Risen is not your typical console RPG, it does in nature belong on the PC platform and caters especially well with the keyboard and mouse over a control pad. This became apparent before I had even accepted my first quest, or killed my first boar (of many). Instantly I can picture the unruly crowd of Fable fans at despair, confronted with a wild beast of an RPG with no one there to hold their hand.
As I awake on a beach, at the start of my grand adventure, I speak to a fair maiden that stands on the shore explaining to me that I should find something to use as a weapon. I trot off to the nearest tree and rip off a branch. Without thinking logically that I would need to speak to the maiden in order to update the quest, I run off into the jungle… not the wisest idea. Four hours pass and I arrive back at the beach, after several deaths by mere boars, gnomes, ogres and skeletons. I have seen a quarter of the map, run from every beast, picked countless herbs, stolen from several houses and in all of this time forgot about my role in the world, completely care free of the problems I am wanted to solve. When was the last time you can say such a thing in modern video games?
Whilst I had been having fun exploring the world, and felt a little discovery that was reminiscent of Elder Scrolls Morrowind, I needed to progress on with the storyline in order to see what the game truly had to offer and wanted me to take part in. After saving the fair maiden from the dangers of the wilderness I faced my first character defining decision, do I join the bandits or do I join the ‘order’. Well the choice was simple, I wanted to be a thieving sneaking bandit of course! Unfortunately as soon as I was aware the decision existed I had walked into another man that obliterated me in a single blow; when I woke, I was locked in and forced to train as one of them. This was rather frustrating, but I accepted none the less.
As the game progressed on these sorts of choices appear from time to time, and as I continued it would seem that the fate of others or just their opinions on me were soon to take a turn for the typical good or evil direction. In a way similar to the Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind and Oblivion) or even the developer’s prior series, Gothic, you are given a beautiful sense of freedom in which you can choose how to play the game. You can do the main quest if you like or you can stick to side quests until you are forced to do so. You can become a fearless warrior or you can just relax whilst getting one of several professions raised.
The counter balance to this freedom is the depth and complexity of the game. This will scare far more console gamers than it will PC gamers, as this is something they have experienced and typically expect from their RPGs. Risen could certainly had benefited from more explanation of game mechanics, and less focus on having to simply come across the required NPC to teach you the skill or ability you are looking for. The same could be said for the games many interfaces, which are numerous and complex – all of which you are dropped into with no tutorial what so ever.
The directional pad is used for all your inventory needs, with the up arrow being your bag that will hold all your loot! The right arrow will display the character interface, which details your gear and your talents / professions, these can then be alternated with the trigger buttons. The left arrow brings up the quest log, which as with the previous interfaces can filter through different quests shown using the trigger buttons, and NPC dialogue can be read with the analogue sticks. Lastly the down arrow will show the world map and arrow map, selectable with the trigger buttons. These interfaces will be your basis of the games exploration, as you will be shifting through them continually. The same format of using trigger buttons is also used to change screens or filters, along with each analogue controlling different window in the interfaces.
Control in the game world can be a little fiddly as the sensitivity of camera movement is very high, and once again the many opinions of control can be confusing on a control pad. Your best friend will now become the left trigger, which will highlight anything of interest. By default this will be any item that you can loot from (which will be many) and in combat mode (initiated by right trigger) your enemies. In default mode there is not much required, there is no run ability (which can become tedious after long journeys) and the jump button performed by pressing the analogue stick in, is as hilarious as the typical RPG jump (see Oblivion). You will do more damage than good by using it. In combat mode you can block, parry, lunge, attack (as simple as pressing the A button over and over) and make use of the odd spell. One nice touch is that when you pull up your inventory for a quick potion, when at danger of death, the game will pause preventing you from getting hit before you can administer the much needed health.
Controls aside, the characters presence in the world is a little… ‘floaty’. You rarely feel part of the environment and this only becomes more apparent when you interact with anything, in particular enemies. I had at numerous times been chatting to an NPC mid-conversation, to have another NPC walk past and be unable to get through so would simply loot to bump into me and back, into me and back, over and over. This level of dumbness pollutes most actions, such as being caught thieving when there is no one around or getting away with it in direct view. Numerous times I felt forced to reload as an NPC would catch me and hate me when they should never had noticed my dastardly ways, or many occasions where I had killed NPCs by monsters chasing me, only to turn their attention and end my quest abruptly.
Graphically the game is certainly not the most impressive (unfortunately even compared to the older competition) and definitely not what the press released screenshots would make you believe. The largest let down is the draw distance, which crops up from time to time and removes the vast landscape in place of whiteness. That’s not to say that the game is ugly as the detail in the environments and particular interior locations is welcoming, only that to today’s standards there is never that wow factor I was hoping for. Audio lands in the same boat, with heavy use of voiceovers (which is always nice to see) but to a standard of which is amateur at best.
The issues are, to be perfectly fair, countless. One could nitpick problems forever and write a novel regarding them, but stepping into a game of this style you have to expect a little roughness – and unfortunately that is found in spades. Overall, the like of Risen comes down to the player, with an emphasis on their ability to look beyond flaws and frustration in order to enjoy an otherwise enjoyable, large and deep RPG.