What would you do if you were washed up on a mysterious island? I would start by searching for the hatch.
Risen was developed by Piranha Bytes, developers of the Gothic series, and Published by Deep Silver. It is available on the Xbox360 and PC. This review is based on the PC version.
You awaken on the island of Faranga. The ship upon which you were stowed away was hit by a strange storm that resulted in the ship sinking. As you look around, you see the bodies of others from the ship laying nearby. Along the beach you can see large vulture like creatures already making a feast of the unlucky sailors. You have a long list of questions, but first there are the essentials to sort out. Are there any more survivors? How am I gonna eat? Is there anyone else on the island? Most importantly, what can I use to defend myself from the giant vulture thing that seems to think I am its next meal?
Thus, into the deep end you are thrown in Risen. You will need to take care of the basics as well as try and work out your future. This is not an RPG that starts you off with a fiery sword and the constitution of an ox. In Risen, you start from the bottom and work your way up. Be thankful for that lump of wood, because that’s the only weapon you have to begin with. You start your journey with nothing but the rags on your back, and it will be a fair time before you can get rid of the rags.
Venture into the island and find your way to civilisation, at least it will be safer. The island plays host to two opposing factions. The bandits and the Inquisitors. Your choice of which faction to align with will dictate your path within the game. Choosing to join the bandits in the middle of the swamp will give you access to weapons training, such as sword and bow. This route will allow you to follow a much more warrior style of gameplay.
The Inquisitors are where you go for magic training. They are here on the island investigating the newly appeared ruins that have popped up all over the place, along with the beasties that accompanied them. Choosing the path of magic is a long and arduous journey, but the rewards are impressive.
The people you will meet on the island are filled with side quests for you to enjoy, most of which are pretty straight forward. The characters that you come across will react to you differently depending on which faction you choose. They are a lively bunch and will not be shy in expressing their disapproval should they not agree with your chosen path.
The island of Faranga is a wonderful place to be adventuring. Although only a small island, there are plenty of places to explore and find hidden tunnels, treasures and such. Rarely will you make a journey without finding something of use on the island, although the treasures of other more “sparkly” RPG’s will turn up only rarely. But that’s the way it should be, otherwise there is no sense of accomplishment. The whole tone of the game is very gritty and oppressed, as can be seen by just looking at the inhabitants of Harbour Town. They are a miserable bunch for the most part, looking dirty and downtrodden.
The games downtrodden nature is in stark contrast to the beauty that can be found in the wilderness. Graphically this game looks great and it really adds to the overall atmosphere. Spending time in Harbour Town with the residents gives a real sense of hopelessness, while roaming the wilds gives a sense of wonder at the majesty of nature. Until you get attacked by a beastie, then you start wishing you were back with the miserable wretches in the town. It really is best not to wander from the town too early in the game, as the local monsters are really quite tough. This game is not for the glory hunter. In a more authentic tone, the player will have to put in the work to reap the rewards. Weapons and armour do not come easy or frequently and are representative of your current skill level. The feeling of pride upon acquiring new armour leads to a much more satisfying role-play experience.
Risen provides the player with a much grittier adventure than most games in this genre. It is tough and unforgiving. This leads to a great sense of achievement upon completing quests. The NPC’s of the island, and their constant misery, encourage you to try and help ease their existence. The controls are relatively simple and the quests will introduce the player to the complexities of the skills system. Although the game is difficult and does not hold the players hand, it does a good job of teaching the basics.
This is a grown-up RPG set in an authentic world. Though not to everyones taste, those that are willing to put in the time will come away feeling that something has been accomplished.