Risen should really be called Gothic 4, except it isn’t. And Gothic 4 really shouldn’t be but is. Confused yet ?
While Gothic 4 continues the story of Gothic 3, it isn’t made by the same team, whereas Risen is, and shares many (many, many) of the same game mechanics. Those of you who loved the previous Gothic 1-3 games, will undoubtedly like this one, although this can also be a downside – not a lot has changed in nearly 10 years since March 2001 when the first Gothic game was released.
The Gothic games themselves have always been very love/hate. Either you absolutely loathe the slightly odd controls and user interface, or you like/tolerate it and enjoy the rest of the game instead, and Risen is no different, being from the same developers. The downside is that the developers don’t seem particularly innovative – Risen is essentially Gothic all over again, but with pretty graphics. The plots are different, but all of the skills, character choices etc haven’t really changed at all. You are basically playing Gothic 1, all over again.
Of course, you could argue that not a lot needs changing as the core of the game is a fairly solid open world action-rpg, with plenty to explore and do in it. Aside from the core plot which has to be advanced for better equipment to be unlocked, there’s not a lot that you are forced to do to progress in the game, and it’s entirely possible for you to spend hours just hunting creatures and taking their various parts back to be sold for profits.
The downside to having such an open space is that you end up going back and forth around it a lot. The game world is sort of refreshed with new monsters and such as each chapter of it starts, so you don’t end up with big empty swathes of island, but you do end up learning the terrain as you have no other choice.
One annoying problem is chests. Some chests in the game are locked, and if you find someone to teach you lockpicking, you can open them. All good so far. However, you find locked chests long before you can learn the skills to open them, so unless you make a big list and force yourself to go back to each location and open every one, you end up missing out on loot, which is frustrating for those of you that, like me, want to find everything.
On the other hand, there is a lot to be found out there. The island is dotted with ruins, caves, dark forests, mountain paths, crumbing towers etc., all of which usually contain monsters to be defeated first. Another problem crops up here though – the first time you encounter a monster, you have no idea how strong it is. So your only realistic option is to quick-save, try it, and reload if it’s too hard. The game implies that you should run away, but A) running in this game is really really slow, and b) some monsters will kill you before you manage to. On the plus side, the game is fairly intelligent in its auto-save system, so you generally don’t lose too much progress if you forgot to save before getting your face chewed off.
There’s also plenty of gameplay here – Steam tells me that I managed to hit 20hrs before first chapter was done, and you could easily spend a lot longer than that. Other things that I like include the combat system, where taking your time, blocking enemy’s attacks and choosing the right moment to attack them often lets you defeat more powerful foes. Being a dirty sneaking thief is also a viable option for making money and getting better equipment faster, rather than feeling like an addon option as it does in many games.
The skill system is a refreshing change from other games – you can’t just magically become a master swordfighter by gaining levels – instead you must seek out, and often get on the good side of, someone who is a master sword fighter, and then they will teach you the skills to survive.
Oh and one last thing – TAGES DRM is rather sadly included – I haven’t had any issues with it myself, but it seem silly that games released on steam have other, worse, DRM included in them, and it’s only fair to warn you about that.
DRM aside, really this game is Marmite. Some of you will find the controls and interface frustrating and difficult, and will hate it. Those of you that persevere beyond that will find a unique take on the action-rpg genre, in a world that you are free to explore how you like, but which really hasn’t changed a lot since 2001, but you’ll find yourself loving it anyway.
I like Risen, but it feels oddly like visiting an ex-girlfriend you haven’t seen for a while, only to find that they haven’t really changed from when you left 10 years ago; they’ve just got some new clothes and better makeup on.