I found this a little awkward, but I imagine the effect will wear off after a while.

What hasn’t been awkward, so far, at least, is the general gist of the combat. It’s quite actiony and lightweight, somewhere between what The Witcher 2 was doing and what Amalur does, but immediately playable. Swish your sword about and hit the enemy, without any need to lock into a specific baddy. As your skills improve, of course, so your capacity to kill dangerous monkeys increases. Your companion gets stuck in, too, although I am not sure if she actually does any damage. What I am also slightly mystified by at the moment is how I supposed to differentiate between particularly baddies being tougher than others. It’s been a bit trial and error. What’s also been trial and error are the game’s traps, which you get a quick time-event style spacebar-hammering chance to avoid, and these have so resulted in my wearing my surprised face, and an instant death for the nameless protagonist.

Nevertheless I’m enjoying Pirhana Byte’s typical attention to world-building. People notice if you are running around stealing and generally being an idiot, and – as I mentioned – you aren’t allowed to go and see the governor while half naked. The world they’ve made is also highly evocative of the kind of atmosphere they’re trying to capture. It’s a believably sun-soaked island, and the little jungle groves and villages are artfully imagined, even if the level of detail scaling causes the vegetation to twist a hallucinatory fashion. Visually it’s a step up from Risen, but really it’s the details, rather than the technology, that are going to make it sing. The sugar-cane plantation is particularly good, with slaves being forced to work under the hot sun, a scene which immediately rattles your sympathies.

Of course it’s the characters who tell the tale which are really going to grab your sympathies. So far, at least, the Inquisition types have been a mix of reassuringly noble and suitably unpleasant. The noxious, snobby governor is perfect for irritating you into working against him, although I’ve not really got far enough in to be sure how it works from the other side. Patty is a typically aggressive female antagonist character, which only sort of works when she is following you around refusing to help the people who you really need to do some quests for. The character modelling and animation is a far cry from The Witcher 2’s work, but the Risen 2 voice actors are really getting stuck in, and I was pleased and amused by what I’ve heard so far.

As for the story all these chaps are designed to tell, well, I can already see the wider arc of what’s going on – do you side with the oppressed natives or the Inquisition, who might just save the world from the kraken? And what about the pirates themselves, and that treasure? I can’t wait to get deeper into this an unravel it.


  1. caddyB says:

    YAY! Good to see there is hope for AAA rpgs after all!

  2. Vigidis says:

    I for one am really looking forward for this game as I very much enjoyed the first Risen, especially after the let-down that the Gothic 3 Expansion was…

  3. AtomicTroop says:

    “Needless to say, I’ve been sacrificing precious hours of my life to a preview version of it, so I urge you to read on your find out more about its buried treasures.”

    Now what might that “your” be doing there? :)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s the new grammar.

    • megazver says:

      “Yes, I am notoriously inexperienced and unskilled at the computer games.”

      Apparently! Cautious and careful study of the enviroment is pretty much the cornerstone of Gothic. Yes, the enviroment gets increasingly more dangerous the more you veer off the relatively safe roads. No, you can’t just run into a random dark cave and expect the level-scaling to keep you afloat like in Skyrim or Witcher 2. You have to be careful with any new creature to see if you even have hopes of defeating it yet.

      It’s not the game. It’s you. And given the chubby this site seems to have for Dark Souls I find this kind of whining about a different, yet similar gameplay rather sad.

      EDIT: Oh dammit, replied to the wrong thread. Sigh.

  4. suibriel says:

    “trial and error”

    Jesus christ can people please stop saying this? If you reacted quicker or understood the game mechanics better you’d have more success. “trial and error” means you were presented with multiple options without any clues as to the correct answer.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      ” If you reacted quicker or understood the game mechanics better you’d have more success.”

      Yes, I am notoriously inexperienced and unskilled at the computer games.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Yeah, the ‘Try, Die, and Reload’ style of game thinks it’s tough and clever, but it’s mostly sloppy and lazy.

      In this neck of the woods, anyway.

    • baozi says:

      Too strong foes and finding out how strong a species is has been part of the Gothic series since the first title and I’d like it to stay that way. It’s a very big part of what makes Gothic, well, Gothic.

      It makes progress much more rewarding, makes you feel like there’s still always stuff to learn for a reason, and it also makes you less god-like and more cautious. It’s also a natural barrier, and it feels good to break them. It makes the world less tailored for you and more hostile, which has always been part of its rugged charm.

      (Side note: knowledge about the species mostly carries over across Gothic games. Avoid packs of wolves.)

    • sneetch says:

      Jesus christ can people please stop saying this? If you reacted quicker or understood the game mechanics better you’d have more success. “trial and error” means you were presented with multiple options without any clues as to the correct answer.

      No it doesn’t, “trial and error” is a means of figuring out the game, the world and the game mechanics by experimentation. So “trial and error” is needed in order for you to understand the game mechanics and have more success.

      For example, you come across an ogre, how do you know if the ogre is too powerful for you? Well, after you fight one you know whether or not it’s too powerful – whether or not you survive is another thing – so “trial and error” is not a bad thing in and of itself but the cost of failure can make it frustrating.

    • Khemm says:

      Yeah, and people wonder why games are so dumbed down these days to the point all they require is “press A to do something awesome”. There’s nothing wrong with learning the hard way, Gothic was like this and that’s one of the reasons why it’s a cult classic for many people. It rewarded patience.

    • bill says:

      trial and error would be fine if games allowed you to escape and then learn from your mistakes.
      unfortunately games tend to end up with “die and retry” as the only way to learn from your mistakes. Which can be frustrating… especially if you don’t have a lot of free time.

      Sorry, I’m just annoyed because some guy called Greywolf (who looked like an ordinary guy) just killed my whole party and i wasn’t given a chance to save beforehand… :-( That’s 30 minutes of my life wasted.

    • InternetBatman says:

      For most of the Risen games, all monsters are dangerous if you get surrounded or overexposed. You can beat some by taking them on one on one and preparing, or if you’re clever using terrain to your advantage. More than once I tricked enemies that had lunging attacks to lunge over a cliff while holding them off with my inadequate sword.

      Most importantly, the game does not prohibit you from running away at any point. Yes, the instakills can be a little harsh, and some enemies like raptors can catch up to you, but normally the games broadcast the difficulty of an encounter very well by the size of the mob, the number of them, and how cool they look. Generally it goes: bird – wolf – goblin – undead – raptor – minecrawler (giant ant) – huge beasts. If it’s not telling you that, and you can’t run away then it is a legitimate design problem. If you aren’t running away, then that’s your problem. The games even normally include a look behind you camera button to help you run.

      Traps do sound bad though. They never could get them quite right.

    • Aradalf says:

      I’m playing the original Risen right now, and 30 minutes in, I see a boar. What do I do? Well, I go try to fight it, of course. The boar kills me in three hits, with me only taking away around 1/10th of its health per hit. So why no boars on that scale of yours?

  5. Network Crayon says:

    This could be awsome, I hope they get the balance right, i like the idea of exploring weird tribal ruins and pirates, but i hope it doesn’t end up being a little to campy, not that there’s anythign wrong with a bit of camp now and again…

  6. Maldomel says:

    Can’t wait to be a pirate! Also, are there any lizardmen this time? Any hint of them being on board?

  7. Anthile says:

    Giant spiders, the only constant in gaming besides exploding barrels.

  8. thesisko says:

    So what would not be awkward? Linearity (can’t go where the spiders are before I’m level X) or level-scaling (no spiders exist in the world before I’m level X)?

    • caddyB says:

      There is nothing wrong with dying every time you go to the spiderlands without having proper training and equipment. That’s how real life works as well, so I don’t think it qualifies as awkward.

    • Grim_22 says:

      I’m pretty sure what Jim meant was that it was awkward that they had placed enemies with high enough level to kill you outright close to the starting area. You don’t need level-scaling or linearity to avoid bad game design when making an RPG.

    • JonasKyratzes says:

      I don’t think that’s bad game design, though. In fact, I love this sort of thing: it makes the world feel real, and gives me something to look forward to for later.

    • Grim_22 says:

      Fair point, though I’d still argue that being killed just after starting still constitutes as awkward. However, I do see the attraction of being afraid to venture into the jungle at low levels because of the wildlife.

    • Tuco says:

      @Grim_22: except isn’t bad design at all.
      In all Piranha Bytes’ games you have all the options to avoid monsters that are stronger than you (read: pretty much *everything* at the beginning of the game) but the mere fact that exploring unwisely still is possible to cross these monsters is exactly part of their charm.

    • E_FD says:

      Linear? I’ve played the first two Gothics and Risen, and in all of them, I probably spent half the game exploring the world while still in what was supposed to be the introductory chapter, running like hell from monsters that could kill me with one hit.

      If anything, I find it a lot more entertaining to explore a world where you never know for certain if the area you’re going through is inhabited by something way out of league that you’ll need to flee from.

  9. Zeewolf says:

    This game will unlock in approximately 1 month, 3 weeks, 6 days and 6 hours


  10. N'Al says:

    Really hoping this is good. Risen 1 was the first (and only) Piranha Bytes game I’ve played, and I thought it was (mostly) excellent. Can’t wait for this.

    • Pemptus says:

      Go get Gothic 2 Gold. Do it. Trust me.

    • Tuco says:

      Yeah, do it. gothic 2 was good, but with NoTR is outstanding.

    • N'Al says:

      Two things holding me back on this so far:

      1) I’ve got a MAHUSIVE backlog of games already. Getting it from, say, GOG would just add to that (and potentially not get played until MUCH later anyway),
      2) I’m not so sure on the control method for this; does Gothic 2 already support KB+M, or is it keyboard only? Not that I’m completely unwilling to learn a keyboard-only control method, but combined with 1) I can simply think of plenty of other things to do instead. Just a matter of prioritising time, really.

    • PostieDoc says:

      The only thing I’m worried about is they have been telling OXM that they are making it primarily for the 360 this time after they made a mess of the Xbox port for the original Risen.
      Hope that’s not true.

    • megazver says:

      Gothic 2 has K+M. It’s still a little fiddly but it works just fine.

    • Urthman says:

      Gothic 1 was designed for keyboard only, but can be played just fine with a mouse. But some people find the interface and combat mechanics clunky.

      Gothic 2 is still a bit clunky in the interface, but they give you a choice of combat interfaces, one that’s just like Gothic 1 and the default which is easier and more streamlined.

      Both are great games, worth mastering an unfamiliar interface, but Gothic 2 is more accessible to a modern gamer and shouldn’t be a problem for you.

    • N'Al says:

      Hm, ok, thank you, megazer and Urthman.

      That, at least, covers my concerns in 2). Only leaves 1) then… :-/

  11. NathanH says:

    Why must there always be giant spiders? There are a million and one creatures you could be attacked by. Why always spiders?

  12. Pemptus says:

    Diablo 3? Guild Wars 2? Nope, *this* seems to be the game I’m looking forward to the most this year.

    Don’t screw it up, plox, I’m rootin’ for you!

  13. Drake Sigar says:

    Is this a draft or something? There seems to be lots of little errors and the rhythm is off. I hesitate to send this to my Risen-crazy friend, knowing how critical he can be.

  14. PodX140 says:

    Is the combat still like risen one? Where button mashing actually slowed down subsequent swings, and the only way to actually win anything was to carefully time single clicks?

    I very much enjoyed it, even if very many (me included) didn’t catch on at first. Even several reviews that I read absolutely hammered the game for it’s “slow and clunky” combat, not realizing that they themselves were the problem.

    • Tuco says:

      Sadly they changed the combat system quite a bit, and if you ask me, for the worse, but there still is some tactical depth and the game is overall quite enjoyable.
      Despise not liking a bunch of little changes they made (the new fast travel system, Bethesda like, simply sucks) I played the press beta and I’m craving for the full game.

    • PodX140 says:

      I am actually VERY excited for a fast travel system. It just took AGES to get from one side of the island to another, and since I had cleared the zones, there was nothing to do but grit my teeth and move.

    • Svant says:

      Risen 1 had quicktravel, you got teleportation scrolls so you coudl jump around the ruins on the island. Sure running across the island a couple of times was booring but the island wasn’t all that big anyway. Free quicktravel without cost or limitations sucks.

    • Tuco says:

      @Svant: exactly. Plus, it’s potentially *extremely harmful* to quest design.

  15. Khemm says:

    Some gameplay footage of combat I saw a while ago looked terrible – it’s as if they turned it into some consolized button-mashy mess. Gunplay looked even worse, there was no reloading!
    Gothic had a very elegant combat system, where timing the swings of your sword was essential and scaled with your character’s levels, Risen captured that feeling to an extent, but Risen 2 seems to have abandoned it completely… Is that really the case? Also, there are no shields anymore. Wtf.

    I’m not sure I like the sudden change in the setting, either. Risen was a bit piratey, but not “IN YOUR FACE late 18th century piratey” kind of way. I hope they explain the differences between the two games well.

  16. sonofsanta says:

    Those riflemen have the most enormous hands. They should see a doctor about that.

    Never played any of the Risen lineage, but the setting here has me intrigued – sick to the back teeth of everyone doing their Medieval Western Europe when there’s so much untapped potential out there for other settings. Christ, it’s the main reason I enjoy the Assassin’s Creed games – it’s something different for a setting (albeit one with a sequel every year whose novelty is wearing off).

    Plus it reminds me of the Monkey Island kind of jungle island setting, so I’m all for that.

  17. PyroCat says:

    What I want to know is, can I play as a lady? For some reason I’m always terribly put off when I can’t do that in an RPG.

    • Khemm says:

      Nope, your character is a male.
      It’s not like Planescape Torment or Gothic weren’t amazing RPGs even though you couldn’t change the gender of your PC. ;)

    • NathanH says:

      Planescape would be proper good if you were Annah instead of Ugly Blob.

    • Wizardry says:

      It’s not like Planescape Torment or Gothic weren’t amazing RPGs even though you couldn’t change the gender of your PC. ;)

      Yes it was.

  18. Paul says:

    I love Piranha RPGs. Cannot wait for Risen 2. My most anticipated RPG this year, suck it bioware.

    • Khemm says:

      Risen 2 seems to indicate they’re beginning to “bioware” their approach to design, so that worries me slightly.

    • Sidorovich says:

      Sorry, but Gothic 3 put me off Piranha RPG’s for life. Which is a pity as the setting here looks really good. Those musketeers look very Fable 3-esque though.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Sidrovich In quality Piranha Byte’s games go Gothic 2 gold, Gothic, Risen, and then Gothic 3 waaay at the bottom. It’s hard to describe how poor it is compared to the other Gothics. Risen is pretty, but it bottoms out once you pick a faction (about 15 to 25 hours in if you’re an explorer).

  19. Blackcompany says:

    Skyrim and modding. Amalur with DLC. Now this.
    Its no longer a gaming PC. Its become a magical, free-time-be-gone box. Good lord how will I manage all of these in time for the Borderlands 2 release later this year?
    Quick, RPS, a progress update on that equally magical free-time manufacturing machine I know you folks are working on.

  20. Velvetmeds says:

    Sounds good to me.

  21. InternetBatman says:

    This game sounds like it’s going to be awesome. I think they’re tired with producing the same thing year after year, so they’re expanding in theme and trying new things out. Some are going to work, some won’t, but it’s important that they do this to stay interested. The traps system sounds terrible. The animations look better. The pearl/island system sounds worse. The combat looks better, but not as good as the original Gothic (still don’t know why they ever changed it).

  22. DocSeuss says:

    I disliked the trial and error involved in Risen because “error” usually meant death. It would have been nice to go “woah, okay, I can’t do this!” and run like mad just a bit more often.

    It felt like the ideas were all well and good, but the execution wasn’t at all. Instead of being a game that made a world where the things you and others knew and did were based on realism (for instance, if someone saw you steal something, you’d damn well pay for your crime, or the aforementioned combat difficulty), which is what they seemed to be going for, the game basically just seemed hard for the sake of being hard.

    I could have dealt with THAT, but then the game decided that apparently the only way to learn certain skills was to join up with a faction before you knew anything about them, which is even worse than having to pick a class without knowing what it’s going to play like.

    • baozi says:

      I didn’t think that Risen was hard, it just took a bit of patience, like all Gothics. (Note: That’s from someone playing a lot of games on “easy” nowadays, and never on hard.)

      The funny thing is, Risen hadn’t changed all that much from the earlier Gothics. The things that got criticized the most by non-fans back then have remained the same as well.

      They aren’t new at all, and a lot of them probably won’t go away in future PB games.

      But apparently there are plenty of people who think the series unique enough for them to continue making this sort of game, and I’m happy for that.

  23. Svant says:

    QTE traps sounds aweful. What the hell happend to giving the player a slight warning in the form of a barely audible click as the mechanism triggered and then let him dodge to the side or die messily on big nasty spikes? Oh ofcourse flashing “PRESS SPACE” in the middle of the screen is much more immersive, especially if you use the same animation for dodging the trap 534752 times.

    The streamlined (clickfest?) combat sounds omnious too, i liked the slow combat that relied on timing attacks rather than rolling around and wildly waving a sword while you smash every button you have.

    Other than that? Risen 2 fuck yeah, looks goood!

    • InternetBatman says:

      To be fair, QTE traps are probably kinder than the instakill ones in previous games.

    • Svant says:

      Kinder… but better? Hardly. And to me having “PRESS SPACE!” all over the screen completly wrecks immersion and will get really old fast. And if you always manage to avoid damage by hitting space why would you ever be cautious? Dungeons are supposed to be deadly and really mess you up if you are not cautious.

  24. Parrk says:

    My main issue with the first Risen was the lack of variety in armor and weapon choice (and skills to a certain degree). those things are pretty easy to fix, and Risen got it right on several of the more fundamental areas where others falter.

    I will definitely buy.

  25. Wreckdum says:

    I hope the combat isn’t as slow and clunky as the first Risen. That was a huge turn off. Eventually I just started only using a bow and firing and retreating and kiting mobs all across the world until they were dead because they were too stupid to just stay on me and not stop every time I stopped.

  26. deadly.by.design says:

    My main issue with Risen was that it felt clunky and unpolished. If they can give it a better look & feel in Risen 2, I’ll probably give it a try.

    And I hope they do another demo, because… yay, demos.

  27. wodin says:

    I remember the combat in Risen being very well done, you learned new moves as you went along that where quite easy to pull off, it was far more involved than Skyrims combat. Seems they’ve dumbed it down.

  28. DennisK4 says:

    Risen was amazing. One of the very best exploration RPGs ever made.

    I am cautiously optimistic (read: fearful) that they can repeat their achievement….

    It was a very pretty game too…..nice graphics indeed.

  29. Snargelfargen says:

    I expect it will be modded out pretty quickly. The game sounds fun otherwise, and the pirate theme is oddly reminiscent of Gothic 2.

  30. Zombra says:

    Mechanically and artistically, I loved Risen. I just hope that they do a better job making your early decisions somewhat meaningful at the end.

    In the original Risen it didn’t matter which faction you chose – the “story” still narrowed down to “go into this big temple at the end to fight the final boss from a 1990 Nintendo game”.

    I also hope that they don’t put in a final boss from a 1990 Nintendo game, that uses none of the gameplay skills you’ve spent the last 50 hours developing and forces you to use one specific weapon, even if your character isn’t any good with it. God, that was stupid.

    Loved the combat, loved the environment, loved the quest structure, loved the enemy design, loved the character development structure, loved the story for the first 2/3 of the game. So I have high hopes for this sequel.