Risen 2: Dark Waters hands-on preview

With the world of Western RPGs filled to the brim with space-faring adventures and fantasy-lore, Risen 2: Dark Waters sets itself out from the pack just by virtue of the fact that the game is all about pirates. If you can think of a piratical thing, it is more than likely in the game. From talking parrots to salty old sailors who whored their way around the South Seas, this game seems determined to please fans of the violent seafarers.

But Risen 2 is about more than just pirates. For those that missed the 2009 original, the game took place on the (fictitious) Mediterranean island of Farnaga. The game was a hit on PC and loved by many—almost as much the Xbox 360 port (which had numerous technical issues) was despised. To their credit, both developer Piranha Bytes and publisher Deep Silver have owned up to the problems, and both have promised a more faithful console port of the sequel.

It’s a pirate’s life for the bitter, nameless hero

The game continues where the original left off, but those that missed the original can catch up easily enough. After saving Faranga, our nameless hero is drinking himself into a stupor after having realized that his quest to save the world only affected one small island. 

The overarching story for the Risen series is that the Titans have been released from their prison, and are now wreaking havoc across the world. In the first game, the hero joined up with a rebel group of soldiers called the Inquisition and managed to kill one of the Titans. Now, he finds himself tasked with hunting down a special weapon to kill another, this time a Titan of the sea known as Mara.

The story moves fairly quickly once it begins, and soon the hero and a leader of the Inquisition watch a ship get pulled to the depths by a kraken. Our hero finds a single survivor, Patty, who returns from the original Risen. The reunited duo then decide to find Patty’s pirate father, who is supposed to have knowledge of a spear that can kill the Titan Mara.

The hero is then booted from the Inquisition which allows him to infiltrate the pirates and find the weapon, so off he and Patty go the isle of Tacarigua.

Thar be side quests here

The main quest line is available, but the game wants, and even requires you to complete a number of side-quests that directly and indirectly affect the main storyline.

Eventually the hero finds Patty’s father who then sends him off on a ludicrous number of quests to prove that he can be a “pirate.” I will say that one of my favorite quests involved getting a map from another pirate. In traditional pirate fashion I had to challenge him to a drinking contest and win. Admittedly, it took a few tries to out-drink the guy, but it was surprisingly satisfying to steal a map by getting drunk in the game.

There are a variety of skills available for purchase from various vendors. I didn’t try all of them, or even most of them, due to their high cost in the demo, but there is a general RPG theme to many of the skills that range from pickpocketing to magic.

The high cost of the skills made me feel more like a poor pirate having to scrounge, pawn and save for new skills, and you will have to work hard to get enough gold to buy them. Once you have skills like pickpocketing, gaining gold gets easier, but at the early stages it was a battle and I had to think strategically about where I wanted to put points and grab skills. This was a nice feature that actually forced me to think about the character’s development more than in some other RPGs.

Enemies ahoy

There are a variety of things to kill in Risen 2, from jaguars and monkeys to pirates and sea creatures. Some of them are also very weird—including a crab-esque creature that looked somewhat like an anglerfish.

You can evade most battles altogether, but if you choose to fight, it will require some strategy. Some of the creatures just take sword slashes, while others (like the humans and more nimble or armored sea monsters) can take a bit more than just beating them with a sword until they die. You do have that option though.

As an example of using strategy in combat, there is a skill called “Dirty Tricks.” This lets you throw sand or salt into enemies’ faces. If you have a pistol, you can the shoot them. So there does seem to be some variety to the combat that could allow players to infuse their own style to the gameplay. Most of the game seemed to revolve around the quests and exploration, but combat is a big part.

The demo ended right before a big boss fight, so battling the big monsters may or may not be similar to what the regular pirates and sea monsters felt like. We’ll have to wait until the game’s April release to know for sure.

The console booty

Now, I played a the game on PC, so I can’t speak to the console versions of the game, but Piranha Bytes and Deep Silver have confirmed that they are putting a lot more money, time, and care into Risen 2’s console ports than its predecessor.

The original Risen was developed specifically for the PC. The Xbox 360 development began much later into the process, and was handled mostly by a third party developer called Wizarbox. One of the ways that Piranha Bytes is attempting to fix Risen’s problems is by having the console versions for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 developed simultaneously with the PC version. Wizarbox is still handling the console ports, but Piranha Bytes is working hand-in-hand with the developer to ensure that the versions are as similar as possible.

One thing Piranha Bytes is doing to change things up is spreading the world of Risen 2 over several islands. Besides the story possibilities that offers, it also makes is easier to develop for the consoles, cuts down on loading times, and increases the level of detail possible. The previous title was on one big island, which was fine for a PC, but caused major issues on a console.

Hopefully, this will all lead to a much better console port. They seem to be on the right track.

Risen 2: Dark Waters brings the piratical adventures to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on April 24.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: