My largest complaint against Risen, and a large reason for the score it has received, is the marriage of the leveling system with the economy of the game. Risen is a loot/gold driven RPG and that aspect isn’t limited to just armor, weapons, and consumables. Adding stat points or new skills to your character, which are used primarily to decide what weapons/armor they can or cannot use, require you to find someone to train you and then spend learning points, which are earned form increasing in level, and ever-increasing increments of gold. This mechanic wouldn’t be such a hassle if it wasn’t for the fact that every time you sell loot, treasure, etc. you only get about one fifth of the value for that item. When a player is forced to decide between gaining a point of strength so they can wield their new sword or buying a health potion so they can venture out and gain more loot, I’d say there’s a slight imbalance in the cost/benefit ratio of the game structure.
Risen also takes a large hit in the looks department. The first time I finished a play session I took out the disk and checked to see if it was an original Xbox title. Character models are on the blocky side and they’re faces are largely expressionless as they move their stiff bodies during dialog sequences. The island itself is very well laid out with clever uses of elevation and natural rock outcropping to make natural barriers to separate different sections of the island; they aren’t stitched together very well, though.
The vast white void of the underworld of the game can be seen through cracks in the blocks that make the geometry of the island, and they’re blatantly obvious during night time in the game. The upside may be that Risen plays at a smoother frame rate, but I would have preferred a more polished look from this PC port.
In the sound department Risen doesn’t make any large strides forward but manages to keep up the pace with other titles. The generic symphonic, meant-to-be-epic-sounding soundtrack accompanies the player and accelerates to a slower or faster pace depending on the location and the initiation of combat. Sound effects fit in their proper places and play at the proper times, with the exception of the weapon blows during the stuttering combat. The voice cast tackles the challenging script and manages to make every character feel unique, despite repeat appearances. I just wish the main character didn’t sound so bi-polar as he see-saws through dialog options, but that has more to do with the non-contextual dialog trees.
After learning to deal with the little quirks, and getting over my frustration concerning design flaws, I was surprised to find myself playing Risen for hours at a time. There are a few things Risen gets wrong, especially for a RPG on a console, but it doesn’t mess with the successful formula many RPGs follow. By providing a story with plenty of character interactions and well performed spoken dialog, a large environment to explore, and hundreds of creatures to kill and collect loot from, Risen gives players plenty of ways to occupy their time. There are also a lot of little things that really add up to make Risen more enjoyable. Whether prospecting for gold in a freshly discovered deposit, cooking a pot of stew with ingredients you’ve scrounged together, robbing your neighbors blind behind their backs, or gathering one of the thousands of medicinal plants dotting the island. there is almost always something to interact with. The abundance of items to collect and combine in unison with a bottomless inventory system makes it easy for one to get side tracked exploring and collecting anything you can get your hands on.
When it comes down to it, I can’t recommend Risen as a buy at full price. I’d say it would be a solid investment at around the $20-30 price range simply for the many hours of gameplay it provides. If you’ve been waiting for the next big western style RPG for the Xbox 360, this isn’t it. I wouldn’t pass it up though if a friend offers to loan you a copy or you see Risen on sale. The only final warning I would give is that there is a lot of strong language in the dialog, and if you prefer your fantasies curse-free Risen isn’t right for you.
Companies: Deep Silver
Risen is by no means a perfect port, or the best western style RPG on the Xbox 360. Despite its flaws I had fun with this game. The island environment of Risen is very well designed with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and treasures to discover. The 60+ hours of gameplay required to complete the story and explore the entire contents of the island make Risen a worthwhile investment, if you can find it on sale.
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