Plain sailing? – Risen 2: Dark Waters eyes-on impressions

By Stace Harman, Tuesday, 25 October 2011 06:32 GMT

Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes are offering RPG lovers a port in the storm with their pirate-centric swashbuckler Risen 2: Dark Waters. Stace Harman jumps aboard and speaks to Deep Silver’s Daniel Oberlerchner.

Risen 2: Dark Waters

Play as the disillusioned Nameless Hero of Risen, now a hard-drinking sardonic pessimist.

The first Risen game to appear on PlayStation 3; Deep Silver “want to establish Risen as a brand and it’s difficult for us to do that and ignore the PlayStation 3″.

Classless-based character levelling, choose which skills you learn to suit your play style.

Unlike the original, Risen 2 is being optimised for consoles to ensure each version looks and feels at home on every platform.

The PC version is being developed by Piranha Bytes and the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are being handled by Wizarbox. All versions will be published by Deep Silver.

Risen 2: Dark Waters is intent on helping you turn your life around – or, at the very least, the life of the nameless protagonist who you’ll play as during the swashbuckling RPG adventure. Cast in the role of a washed-up pirate who drinks and swears egregiously, you awake on a desert island having been marooned by the crew of your last vessel following an unexplained disagreement. Pirates, it seems, are not union men but neither do they lack ambition which is why you’ll be working to better your lot as you progress through the story.

The different sections of the eyes-only demo we’re presented with is played out on both the PC and 360 builds, with the initial section displayed on the former and showing unspoilt beaches and dappled light through jungle foliage. It’s not long before we’ve run into an inhabitant of this sparsely populated island: a gnome that swears like a trooper having learned the human tongue by mimicking pirates, resulting in a vocabulary which is 50 percent harsh expletives.

A brief but sweary conversation later and the gnome has agreed to make the hapless protagonist a raft with which to escape the island, somewhat undermining the pirate credentials of our hero who seems incapable of lashing together a few logs and fashioning sails out of discarded garments. Slightly disappointingly, this means the first order of business is to undertake a fairly standard fetch-quest revolving around visiting other gnomes on the island and bartering with them for the requisite raft-building materials.

Fast-forwarding several hours into the game and we’ve switched to the 360 build which, at this beta-build stage, lacks some of the finer details and textures of the PC version. However, publisher Deep Silver insists steps have been taken to ensure that there won’t be the same jarring disparity between the PC and console version that plagued the original game.

“The reason the 360 version didn’t live up to the expectations of the journalists or the consumers was simply that the game wasn’t conceived as a console game to begin with,” explains senior brand manager Daniel Oberlerchner.

“The 360 version of Risen didn’t live up to the expectations of the journalists or the consumers was simply that the game wasn’t conceived as a console game to begin with.”

“When the folks from Piranha Bytes started development, they began with the traditional vision of making a big island with no loading zones, a dynamic night and day cycle plus weather systems, as well as having a lot of AI running around. It’s very, very bad for consoles to start with a vision like that.”

Interface issues also plagued the original, with Wizarbox – the French firm responsible for the 360 port – faced with reconfiguring functions performed by the mouse wheel or by ‘drag and drop’ to the 360 controller, making for a clunky and unsatisfying experience.

Here, both 360 and PS3 versions have been focused on from the beginning, resulting in design decisions that work for all three platforms – such as replacing the quick-bar with a more console-friendly quick-wheel and the game world being split into several smaller islands rather than one huge one, a better fit for the lower available memory on consoles.

Life’s a beach
The island we’re shown features a number of Risen 2’s more interesting features with its day and night cycle alongside NPCs going about their business and not standing idly by, waiting for you mine them for side-quests. The hero’s main goal here is to spring the unwilling resident of the local jail-house so that he might join the crew you’re putting together for a little pirate adventure.

Happily, this task can be set about in a number of different ways and speaking to the detainee reveals information about the burly guard that holds the key to his freedom. Here, the hero is presented with the option of deploying a trained monkey – which you take control of directly – to pick-pocket the guard, though this option first requires dealing with the other guards, either quietly or with brute force. It’s also necessary to disable the numerous cannons fortifying the town so that a clean getaway can be made without fear of being bombarded once aboard the ship.

Risen 2: Dark Waters gamescom 2011 teaser.

Alternatively, if stealth and subterfuge aren’t your thing you can choose to commandeer one of the cannons before disabling it to blow a hole in the side of the prison, assuming that you’re fully prepared to face the wrath of the entire town guard if you take this least subtle of routes. This one small example highlights some of the choices available in the world of Risen 2, and Oberlerchner is keen to highlight its influences.

“I think the mix for Risen 2 is best described as Ultima and Zelda,” he begins. “From Ultima, you have a big interactive world and people that are reacting to what you’re doing: so, if you’re stealing, people will punish you or if you’re being pursued by a big monster and you run into a village, the villagers will attack the monster as well; the world reacts to what the player is doing.

“From Zelda, you have the dungeons that have riddles and traps, every dungeon is going to be unique – we don’t have any cookie-cutter type dungeons. The kinds of puzzles we’ll have will make use of your equipment and skills, so perhaps you can’t cross a bridge but you’ll find that when you send the monkey off you can crawl into a small hole and activate a lever.”

Quite whether Risen 2 can live up to the exemplary design championed by its influences remains to be seen and the title may be better served by Piranha Bytes focusing on what makes it unique, rather than attempting to ape other adventure RPGs. The levelling system, for example, carries some merit of its own, with no predefined classes and the requirement to track down mentors from whom new skills can be acquired.

First cinematic trailer.

“RPGs for us are not about having numbers on a character sheet, it’s about having an emotional attachment to the characters and the world” says Oberlerchner.

“This is also why we have teachers in the world: in some games you level up and are just picking new skills from a menu; that’s OK but it’s not really emotional, so we think it’s more emotive that when you level-up you then have to go to a master and convince him to teach you new skills.

“The masters are archetypes in the game world and some skills can be taught be several people, but some skills are rare and can only be taught by one guy. A bouncer in a pub will teach you defensive moves, for example, or a captain of a ship might teach you sword play.

“We also have a cool new dialogue skill called Silver Tongue that you can use to convince people to do things during conversations and you can improve this skill by talking to whores who will teach you how to be more convincing.”

After the calamitous – though commercially successful – launch of Dead Island, Deep Silver will be hoping that any reference to whores is entirely intentional and any potentially offensive material stems wholly from the liberal use of rambunctious pirates.

Risen 2 launches for PC, 360 and PS3 in 2012.

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