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Risen 2: Dark Waters [Preview] – Pirates of voodoo

28 Feb 2012  by   John Robertson
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On paper, Risen 2: Dark Waters sounds like an intriguing prospect: you play a pirate that exists in an open-world of voodoo tribes, giant crabs and hard-to-please captains. Think Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean but with multiple instances of foul-language, voodoo-based people-puppetry and a deeper obsession with rum.
You may recall that we already previewed Risen 2 back in December of last year, but this is our first hands-on taster. Immediately upon entering the demo our first task was to impress the garishly dressed Captain Steelbeard so that he’ll make us part of his crew – granting you the chance to set sail and cause havoc in that way pirates do. Old Steelbeard is a tough nut to crack, asking you complete a wide range of tasks before he’ll consider taking you onboard.
Included in the task list is the acquisition of a treasure map achieved by beating the local drunk in a drinking contest, which is played out in a mini-game whereby you must pick up bottles of booze and neck them as your vision becomes increasingly blurred. You’ll also need to convince the pub’s landlord to stock the ship with rum at a reasonable price and get into a fight to show you’re not scared to rough it.
While none of these tasks are going to set the RPG world alight with excitement, they do provide an interesting means of learning the basics and getting to grips Risen 2’s various systems.

Perhaps the most important of these to learn and master is the way conversations are handled and how they tie into the game’s navigation. Like the majority of expansive RPGs nowadays, Risen 2 comes packed with conversation options that both progress the story/mission and offer a deeper insight into the world around you. Unlike the majority of expansive RPGs nowadays, Risen 2 does away the likes of a mini-map, in-game ‘Fable-line’ and other navigational aids.
Therefore, it’s vital that you take notice of what you’re being told in conversations. When you embark on a mission NPCs will usually give you some verbal info about where to go and what to do, and that’s the only hint you will get. Helpfully, conversations are recorded word for word in a tab within your inventory screen for future reference if you get lost.
It’s an old-school approach that highlights the kind of RPG Risen 2 is aiming to be. Namely, a the hardcore type aimed at those people who played games before the mini-map became an essential HUD element. Before, you ask; no, there’s no option to turn a mini-map on.
As well as navigation, the early going teaches you how to fight. In the first Risen, fighting was a case of locking onto an enemy and finishing them off before turning your attentions to the next and the next until everyone/thing is beaten. The problem was that fights against multiple opponents were made extremely difficult as you couldn’t easily switch beaten targets – resulting in frequently getting flanked or hit from behind.

By default the auto-lock option has been removed from Risen 2, although it can be manually toggled on and off as you see fit. Instead, you will attack in whichever way you’re pointing the left-stick. This requires slightly more involvement on your part as it’s perfectly possible that you’ll hit thin air by pressing the stick in the wrong direction, leaving yourself open to attack.
We played with a cutlass as our primary weapon and a pistol in secondary slot, letting us get a few weakening shots at approaching enemies before finishing them off with the blade. Depending on which faction path you choose, you’ll have access to other potentially more interesting weapons.
The two factions in question are the Inquisition and Voodoo. Side with the Inquisition and you’ll level up skills that allow you to wield more powerful firearms such as rifles and shotguns. On the other hand, Voodoo grants you access to magical sceptres and dark magic. Choosing one will lock the other out completely, so don’t expect to be able to tread the middle ground and get the best of both worlds.
For the purposes of our demo we were guided down the voodoo route, which involved making an allegiance with a local native tribe and learning their secrets. Once you’ve made enough friends, you’ll be able to perform such feats of voodoo as turning enemies upon one another in the heat of battle and taking direct control of an NPC.
The latter skill can come in handy during certain missions. One example we were given tasked you with boarding an enemy ship that was guarded by an aggressive crew, but rather than fight them it’s possible to take control of their captain and dismiss them from the deck.
If you choose the Inquisition path, you’ll have to find another way of getting onboard.

No matter which path you choose, though, you’ll have access to the ‘dirty trick’ abilities. These include using a parrot to distract the enemy, throwing sand in their face to temporarily blind them and sending a monkey through tight spaces to use as a spy or nab some loot. Each of these have a cool-down period to prevent them becoming overpowered, but they’re key in tougher fights against bigger groups.
All of what we’ve seen so far has been played on an Xbox 360, which is probably not the platform the best shows off what the game is capable of. Anyone that played the original game on console will know all about the performance issues and graphical spluttering it suffered compared to the PC version.
Where Risen 1 took place on one big island, Risen 2 has been split into a series of smaller islands. The idea is that the reduced land masses allows the consoles to load each piece of the environment into memory and run it smoothly – something they couldn’t do with the last game due to the size of the world. Of course, the downside is that travelling between islands is met with loading times that didn’t exist in the first game.
However, it’s a small price to pay to get a game that actually works as intended. Despite the cutting of the land, though, Risen 2 running on the 360 does look a little shaky in places at present. Animations, lighting and variety are all present and correct but the visual impact is lacking. This is thanks to sub-par textures and objects that you’re afraid to go near because they’ve so many jagged lines that you’re afraid your pirate hero will cut himself.
We’ll give the team the benefit of the doubt and tag Risen 2’s visuals as ‘work in progress’.
Whatever the case, Risen 2 is already looking like a much more accomplished game than its predecessor but it has clearly not abandoned the sense of style that fans enjoyed. Hopefully the console version will be polished enough to allow it to garner a bigger audience than it would reach as a PC-only game. As I said before… it’s an intriguing prospect. 

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