Risen 3: Titan Lords
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Version Tested)
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: Deep Silver
Risen is a series that has been trucking along for a few years, holding a loyal but relatively small fanbase. Now the latest title, Risen 3: Titan Lords, has arrived. But have German developers Piranha Bytes finally done enough to hit the big time? Well, the answer is… Probably not. It provides an enjoyable experience, but doesnít change the formula enough to gain the mainstream appeal of similar titles.
For the uninitiated, Risen is an old-school third-person RPG in the vein of Dragon Age and Skyrim, albeit on a smaller budget to those franchises. The first Risen title featured a generic medieval setting, but 2 saw a more swashbuckling theme, complete with eye patches, peglegs and parrots. Risen 3 continues this approach, spinning a tale of piracy, dark magic and the underworld.
The game opens with our gruff hero on a pirate ship as it is attacked by a horde of undead minions. After this brief dream sequence, which acts as a tutorial, the unnamed protagonist enters an ancient cave where he is struck down and killed by a Shadow Lord, a powerful being from the underworld. He’s brought back to life by an eccentric witch doctor, albeit without his soul, beginning his quest to regain his essence and quell the undead forces.
The combat’s mix of melee, guns and magic brings to mind that of Fable 2, but it’s handled much less elegantly here. Where Lionhead’s RPG had smooth, responsive combat, Risen 3 prioritises animations and defensive play to the point that most battles are spent blocking and evading while watching your near-invincible party member deal out the damage for you. It’s basically manageable (but still not fun) when there’s just one or two enemies, but any time you’re up against a big group you can expect every one of your sword swishes to be interrupted while it’s just winding up.
Magic isn’t handled in the traditional way; instead of having mana that regenerates over time, spells scrolls are single-use, and can be bought or found in the world. This made me reluctant to use them until I really needed to, and as a result I barely used them at all. When I did use the spells they were destructive and pretty, but there’s no real lock-on mechanic, making it difficult to actually hit your enemy with them. Thankfully, things get better later when you gain items and spells that can be used whenever you like, provided you leave them enough time to recharge.
Risen 3 also changes things up with its levelling-up system; rather than earning XP which increases the level of your hero, you gain Glory by completing quests and defeating enemies. Glory can be spent on increasing your attributes at any time, as long as you have enough to do so. It’s a minor change, but being able to pop into the character screen and tweak my hero whenever I wanted nicely streamlines the process.
The gameís skill system isnít as good though. In order to learn new abilities such as blacksmithing, distilling, intimidation, and riposting, you’ll have to talk to instructors scattered around the world. Each instructor offers a different set of abilities, and there’s no way to know who can teach what without going and talking to them, which is a massive pain when you’re looking to improve a certain aspect of your hero.
It’s unfortunate, because I generally enjoyed the routine of hopping from island to island, exploring new lands and completing quests. This is probably where Risen 3 is at its best; there’s lots of interesting level design, quests and characters to find throughout your travels.
On the graphical side of things, Risen 3 impresses. From gloomy underground mines, to lush tropical forests and white sandy beaches, the gameís environments are detailed and varied. Character models are a significant improvement over its predecessor, and animations are fluid. The UI is also snappy and clean which makes sorting through loot quick and simple.
Risen 3 suffers from a clunky combat system, some extremely cheesy voice acting and a number of small bugs, and yet I kept finding myself drawn into the gameís atmosphere and sense of adventure. Its fantasy tale never ventures into uncharted territory, but remains enjoyable thanks to a beautiful and varied world, solid questing and interesting level design.