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Review of Risen (on the PC, patched)

Risen. Windows, having applied the bug-killing 1.10 patch of March 2010. I’m at 20+ hours of play.

I’ve found Risen to be a very enjoyable and engaging PC RPG, with a strong sense of place and memorable characters. It’s an ‘open world’, but a manageable one — there are just four main areas. So far I’ve seen The Swamp and then Harbour Town, which according to the map is roughly half the above-ground game-world. The story is gripping from the start of the main plot, although to get to that you first have to endure an initial encounter with a very annoying and disposable NPC ‘tutorial’ character. I guess I’m now perhaps half way through the game (20 hours?), and I think this is going to be a game I actually finish.

It’s not perfect, however. There are two main problems. The first is the cliff-like difficulty of actually surviving in combat. Possibly the developers expected the audience to be hardcore Gothic-heads, since Risen is a sequel to Gothic in all but name. But Gothic was a game that passed me by, in favour of Morrowind, in the early 2000s. And I think that forcing repeated death on low-level players is just a bad design decision. So… if you don’t want to die in Risen, and quite literally die every two minutes in the first third, then this game-breaking ‘feature’ can be cured by playing with the occasional touch of God Mode – which is simple to apply (type in “minsky”, then Crtl + ¬, then type “God”). Doing this occasionally didn’t diminish my engagement or enjoyment in the slightest, and it certainly makes the game’s story flow beautifully.

The other minor problem is with the limited range of character models and animations used for non-player characters. This design flaw is painfully evident when you go from The Swamp to Harbour Town – and find that many of the NPCs look exactly the same as they did in The Swamp. Much more thought needed to go into the NPCs and their textures. I mean, how hard would it have been to load some textures up in Photoshop and change the colours of the clothing, at the very least? Yet the British voices and the outstanding dialogue are very well done, and do make up for the creaky animations. The accents are consistent and there are no naff Americanisms.

As far as fan-mods go, they’re limited — you can get hi-res textures for the soupy stonework and middle-distance foliage, and that’s about it. It would be nice to see the developers release a tool to let fans re-texture some of the NPCs.

But the rest of the game looks very pleasing, and it doesn’t chug either. There are even basic Oblivion-style night-day cycles with well-painted skies, although the weather hardly changes. The camera spin is fine and doesn’t induce any motion-related nausea. The WASD keyboard controls are generally very intuitive and simple. Combat is smooth and fluid, even when the graphics settings are maxxed out, and the weapons feel hefty and have pleasing FX. There’s no anti-aliasing, but this can be forced using the ‘Vanguard’ profile in nHancer. Even then, the game runs fine and with good FPS on Windows 7 with a modest GeForce 9600 graphics card at 1920px widescreen.

Quests are generally interesting and engaging. They aid NPC characterisation, and mesh together to create a believable and ‘alive’ social structure — something that Bethesda’s games have sorely lacked ever since Seyda Neen. Dungeons are mercifully short so far, unlike those in games such as Nehrim, and most of Risen has taken place above-ground / outdoors so far. The music is puny compared to the music in games such as Nehrim or Morrowind — the best that can be said about it is that it doesn’t make itself noticeable. The looting and inventory system is easy to use and fairly easy on the eye. I generally ignore Herbalism, so I can’t comment on that aspect of the game. I might have improved the clunky quest-tracking diary — but you do get every line of the dialogue for each quest recorded as text, which is a refreshing change from games such as Oblivion. The maps are nicely done, but they’re not really needed since the world is quite compact.

While The Witcher‘s slow story lost me about a third of the way through, and the laughable dumbed-down Dragon Age had me snoozing and uninstalling after a mere ten hours, it looks like Risen‘s story has enough grip and pace to entice me to play it until the end of the game. And when so many videogames are left unfinished these days, you can’t recommend a game more highly than to say that about it. Overlook some of the NPC flaws, and play using God Mode when you must, and you’ll have a blast.

[ More screenshots on Flickr ]

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One comment on “Review of Risen (on the PC, patched)

  1. I’m at about 26 hours now. Things I’ve learned:

    * creatures re-spawn in Chapter 2 (they don’t in chapter 1)
    * maps become far more important in Chapter 2
    * there are different types of maps – I didn’t realise there are quest-specific maps on a tab until well into Chapter 2
    * some quests (such as Patty’s treasure) can be started in Chapter 1, but then you have to wait until Chapter 2 to progress them to the next level.
    * the story is complex and excellent
    * blue “magic barrier doors” cannot be tackled until much later in the game
    * this is a truly great hand-crafted old-school RPG game

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