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Risen Review [360]

2 Oct 2009  by
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I must admit that, for the first few hours playing Risen, I fell into the same trap that the developer apparently did. It’s easy to believe that a massive sandbox and a character’s freedom of choice make for a fascinating and in-depth RPG. But a couple of hours listening to the dreadful voice acting and expositional dialogue and the cold realisation that maybe the expansive, sandbox-buried RPG has hit a next generation wall sets in.Risen begins by smiting you against the sands of a mysterious island after a sudden and violent shipwreck, which does offer a rather delicious and tantalising hint at the core of the game’s story. Attacked by a monstrous sea creature, the ship you’re stowed away on is abandoned by the mage who steers it, and those onboard are left for dead.That you and your girlfriend (she’s not your girlfriend, but you’ll wish she was) survived sets the scene for the beginning of the tale, and the fast-paced opening does set a decent pace and provides a good build up for what’s to come. But it also handcuffs the game to a radiator, and much of that initial momentum is lost as you amble along a rather linear path toward diagrammatic self-discovery.Your non-girlfriend is there to provide horribly blatant exposition, casually dropping into conversation that maybe you should look for a branch to use as a club before heading off… oh, I don’t know, up that path to the north that leads inland and could take you to the inhabitants of the island where you might discover more information about the factions that rule here and how you could get a job or learn about the arcane ways of the Inquisitors. But the choice is yours to make, of course (and there are no other paths anyway).Yeah, yeah. Excessive ‘choice’ is used as a smokescreen to camouflage the fact that the plot is actually daffodil weak in Risen, and appears to have been written around the various factions and locations that the design team had already put together, and written using a biro taped to sledgehammer at that.The floor is littered with items to pick up, from money to weapons and magical potion components, though thankfully you’ll wind up making use of most at quite regular intervals – even if it’s just a case of flogging them to clear out room in your inventory and to shore up a bit of extra gold. Because of this, the game’s exploration aspects are quite prominent, and you’ll be inclined to make a special effort to look in every corner and pick every lock you come across.Through careful handholding, the game quickly introduces you to the three factions vying for power on this strange island. It’s not so much an out-and-out war, however, as a cold war with distinct territories, surrounded by dangerous areas of tumultuous power on the boundaries. This is actually quite an interesting aspect of Risen, since most factions are fairly tolerant of your presence until you’ve picked a side; then you need to start being careful and following a plan.The Don’s outlaws live something of a Robin Hood life, though they don’t appear to give much to the poor, while the Inquisition provides a strong, dominant, law-heavy society to counterbalance them; lots of power and resources, but not much freedom. Between them are the indigenous mages who get on okay with both of the other sides, but would ideally like to see them leave, or killed off.And it’s up to you which of these tribes you choose to side with. They all offer you plenty in exchange for your allegiance, and while the game reminds you – constantly and exegetically – that your decisions affect the outcome of the game, it’s not quite the life-altering experience the developer was trying hard (too hard) to create. It’s really a case of whether you prefer swords, magic or staffs when it comes to fighting.{PAGE TITLE=Risen Review page 2}Choosing your weapon is important, though, as the early part of the game demonstrates. The combat is very aye-aye with a low powered weapon, as your character tends to keep repeating his weak combos while your opponent moves around the side. The slow responses of the character and regular number of dropped frames mean that you’re inclined to bash the buttons, which only exacerbates the problem and leaves you swinging a sword wildly at thin air, while a vicious ostrich pecks your back.It improves as you’re given training, but avoiding combat altogether becomes the prevailing method of winning a fight, which might be a good life lesson but doesn’t make for a particularly entertaining gameplay mechanic.Side quests aren’t especially prevalent in Risen, which is a little unusual for an epic RPG, but that’s more than made up for in its use of piffling tasks and hoop-jumping exercises before you can convince the many NPCs to do what you actually want them to. This does keep the game on track better than side quests tend to do, but the triviality of some of these jobs is often a little grating – especially as you grow into something of a local superhero then find yourself picking crops for an idle farmer just so he’ll tell you who to talk to next.Talking with these NPCs isn’t a chore in itself, as you can skip to the end and get things moving, but listening to the woefully lacklustre voice acting does nothing for the game’s personality. The main characters sound utterly bored, while others struggle to read their lines or overact to the point at which you’d like to beat them with Yorick’s decapitated skull right there on the empty stage.But the actors are working with some weak dialogue, which often treats you as a bit stupid and fails to entertain or inform; merely spout expositional guff that reduces 50% of the game’s characters to the role of a single, Deus Ex Machina narrator (who has no qualms about spoiling the ending).Generally the moral choices telegraphed throughout the game lead to a couple of different possibilities for your character, and do bring the intriguing story hinted at during the intro to a satisfying conclusion; even if the game goes off tangent and loses tempo regularly through the journey, and finds itself lost in the sandbox rather than embracing it. That said, Risen is very forgiving, and isn’t weighed down with the complexities of leading a virtual life, and that could be a significant blessing for many role players out there who want to jump right in.If you’ve played Fable II to and are looking for an RPG distraction to tide you over until Fable 3 comes out, you could do worse than Risen. I’d just wait until the first price drop before picking it up.

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