Risen 2: Dark Waters – E3 Preview
by Mark R
Anyone who dabbles in the role playing universe as much as I do will undoubtedly have heard of the 2009 epic from Piranha Bytes – Risen. It was almost cast to the Sin Bin after an hour or so of playing thanks to an incredibly poor port from PC to Xbox by a third party by the name of Wizardbox, but I enjoyed the unravelling story enough to set aside my disdain and try the game on PC instead which, as any self respecting RPG fiend knows, should have been my first port of call anyway. Once I’d been bitten by the beauty and flow of the PC version, however, there was no turning back.
It was by far the most punishing of all RPGs I’d played to date. Armed with nothing more than a twig whilst attempting to beat an angry pack of wolves to death is my fondest and yet most harrowing memory of the game. From beginning to end, I was captivated by the story line, heavily immersed in the beauty of Faranga, and just a little bit in love with Patty, barkeep at the local tavern. To say that I was hoping there would one day be a sequel would be doing the original game a gross disservice; I wanted more before I’d even completed the game.
Thankfully, Piranha Bytes and Deep Silver saw enough promise in the original to green light not only a follow up to the original, but a complete sidestep with Risen 2: Dark Waters where the nautical theme, which was briefly touched upon in the first with Patty’s father Steelbeard, becomes the main premise of the sequel.
Risen 2 kicks off in the city of Caldera, the last vanguard city of mankind on the peninsula of the Lost Realm, surrounded by a world in ruin, brought to its knees by the Titans after pushing humanity to near extinction. You continue with the same character from the original game who, by this point, is an alcoholic and a broken shadow of his former self after taking down the Fire Titan that had previously threatened the island of Faranga. Those familiar with the previous game will recall that, in order to see the Titans and defeat them, our hero’s eye was removed and replaced with The Ocular, and this carries over to Dark Waters with our character now sporting The Ocular, with a patch over that eye.
Because of its location, Caldera can only be reached by ship and is therefore dependent on seafaring vessels and trade routes to bring food and supplies to its inhabitants. These ships are, unfortunately, being attacked by sea creatures and so the task falls upon you to track down the source of these creatures, discover why they have only now started attacking humanity and what can be done to rid the world of them… and who better to help you in your quest but the local pirate population. Starting off on the side of The Inquisition, it is your initial duty to infiltrate the pirate factions and become close enough to them that you can gather as much information as possible on the sea creatures.
The first thing that is apparent between the pirate nature of Dark Waters and its predecessor is the colour palette. Where the original game was somewhat autumnal and driven by earth tones, Risen 2 has taken a considerable leap towards a more vivid colour scheme with lush tropical landscapes, rich skies and oceans, vibrant flora, and even the clothing appeared to be more flamboyant at times.
As well as the impacting the graphics and style of the game’s aesthetics, the pirate theme has massively affected gameplay by introducing a dual wield system whereby you will no longer be restricted to typical RPG combat with a sword and shield. Instead, we now have the option of utilising what would normally be the shield hand for enhanced defensive tactics, such as throwing sand or salt in the eyes of the enemy. The option has also been added for additional ranged combat moves with muskets, pistols and other firearms, as well as throwing powder kegs, all while still retaining a sword or cutlass for melee damage.
It’s clear from the outset that Risen 2 isn’t merely touching on the nautical theme and shoe-horning in an eye patch for good measure, in the hopes that the audience will be convinced that it’s a pirate based adventure; this is the pirate lifestyle through and through. But what good is a pirate without a ship? Thankfully, Piranha Bytes have had the foresight to not only provide you with the rank of captain, but also your own ship, along with a crew that you can fully interact with and who will be affected by your allegiances with the various factions. One interesting point of note is that the crew shouldn’t be confused with your run of the mill role playing NPCs, as these can be given orders to accompany you on shore leave to take advantage of their specific skill set, be they range fighter, melee fighter or healer.
The realism that allowed Risen to stand head and shoulders above the rest returns in Dark Waters, with the same crippling darkness whereby torch light will only illuminate the area immediately surrounding the character rather than act as an unrealistic portable searchlight. Creatures in the game will follow the day/night cycle so that any encounters in daylight will be with different creatures to those found in the hours of darkness, and each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, so your weapon of choice may be rendered useless and require some quick thinking on your part in order to stay alive.
For those who prefer to play through their RPGs on console rather than PC, but who have been put off by the, quite frankly, abysmal porting of Risen from PC to console in the past, it should come as no surprise that Piranha Bytes decided to adopt a parallel development process whereby the console and PC versions no longer look like the difference between VHS and BluRay. While the side by side comparison was far from being identical, the amount of effort being afforded to the console versions in the development stages is quite clear, and not only did the characters in Risen 2 have discernible features, but the level of detail present in the architecture and surrounding landscapes was almost an entire evolutionary step beyond that of the previous console version.
From everything that we’d been shown at the thirty minute presentation, Risen 2: Dark Waters looks to take everything that was great about Risen and enhance it while, at the same time, discarding anything that perhaps shouldn’t have been included in the first place. Aesthetically, it ranges from being acceptable to outright breathtaking and the realism of the water that was prevalent in Risen has been retained and put to much better use in Dark Waters. The inclusion of the sexy Patty and her pirate father, Steelbeard, serves as the cherry on top of this perfectly baked cake and if they can pull the whole thing off then this looks set to be a front runner for my best open world RPG of 2012.
To get a more detailed perspective on the game, we spoke with Daniel Oberlerchner, Brand Manager at Deep Silver…
With the first game, it wasn’t possible to just level up and spend skill points… you had to visit a trainer and spend gold with them, so if you didn’t have enough gold you couldn’t advance your skills, and you also had to find the trainers first – will this stay with Risen 2 where you have to visit a trainer and spend gold to change your skill tree?
Yes, but what we don’t really have is a skill tree where you’ll just click an icon – that’s not going to happen, because we believe that when you take skills out of the skill tree and place them as characters in the gaming world then you’re building up an emotional connection to those characters. So it’s very different when you level up and just click ‘yes I want to have this skill’ rather than when you have to go to the master and maybe the master isn’t ready to teach you because you’re not ready; it’s a hierarchy and perhaps you’re just an underdog so you have to work your way up to be worthy of being taught. So when you level up and have to visit a master who will see if you are ready to teach, that’s more personal than clicking a talent tree button.
I’ve noticed some incredible differences in the quality of the shadows and the overall depth of field. Everything looks clearer and sharper than before, with more attention to detail – is this an entirely new engine for Risen 2?
It’s actually the same engine. Piranha Bytes has actually used the same engine for ten years when they started off with the Gothic series, but those are twenty guys sitting in a room doing RPGs for ten years so they know their stuff. What they did for Risen 1, for example, was… well because Gothic III was prone to being buggy and the streaming didn’t work, so for Risen 1 they improved all the streaming so that’s why Risen 1 has very good streaming capabilities. The speech tree wasn’t very well implemented in Risen 1 and also the depth of field to camera wasn’t well implemented so in Risen 2 now we’re going to have cut scenes in the dialogue where you’ll have different cameras with different focal lengths… so you can always heavily improve on the engine.
In the first Risen, you started off where weapons were ineffective against most enemies and it created a punishing difficulty curve, which was both good and bad really, so how does Risen 2 compare… will it have the same punishing difficulty?
No, not this time. Since this is a forty to sixty hour game, we don’t have to challenge people in the beginning. That was the difference between challenge and frustration for Risen 1. Here, the whole first island is really a tutorial. You’re starting off in Caldera and the first few hours are tutorial so you can’t die; you will just try to learn the mechanics of the game and so the learning curve is not as steep as with Risen 1, definitely not… because later on we can still torture people! [laughs] You can always introduce new islands, which is one of the great things with Risen 2, and you can even introduce new factions later on because you’re completely free with where you are going and you never know what’s going to happen next. This was a very cool thing in terms of storytelling because in Risen 1 the feedback was that it was very predictable, because you were on one island and you could go anywhere from the beginning, and people did! They’d explore everything they could, and would be in regions they weren’t supposed to be and then suddenly later on they came to the region for a quest and be like ‘ah OK, that is why I’m now here’ but there was nothing new to explore. In Risen 2, the islands are a little smaller than in Risen 1 so only about seventy or eighty percent, but there are many of them and you can always keep the tension and the storytelling going because you never know what will happen on the next island.
I take it, with it being a pirate theme, it’ll be veering away from magic so we won’t have the Nautilus spells or levitation like we had before?
Not the Nautilus spell, but there will still be spells, yes. The magic system will be fitting to the pirate theme but we haven’t really disclosed any of the spells yet since it’s not coming out until 2012, and we still have a lot of time to make it flow with the pirates and then we’ll have more to tell but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
For the vessels, do we get a chance to sail them at all or would it just be to speak to the helmswomen and get to various locations?
It’s just a narrative device, and also a movable base for your character. The reason being is we learned with Risen 1 that you have to focus on what you’re doing. Nowadays, for example, when you have a huge game and you introduce a horse then people expect something like Red Dead Redemption, because that was an awesome horse. So you’re not going to go back; you’re not going to accept that the developer didn’t have enough money or they didn’t have enough time or just didn’t have the capabilities. People don’t care. They want to buy the game and want to be entertained and, for us, the game is not about having a feature list; the game is about making a few things cool and make them rock and then you can hopefully convince people!
Risen 2 will be published by Deep Silver and available in the first half of 2012 on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
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