After 12 hours of adventuring, I've finally got a hat. Man, I love hats.
I wish I had some incredible story to share with you about its orgin, or a grand tale of how it can explode wolves with a thought, but sadly it's all pretty humdrum. I beat up some skeletons, and in a box behind them, there it was. The Most Boring Hat In The World. Still, it looks slightly ridiculous and ill-fitting, and I'll take that over Nameless Bland-Faced Player-Character's buzzcut any day.
Risen doesn't do character customisation, not really. There's no option to tweak the character's appearance when you create him, and armour isn't exactly something you get to choose. Prior to my sulky incarceration in the monastery, I'd only had one chance to upgrade my bedraggled starting rags to something a little less hobo-like. Come monastery-day, I was almost immediately given some robes that offered dramatically better protection but made me look even more boring. A little later, once I've completed all the monastery leaders' quests, I get some some better robes - and, frankly, I'm expecting to be in these for quite some time.
Why doesn't Risen want me to pick clothes I like, or give me more stuff to spend my increasingly huge pile of stolen cash on? At a guess, it's about the game remaining serious - if I'm running around in a voodoo mask and a pink frilly shirt, it's going to be at odds with the relentness grimness of this world. I can't say I like it this way, but then again it means when I do find a crap hat after 12 hours, it's quite the event. (Two hours later, I found a slightly better hat, curiously). It also means I'm focused on the world, not on my statistics.
Well... that's not entirely true. Though its world takes a ton of time to travel across, Risen is a surprisingly small game in a lot of ways - for instance, the limited selection of armour. Similarly, there aren't that many different skills to learn. I mean, there are plenty -alchemy, smithing, sneaking, pickpocketing, acrobatics (falling damage decrease), lockpicking, swords, staffs, axes, bows and a few different magics (some of which my character, as a mage/warrior hybrid, doesn't have acess to) - but they're easy enough to come by and so tightly bound into the overall fabric of the game that it seems entirely feasible to learn them all.
And that's why I find myself grinding. I don't like feeling like I'm missing out on something, so I'm roaming the land looking for minor quests and anything I can kill, just in the hope of levelling up so I can earn 10 more precious Learning Points. 5 learning points gets me an upgrade in a crafty or stealthy discipline or a strength, dexterity or mana boost, while 10 buys me a significant upgrade to my sword, staff, axe or bow prowess, or to my new Magic Bullet, Fireball or Frost spells. Must level must level must level must level...
I want it all, and that means I'm currently an XP-crazed jack of all trades. Once again, my coming to the monastery, ostensibly something of a starting area, so late in the game, has had some major effects. If I'd have come straight to the Monastery, I would now be a master of staves and spells. Instead I'm also pretty good at swords and stealth. What should I now stick with? Or is this going to be like an Elder Scrolls, and in due course I'm going to become fairly overpowered at everything anyway? It's a funny business, but I do dig the versatility. I am OmniMan!
But I'm certainly not Superman. I'm finding melee combat increasingly punishing, running into more and more things that can instantly swipe off most of my health bar if I dare to drop my guard for even a second. I'm amazed everyone reading this didn't hear me screaming FUCK OFF FUCK OFF FUCK OFF at the top of my lungs this morning, when I was circled by approximately nine Black Wolves at once and couldn't even try to hit back without them all savaging me the second I lunged.
Tiresome. Too much dying. Too much reloading.
The new magic helps, able to whittle an enemy down at range (and much more fun than the super-tedious archery, which is the one skill I've almost entirely neglected), but my mana is so limited from having earlier poured everything into weapons and strength that it only buys me a little time before having to go toe-to-toe with something nasty. Essentially, I need to level a whole load of times and make myself a specialist of something - and that's why I'm grinding.
As I do, the game is becoming steadily more fantastical, and steadily more action-orientated. Ghouls, giant crickets, an ogre (who I had to run away from), terrifyingly huge scorpions, and some sort of shaven, demonic gorilla thing (who I also had to run away from)...
I sense my time spent moralising in settlements of men may be drawing to a close. Does only the killing of beasts lie ahead now? As long as there's more hats, I won't mind too much.