This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the pirate RPG Risen 3: Titan Lords.
Like a man groping around a men’s locker room during a power cut, I got a surprise tip for you: when designing a game, don’t make combat rolling everywhere slightly faster than walking, especially in an RPG, where there’s gonna be a lot of walking. Yeah, people will start out walking everywhere or using the sprint in a dignified manner, but sooner or later everyone gravitates to a state of maximum efficiency, and then they’ll be whirling across the hills like Catherine wheels.
So I’d be playing Risen 3 and I’d see two hard-bitten pirates chatting about the death of the world and their abandonment by the gods, and I’d go, “Hey, have you guys seen my tumbleweed impression? Neeown, neeown, neeown.” At one point, I was cartwheeling through the jungle when I saw a monkey also doing cartwheels, and I wondered if my true destiny was to become jungle King of the monkeys. And then I was never going to be able to take the game seriously, because I'd just thought the sentence ‘I’m jungle King of the monkeys’. Just have a little pause before you can do another roll, Christ. It’s moonwalking through Castlevania all over again.
You know, fair props to Deep Silver for being pretty much the only publisher putting shit out at present, but that's starting to feel like being the only guy who turned up for the Rolf Harris comeback tour. Risen 3 is a pirate-themed RPG and a sequel to Risen 2, also a pirate-themed RPG, so we’re doing better than Sacred 3 in the sequel stakes at least. It’s just that it might be going a bit too far in the opposite direction, because I honestly couldn’t tell if the gravel-voiced edgy black-haired white boy hero in Risen 3 is supposed to be the same gravel-voiced edgy black-haired white boy hero from the last time around.
He certainly hasn’t retained any of the skills he may or may not have acquired in Risen 2, fairly par for the course in RPG sequels, but he also doesn’t seem to have memories of any of the places or even basic concepts that surround him at all, judging by all the characters he has to chase up dialogue trees, demanding to know their jobs and why monsters are bad and why learning combat skills is good. He does seem to drink an awful lot, so who knows. Then again, it might be all those blows to the head he takes as he combat-rolls down another flight of stairs.
The plot at the start of the game is that the world is fucked. Well, that was anticlimactic, but at least it was quick. What’s that, that’s just the beginning? But I thought you said the world was fucked, what are we supposed to do, find the mystical morning-after pill? The gods have disappeared, probably without even leaving a note on the pillow, and the outposts of man are being besieged by armies of undead, emerging from beneath the grounds, none of which matters for our hero, who is out searching for treasure across the one sea, with his sister, who dresses like a waitress from a pirate-themed titty restaurant.
But then, after an encounter of an undead lord, our hero’s soul is captured by the underworld and he enters a hideous state between life and death, the kind where he looks perfectly healthy and doesn’t seem to be physically or mentally afflicted in the slightest. Oh, but apparently he will turn into an undead minion if he doesn’t keep acquiring soul points. But that doesn’t seem like a huge issue, ‘cause he can get soul points just from saying nice things in conversation. So all he has to do is spend the odd evening posting comments on DeviantArt and he’s got nothing to worry about.
What I do remember about Risen 2 is that the combat was fucking annoying and that’s definitely still the case, with the hero putting more lengthy flourish into his sword swings than a fucking pole dancer, so that even the monkeys can stun lock his fat arse, and combat-rolling away from their attacks seems to be a very good way to get confused, turned around and blunder into three of the monkey’s friends. But I have to admit that the combat clicked a little better after I acquired a counter-attack move, which is probably why it should be given to you standard rather than taught for 1000 gold from Generic NPC 247 of 9812.
In the name of role-playing, I think Risen divides its essential gameplay skills to a rather unnecessary degree. For example, swords are the only melee weapon, because they're the only one that can reasonably be associated with the pirate stereotype, unless you want them to start bashing each other about with oars or parrots. But sword skills are divided between slashing swords, piercing swords and, errm, sword swords. I think there might be a bit of overlap there, Risen. And the only reason for splitting them up seems to be to give all new melee weapons a one-in-three chance of being less shit.
Risen may have more skills than the size of its world can support, distributing them rather unevenly among a dense population of samey NPCs. And the necessity of having to converse with every single one of the dreary fuckwits to determine the quests they can give and the skills they can teach gives Risen a little bit too much trough and not enough peak. It’s all rather monotone; converse with one white dude with brown hair and a regional British accent, conversed with them all.
Even the first three recruitable crew members are all white dudes with brown hair and regional British accents. I’m not asking for the Mass Effect thing, where they're all different species: one human, one goblin, one pistol shrimp, nor am I asking for achingly politically correct diversity until it resembles fucking Sesame Street. Just more ways to tell the fuckers apart would be nice! You can only bring one NPC helper along and I ended up using the same guy the whole way through ‘cause it hardly seemed to matter. Their main function is to get beaten up by a giant crab while I combat-roll around the back and stick a sword up its bum.
I gave Risen 3 about 8 hours to come together and suck me in. But all that happened was that I finally noticed that the islands were all copy-pasted from Risen 2, the fact that it took so long serving to underline the lasting impact Risen 2 had on my memory. In my defense, they did turn the islands around so you explore them from the opposite direction, like it'd turned its underpants inside out to extend the wear time for another day or so, but I’m disappointed by this lazy expansion pack sequel bollocks, Risen 3. “Wait, don’t go away mad, let’s bond over a crazy ocean combat boss fight with a sea monster.” Six hours into the game, Risen 3, that’s a day late and a doubloon short. But the sudden, drastic change of gameplay style between long periods of repetitive questing is more than a little jarring. And since your skills and equipment have no effect on the fight, it’s not so much an integrated part of the game as a big fat gimmick sitting in the middle of it like a frog in a bird bath.
Risen 3, in summary, can be said to have at least the spark of life which dies by drawing itself out too much until it’s too dull to even get irate about, or should I say, puh-irate. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha.
- Still not sure what a ‘mainbrace’ is: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mainbrace /*mein,breis/: noun 1. (nautical) a brace attached to a main yard.
- No word on how you splice one, though.