A survivor washes ashore from a shipwreck to find himself on a mysterious island. Dark and dangerous creatures challenge him around every turn and an organization with a deadly secret looms over the local townsfolk. Developer Piranha Bytes may not win many points for originality, but at least their game, Risen, starts off on a familiar foot. Featuring third person action and a slew of fantasy gaming clichés, Risen is more about exploring and adventure then a groundbreaking story. How does it hold up?
Taking place on the island of Faranga players find themselves washed up after a short cutscene featuring a sea monster, a man with a scary eye-patch, and a gypsy woman. Adventurers then find themselves exploring the island, meeting new people and generally furthering the plot of the storyline. Aligning themselves with either the Inquisition, a local group of bandits or the Mages, former protectors of the island, players find themselves spurred onward by the schemes of the High Inquisitor who seeks the power of the Titans... legendary creatures themselves wrapped in mystery.
Gameplay takes a pretty predictable route for anyone who's already familiar with games like Oblivion, Fallout, or even Legend of Zelda. Players must gather together pieces of an artifact to open the door to a temple which thus leads to a quest that forces the player to then collect more things to build a weapon to kill a very large and epic creature. The fun isn't in going through the same old actions in Risen, but rather the way the game encourages exploration. Though Risen does a poor job of explaining how anything from leveling to attacking really works, it does succeed in making the player want to explore the island. Very few limitations exist, save for the islands natural animal threats, which means that players can literally go wherever they like with little to no issue. Furthering this is the fact that there is no limit to inventory, so finding and collecting new items to aid in crafting is less stressful and more of a neat addition to the game.
Unfortunately while exploring and 'finding' are fun aspects to the game, they are balanced out by a terribly dull combat system and an extremely bland storyline. It's hard to want to go and do any of the main quests in the game since there's no real motivation aside from simply beating the game, and exploring the island yields little reward apart from simply looking at the game's terrain. Like most Western RPGs, Risen claims that it's possible to 'alter the destiny of the island by the actions you take', but really all this means is beating the game will give you an ending. Beating the game supporting another faction, will give a different outlook. There's very little to the relationship building in Risen on any level, and with no really engaging plot or character development worth mentioning, exploring and fighting become dry and pointless.
Graphically the game falls short as well, though this may be because it's a port from a PC title. Combat feels very strange as Risen has stayed away from some traditional control mechanics (like a well placed jump button, or convenient to access item menus), and fighting enemies generally results in a hit-and-run strategy every time. Blocky terrain, clipping issues, and bland character sprites plague Risen, and it's hard to find a reason as to why. Though the game does boast that loading times are nonexistant it's hard to imagine this as a reason for poor graphics, particularly since many sandbox titles have offered both. Sound wise Risen is equally bland, with an unconvincing selection of voice actors and a soundtrack that's easily forgotten.
Overall the game holds little for anyone looking for a very rich and detailed RPG experience, attempting to mimic similar titles in its genre but falling very short. It's hard to justify a single playthrough for plot sake, let alone additional playthroughs. A dull combat system and dry storyline make for a very dull experience, which is a shame since a lot of nuance and detail (design wise) was put into the world that Risen takes place in. With a better story and more detail overall Risen could have been a really solid title, but as it stands right now there's nothing to see here that isn't done somewhere else, but better.