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.