Platform: PC/Console (Xbox 360 Version Reviewed)
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Price: Varied Retail
Release Date: August 12th 2014
Before I begin, I just wanted to apologise for the lack of non-roundup content on the site recently. I’ve found a lot of my reviews recently have favoured short session gaming and whilst these titles are fantastic at offering high octane moments in a busy world, there’s a lot to be said for those games that offer dozens of hours with little repetition. Unfortunately, as evident on the site, they give you little time for much else. Anyway, as an RPG gamer primarily, I couldn’t resist the chance to take on the latest installment in the little-known trilogy.
It’s pleasantly surprising that Risen 3 opts to embrace newcomers to the series whilst rewarding series veterans with sly references and returning characters. RPGs are seen as somewhat walled-in; impenetrable to those that don’t know the jargon and back-stories that have occurred. While Final Fantasy offers the Easter eggs and Mass Effect for example provides a persistant growing world, very few manage to include both at once whilst welcoming those that don’t even know what a Titan Lord is.
The ease of getting to grips with the storyline may stem somewhat from its overtly simplistic nature. Your character’s soul is stolen in the early hours of the game and he wants it back from the bad guys…it’s no masterpiece and you certainly won’t remember it for that. Along the journey, of course, you’ll find lore, sidequests and familiar NPCs that can brief you further should you so wish but those that play RPGs for their convoluted plot-lines will most likely be disappointed. Risen 3, much like it’s predecessors; the Risens and Gothics, embodies a more “old-school” formula – one whereby you are let loose on a series of large environments to loot, fight and train with the story very much on the sidelines.
It manages this rather well actually; I completed 300 sidequests before I was halfway through the game and had killed well over 1000 enemies at that point too. Every nook hides a chest or an NPC and each one can lead to a pleasantly distracting, ten minute quest. It’s hugely appreciated by myself and haters of fetch quests everywhere that the target items exist on the map regardless of whether you’ve been offered the quest yet. This means you can set yourself free and explore, gathering a hefty pack that can immediately be handed to the quest-giver as soon as they offer you the task. It’s a small detail but one I’m incredibly grateful for.
Unfortunately, Risen 3 is far from the perfect game. Anyone accustomed to Piranha Bytes’ previous outings will know that gloriously nostalgic role-playing comes with more than a few drawbacks. The combat is incredibly clunky and as you can tell from the previous paragraph, is an unavoidable and common occurrence. You have a basic, quick melee attack or a charged strike that can break through enemy defences. It sounds reasonable, but almost every single enemy will block constantly, even after having their block broken. It pretty much rules out quick attacks from the get go, leaving you with the slow-charging swings as your only option. You could utilise the magic, which is only a feasible option in the latter half of the game given that you initially only have limited-use scrolls or you could use the guns. They sound great but the lock-on system is incredibly flawed; you’ll miss enemies a metre ahead of you and even attack nearby allies instead if you rely on it too much.
It would be a deal-breaker if not for so many wonderful touches you’ll find between each battle. When you level, you have a choice of categories to place your points which reward you with improved lock-picking, intimidation and persuasion amongst other more traditional options. This provides multiple paths though many quests, even if it just amounts to either paying for an item or pickpocketing it, shaping your course is always empowering. You also have a huge number of skills to improve, from dozens of spells in three different categories to melee techniques and stamina-bolstering knowledge. These feats are gained through the finding of mentors that can be paid to impart their wisdom providing you meet the required stats, favour or guild membership. There’s a lot of room to shape your character and with no defined class system, you can make a gun toting warlock if you so wish.
The world is rather impressive, broken down into seven islands that you are free to explore as soon as you complete the prologue (minus the final isle). This “brief” introduction is a good example for how much enjoyment you get from the game as well as how much time you will spend. It’s possible to complete the Crab Island quest in ten minutes or so but just as likely you’ll put in over an hour. There’s a long coast directly behind your starting position with several encounters and treasure to be discovered. The path to the temple has several sidetracks with buried treasure, ruins overrun with wild monkeys and a ruins with crumbling pathways hiding secret routes. If you’re the kind of person that immediately turns around when starting in a new area or takes the opposite path to the quest marker then you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from Risen 3’s enormous environments.
Without meaning to sound indecisive, I wish I could say the game’s shortcomings end at a misguided combat system. It’s clearly been somewhat rushed to publication and the optimisation has suffered for it. You’ll encounter pop-up, draw distance limitations, entire building interiors showing as a hole in the land and frame rate drops. This might not sound too discouraging based upon your opinion of how much they matter but the rate and range at which they occur varies for every player. My time with it was possibly the most frustrating love-hate experience I’ve had. No matter whether I swapped consoles, cleaned discs or swapped copies, the frame rate stuttered so intensely that for every three seconds of gameplay, it would freeze in place for one second. It might sound minor but in a fifty hour journey with combat that would require precise maneuvers, having button presses not register because they were caught in the constant limbo was infuriating. Healing was only possibly through furious hammering off the button in the hopes it would accept and often I’d wander into combat with my weapon sheathed as it missed my input.
If the gameplay hadn’t offered some of the best exploration-based role-playing then I’d have surrendered a few hours after the problem reared it’s head. Luckily, it’s not an issue that will occur for everyone so I can’t factor it into my review. But there are a few other negative to take into account such as the laughable voice acting, the questionable sexism and the racist caricatures. The allies are non-descript except for the fabulous Bones; an oddball witch doctor who elicits some great one-liners. The AI in these comparisons is actually worse than you may expect; they’ll stand and watch you fight, get stuck on scenery, block you out of doorways and provoke far away enemies when you’re already in a tense battle. You can opt to go alone but Bones’ jokes, his medical skills and at the very least their ability to distract enemies make up for their many, many downsides. Throw in some incredibly frustrating self-healing damage-absorbing boss battles with infinitely respawning minions and it tries the patience of even the hardiest gamer.
Unfortunately, this type of RPG is so rare that you tend to have to accept the various foibles if you want to explore the enormous worlds within. Risen 3 will push you to the limit one too many times but the most patient gamers will find a campaign easily capable of absorbing 30 hours. If you have the courage to face the bugs and shortfalls then you’ll have in your hands a gem unlike anything that gets published nowadays.