So there I was, about to have a rummage around a tomb when the quartet of giant moths that I’d been running away from finally managed to catch up with me. Suddenly I heard a voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you!” yelled a nearby farmhand. I knew that his attempts to kill the moths would be futile so I sat back and watched him get stung and clawed to death. And then I went and raided his corpse and stole his weapon, before vanishing into the tomb to carry on my pilfering spree.
It’s during the unscripted events like this which Risen really shines, which is slightly ironic given how dull and washed-out the visuals are. I can’t vouch for the PC version but on Xbox 360 it looks like a fuzzy old PlayStation 2 game at times. If you’re expecting blistering combat then you’ll also be disappointed. The politest thing I can say about the combat system is that it’s simplistic, being merely a case of standing in front of an enemy and bashing the A button. A lock-on function would have been a massive help as if you aren’t standing exactly in front of a foe then your blows won’t register, and if an enemy sidesteps it takes ages to swing the camera around which leaves you open to attack.
You do get the impression though that developers Piranha Bites simply wanted to create an interesting, living and coherent island that’ll take weeks to explore. And if that really was their aim, then they’ve succeeded – the island is genuinely exciting to travel around, with caves, crypts, and abandoned buildings to discover and countless people needing your help.
You’ll need to put the hours though. It wasn’t until six hours into the game that the nameless hero – who finds himself washed up on this mysterious island – was able to take on more enemy than once. To start with even early enemies can drain half your health bar with one hit. It wasn’t until seven hours in that I strolled into Harbour Town and got my first bow and took a trip to the local brothel, and by ten hours in I had only just learned how to make potions out of the herbs I’d been gathering. The developers estimate a good 60 hours playtime and I’m inclined to agree.
You’re free to explore at your own place, just like RPGs Oblivion and Two Worlds before it, but the best thing to do is let yourself get caught by the long arm of the law as they force you to join the Monastery where you can learn new skills. The main character can also use magic by gaining scrolls. Levitation let’s you float across chasms and you can turn into a snail-like creature to go through tiny gaps.
Unlike Two Worlds the voice acting is remarkable, with the main character being both witty and sarcastic – two very good qualities considering most of the quests are solved by chatting to people. There’s a fair bit of swearing in the text and a dark sense of humour – some of the more dubious characters that you come across smoke something called brungle weed and smoking this yourself earns +3 experience. Mmm, mellow.
It’s a pretty comprehensive RPG, then. It’s not as slick or as well presented as Fable II, but providing you can look past the muddy visuals and unsophisticated combat there are enough quests to complete and areas to discover to keep this in your Xbox well into the chilly winter months.