The foul-mouthed pirates of Risen 2: Dark Waters [Preview]
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Our glimpse of Risen 2: Dark Waters involves a gnome. A gnome with a particular fondness for picking its own butt crack. He not only picks butt, he sounds like one too. Imagine everybody’s least favourite Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks, speaking some sort of unintelligible foreign language and you’ve got a good idea as to this gnome’s voice.
And I thought this game was about pirates…
Turns out that it is. Also in that first glimpse is a beach, an adjoining jungle and our hero; a dapper pirate complete with tight fitting trousers, bandana wrapped head and waist-bound cutlass. His mouth is foul (uttering expletives with healthy frequency) but his accent is frightfully upper class, creating an odd juxtaposition that’s more comical than menacing. Intimidating this fella isn’t.
Despite the classy pirate and the classless gnome, the most instantly noticeable thing about Risen 2 is the visuals. The beach hugging jungle looks lush, green and thick, the sky shines with stark light that’s reflected by the sandy beach and the characters themselves look detailed and as though they belong. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into the visuals. It’s a noticeable upgrade from the original.
That’s the PC version, at least. Switching to the Xbox 360 build, things go downhill somewhat. For starters the resolution is lower, coating everything in a very noticeable fuzz that detracts from the quality of the art design. The texture detail is lessened and the draw distance is also reduced. This 360 build is still in Alpha (the PC is in Beta), which goes some way to explaining the difference, but there’s no escaping the fact that today’s consoles are showing their age.
Back to the PC version.
As with most sequels, the line being touted is that you don’t need to have played the original to enjoy and understand this game. I didn’t play the original, so the fact that this is set 10 years post the ending of that first means little to me personally. To you it may mean more.
Whatever the case, for the purposes of this demo, the main story narrative has been hidden from us in a bid to keep it fresh come release. After exploring the jungle, meeting some more gnomes (some of which speak better English), attempting to learn their language and exploring their village we fast-forward to a new section. A port town complete with guards, girls and grog.
Our task here is to steal and sail away on a docked ship. However, in order to do so we must put together a crew and disable the sea-facing cannons blocking any possible smash and grab attempt. The most interesting crew member to sign up to the cause is a guy that’s been locked up in a jail tower.
There are two primary means of breaking him out; blow the thing up by taking control of a cannon, or taking the softly, softly approach and obtaining the relevant key. In order to take the key you need to have levelled up sufficiently, to blow the tower up with a cannon you need to simply get yourself a cannon. You can see where this is going…
Getting control of a cannon isn’t easy, though. Guards patrol their perimeter with ant like discipline and hawkish attention. To attempt such an act during daylight hours requires a lot of skill and/or luck. Waiting until night arrives is a better idea, as guards are less abundant and their patrol routes are different.
The reduced volume of adversaries makes it possible to take them out one by one without their friends getting wind that you’re the one to blame. If you’re not a fan of the violent approach, though, you can use stealth to disarm the cannons while their back is turned. This simply involves learning their paths and dashing to the guns when the coast is clear.
If you do happen to get into a fight then you’ve got a few tricks available. Combat itself is a simple one-button affair, with combos automatically produced by landing successful strikes in succession. More interesting are your fauna friends, a trained parrot and monkey.
Both of these disrupt the enemy and allow you to either make a hasty retreat or land the finishing blow. For example, pull the parrot out (from who knows where) and it’ll fly into the enemy’s face and flap its wings wildly. It looks funny and it’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, bonus points for that.
Anyway, long story short. The crew is assembled and the cannons are neutralised. Job done.
Fast forward again and we’re shown a boss fight. It seems that ‘Crow’, a pirate adorned in moody-teen ‘goth’ attire, has got his hands on a magical staff. Seems the staff means a lot to the tribal natives as they’re more than ready to put their bodies on the line to protect Crow.
A few bashes of attack later and the natives are vanquished. This spurs Crow on to use the staff to summon a fiery, giant rock monster. The trick is to defeat Crow, take his staff and use it to fire magic at the beast whenever it opens its mouth. A few successful shots later and it turns to dust.
From what I’ve seen, there’s nothing strikingly original or especially clever about any of Risen 2’s individual elements. But those elements seem to work well enough when combined. Our 30-minute(ish) demo displayed a fair few different elements and seemed to tie them together quite nicely.
The question: is that enough these days?