It is well known that a pirate’s raison d’être, outside of swashbuckling adventure, rum and hijacked oil-tankers, is looting, an activity any salty RPG devotee yearns for in their heart of hearts. However, developer Piranha Bytes fails to give Risen 2: Dark Waters any sort of creative push beyond the basic combination of “pirate” and “RPG.”
It’s almost as if they expected it to function purely on these premises alone.
The terribly bland and uninventive plot drops the player into the dirty, rum-soaked boots of the “Unnamed Hero” from the first Risen. However, in the short time between Risen and Risen 2, the universe has made a not-so-subtle jump forward in time to where flintlock firearms are readily accessible and the medieval battle axes and bows of yesteryear have been phased out entirely.
Even in a fantasy world, saturated with magic and mythical beasts, that’s a bit of a stretch.
The story begins with Lieutenant Unnamed Hero (LUH) lounging around the Crystal Fortress within the city of Caldera, which is mostly aflame as a result of the previous game’s cataclysmic events. He is a drunkard under the employ of the “Inquisition,” the token religious authoritarians with a hard-on for native slavery and dressing like Conquistadores. He is immediately forced to trudge his way up to the battlements and watch a ship get torn asunder by a Kraken. This is an obvious attempt at establishing some sort of cheap pirate lore fan-service early on. In fact, the plot and characters resemble something of a regurgitated Pirates of the Caribbean budget remake.
The next morning, LUH is tasked with killing Mara, a Titan Lord (don’t ask), who controls the giant Kraken that has been tormenting trade routes along the subtropical archipelago to the south of Risen Island. She also looks like a sexy Queen Ursula from “The Little Mermaid.” To succeed, and obtain the four grand McGuffins that will kill Mara, LUH must fall in with the most hackneyed group of pirate tropes in the history of gaming.
Dark Waters is a seemingly endless series of fetch quests and shoddy dialogue based on painfully juvenile pirate humor and awkward stereotypes that amount to little more than jokes about “having crabs” or how crazy pirates get about their rum.
Oh sure, the player can craft swords and firearms, buy a trained monkey, or go native with some voodoo parlor tricks, but there is no real substance in this game besides looting and attaining “glory,” Risen 2’s laughable version of experience points. The player can attain glory from the most ridiculous of tasks, like gloriously hacking apart a dock rat that happened to be scurrying in the wrong place at the wrong time or gloriously helping some scuzzy geezer get laid by the town’s favorite whore (by trade).
It’s good that every mundane thing, from collecting flotsam to drinking alcohol, is so glorious, because LUH starts as nothing. He has no skills, not even a remote bit of aptitude in combat, just a snazzy eyepatch and a penchant for rum. This is the same hero that saved the world in the last game. The developers claim to minimize the dangers of alcohol in their product but, apparently, all of the hero’s skills were shaken out of him by a bad case of the DTs.
The battle strategy for the first hour or two is “hold down block and pray.” As such, LUH dies a lot. He can be killed by a giant mutated crab just as easily as a perturbed warthog as animals and creatures are unblockable. LUH can only block other swords, for some strange reason. Random traps also erupt from the foliage and mini-dungeons and insta-kill if the player fails the quick-time event.
The worst part is that by the time the game actually picks up, which is maybe six to eight hours in, following a span of grueling MMO-esque grinding, scavenging and skill farming, the player will realize that “Risen 2: Dark Waters” is pure window dressing. The developers beef up the mediocrity by dragging everything out until it is painful, chucking in cheap mini-games and pointless side-quests to fill the void and keep the player from realizing that they just spent fifty to sixty dollars on one huge, outdated pirate joke.
The combat is hit or miss (mostly miss) as it attempts to capture the subtle magic of Witcher II’s melee system with a bit of pirate flavor. It fails miserably. The only thing worth mention is the “Dirty Tricks,” a cute feature in which the LUH, and other characters, can do dastardly deeds like flinging sand in someone’s eyes or spitting flaming oil in a brigand’s face, mid-battle. Nevertheless, the combat cannot be carried on the addition of dirty tricks alone.
Graphically, the game would look fantastic if it didn’t have such outdated facial animations and marionette-like character movement. Someone telling LUH about their dead son mindlessly flails their arms around like Beethoven conducting in slow motion. The women, on the other hand, are vogue with every syllable, as if they’re on the end of the runway, posing for snapshots.
The tropical vistas are, indeed, jaw-dropping. That may be Risen 2’s only selling point. At least, it would be if it’s not played with an NVIDIA-released GPU, which are known to cause such fun graphical glitches as flickering shadows, flickering trees, mysteriously growing and shrinking bushes and a variety of other epilepsy-inducing foibles.
The voice acting is abysmal and contrived. The sheer amount of nonchalance LUH displays seems cool or playfully “bad-ass,” initially. However, that same Cary Elwes-esque complacency and forced roguish charm loses its thunder within the first half-hour. Sadly, his obnoxious tone is maintained throughout the whole game, hardly shifting to account for anything remotely interesting or emotionally polarizing.
Then again, with ridiculously boring, one-dimensional characters like Captain Steelbeard (the pirate), Patty Steelbeard (the female pirate), and Chani (the magic tribal), it’s hard to blame LUH, or the player, for not caring about anything, or anyone, in this game. Hard language is often used as a lazy way to convey “rough” or “grim,” but it comes across as dialogue written by an angst-ridden teenager.
As an added bonus, Jaffar the shifty, potty-mouthed gnome, speaks a bastardized form of Spanglish-ese that is almost as offensive to Hispanics as Star Wars’ Jar-Jar Binks and the Gungans were to Caribbean blacks. So at least that’s something, right? It didn’t help that the developers made the entire race of gnomes dim-witted, materialistic kleptomaniacs either.
The game is a flop, plain and simple. It’s way longer than it should be, tedious and painful with flat characters and a by-the-numbers RPG plot. It’s poorly animated (outside of landscapes), poorly acted and poorly executed, by today’s standards. If it were a crewman aboard a pirate ship, it would get gullied and tossed overboard to the sharks for its abject mediocrity.