A great successor for Gothic - Can't wait for Dark Waters,
This review is from: Risen (PC DVD) (DVD-ROM)In summary: One of the best RPG games of recent times. Gothic fans will probably love it, Elder Scrolls fans will probably find it small and frustrating. I'd advise any other RPG fans to give it a go and take some time to learn some of its unusual behaviour - the game is better than its competition precisely because of it.
I've recently replayed Risen and it ticks all the right boxes for me, often for exactly the reasons that fans of the elder scrolls and similar games complain about.
Small game world - Other games are often held up as epic RPGs because of their enormous size. For me this equates to either a sparsely populated or overly repetitive game world and in some cases both. By contrast, what I believe is one of Piranha Bytes great strengths is that they fit good size games into relatively small worlds. They seem to be able to create games with lots of distinct things to do, all within an area where the real-time travel from one location to the next is never greater than about 20 minutes (provided you've cleared the way first of course).
Difficult combat - Many people are frustrated by Risen's slightly quirky combat system, which I believe was also said of the original Gothic games on which the combat seems to have been based and improved. For me the combat adds an extra level of immersion to the game. I hate 'click-fest' combat which seems to pervade many RPGs these days (I would include elder scrolls games here but Gothic 3 also fell down on this). It certainly takes some time and practice to get the hang of it but once you've worked it out it is a great plus for the game.
As for difficult, in my first play through I played a melee character. With a bit of patience and perseverence you can visit almost every area in the game in the first chapter and defeat at least one of just about every enemy in the game, all wearing the weakest available armour. If you're playing as a mage I would still advise an element of melee practice as you will need to fall back on a melee weapon occasionally - but you never need to actually learn any melee skills. Just raise your strength a bit so you can hold a decent sword.
The combat in Risen gives you a great sense of achievement as well. Yes ghouls are practically impossible to kill at the start, which makes it all the more gratifying when you first beat one. And there's a clear and obvious link between gaining experience for kills / quests, gaining levels and the character's capabilities relative to the whole environment. Once you've gained some experience you can start to romp through areas you might have had to sneak through earlier. This is a great improvement over something like Oblivion which is actually harder to play as a level 50 juggernaut than it is to play as a level 2 rat snack.
No character customisation - This isn't all that important to me. Many games allow you to customize the character incredibly well. You can spend hours creating the perfect jaw-line or the right shade of pink for the cheeks - and then put a helmet on 10 minutes later and never see the face again. Much worse, in my opinion, is the lack of a voice. I find it completely breaks the immersion in a game when the main protagonist never speaks. Lack of a voice is something I particularly hated about Oblivion and Fallout 3. As an aside, Mass Effect / Mass Effect 2 solves this very well by having a customizable face with a fixed voice and removing the character's helmet when they're holding a conversation.
As for other comments in the reviews, I've never had a great problem with the graphics in Risen. They've always seemed nicely drawn and realistic enough to me though I'll admit I've never particularly studied them. Money isn't overly plentiful when you first start out but it's certainly not impossible to come by - you just need to do a bit of judicious collecting and trading. I find it also helps - though it can get a bit tedious at times - to know where the nearest water barrel is because they provide free healing.