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Risen (PC) artwork

Risen (PC) review

"It's basically Link's Awakening with swearing, drugs, cooking, and actors from 'Lord of the Rings.' Not that that's a bad thing..."

Risen (Xbox 360) image

Risen's opening act gives you little reason to rejoice. The gods have forsaken humanity, titans have begun to wreck the world, and the ship that aimed to carry you to safety has just sunk. Though you plunge into the storm-frenzied sea, you do not drown. Rather, you awaken on a unknown island, stranded, penniless, unarmed, and practically naked. Before you sits acres of woodland, numerous ruined temples, and the glowing eyes of ravenous wildlife. In other words, Risen commences its tale as PC RPGs have for eons: with a skull-crushing introduction to a savage world, where you will fail for hours before finding your bearings and standing tall.

The game doesn't grasp your hand and lead you around, and that's part of the beauty of it. It gives you a modicum of instruction in the early outs and then leaves you to your devices. You are free to explore every bog, bend, cavity, and cliffside, provided that you are powerful enough to fight off the indigenous species. Though you may desire a trip to the northeastern portion of the map, for instance, you'll find it's rather troublesome to deal with the black wolves and skeletal warriors dwelling there when you're only level one. So the best you can do is exploit every piece of the land you can safely encounter, from its citizens to its flora and fauna.

Risen (PC) image

What I've come to love about Risen is its survival elements. You don't catch many breaks early on in the campaign, and typically have to work your butt off to get what you want. Can't afford a new sword? Then you're going to have to either farm items like crazy or take up thievery. It also helps to carefully consider where you allocate your "learning points," which you earn with every level up. These could use them to boost stats like strength or dexterity, but you can also spend them to learn survival skills. For five learning points, for example, you could learn you how to pick pockets or pick locks. You could also learn how to gut and skin animals, as well as pluck coveted portions of their body for loot. I will admit that I was turned off by the lack of classic RPG stats at first, but I did come to appreciate Risen's offering of specialty abilities in lieu of the usual attributes.

Through your dealings with three major human settlements, you can begin to piece together a coherent tale. As it turns out, a wealthy ruler named Don Esteban vacated his domicile situated in the island's one and only town after a contingent of religious warriors known as the Order of the Holy Flame ousted him. That might sound like a square deal for the natives, as Esteban was a crime lord, but the truth is that he permitted free trade and unregulated hedonism--provided that there were no major quarrels--within his city. Since the Order took control, trade on the island has screeched to a halt and citizens have found it nearly impossible to land employment or purchase even a meager scrap of food or medicine. On the plus side, though, crime has all but subsided within the town. Meanwhile, the primary antagonist Inquisitor Mendoza has aligned with a group of mages residing within a monastery, and seeks to breach a temple built into the island's volcano. Though his plans might sound ominous on the surface, you eventually find that his intentions are not entirely wicked, and might actually benefit the remnants of humanity. Or possibly doom it...

Risen (PC) image

It's wonderful that the game provides you with three factions who are neither innocent nor sinister, and who bestow their own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, siding with the monastery allows you to become a magician, granting you access to powerful runes for casting devastating magic. Esteban's bandits, on the other hand, are the only only ones who can receive maximum training in swords and axes.

Once you've settled on a faction and you've honed your survival skills, you can then sit back and witness one of Risen's most enjoyable aspects. As time advances, you'll have a scores of opportunities to accrue miscellany and bump up your wealth. With a fatter wallet comes superior equipment, which in turn leads to a longer lifespan, extra notches manifesting on your belt, and expedited level-building. Before you know it, your near-drowned street rat will be donning glimmering armor, felling ghouls and immense scorpions with finesse, and completing quests like a hardened war hero. Truly this is what Risen is all about. Never mind its instances of wooden voice acting (with the exception of terrific performances from John Rhys-Davies and Andy Serkis) or rare crashes. Risen is about the protagonist's dynamic shift from an almost-dead nobody into a force to be reckoned with.

Risen (PC) image

Perhaps my second favorite facet of Risen is its combat system. The game utilizes a control scheme similar to any third-person action title on PC, using WASD for movement and the mouse for battle. With simple clicks, you can generate combos and charge up crushing blows, all while occasionally raising your shield to negate damage. In other words, Risen's combat system is nothing new (read: it's intuitive). However, it's very well implemented in that victory is not determined by how quickly you can mash the left mouse button. Doing that will only get you killed, even by the simplest of foes. Remaining alive requires you to watch your adversaries, utilize side steps and parries--both of which take some practice--and strike your opponents when the chance arises. This becomes vital in the latter half of the campaign, because lizardmen gifted in swordsmanship become a ubiquitous threat. That the game doesn't allow you to easily walk away with victories reinforces its survival aspects. It only permits warriors with at least a moderate amount of talent to live.

If there's any complaint I have with Risen, it's that you can become nearly undefeatable. Since the game is at its best when you're eking out a living and slowly maturing, you can only imagine that it's not quite as entertaining once you're the alpha dog. Victories cease to be major achievements, and looting no longer brings the joy it once did. Honestly, though, this is a minor complaint, especially when you consider this damaging sense of megalomania doesn't rear its head until nearly the end of the campaign. Risen is thoroughly enjoyable thanks to its challenging--but not cheap--difficulty rating and fantastic use of an uncomplicated combat system. Suffering through a few hours of tedium is a worthy trade-off for a few dozen hours of greatness.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 25, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted December 29, 2014:

I'm not sure how I missed this first time around (I caught it this time via a hyperlink on a draft in the production room) but it's a solid review for a game I have no small amount of affection towards. The best part about it is that I can finally say "Man, how awesome was it the first time you realised that you could go back and kill one of those bloody ghouls) and someone will finally know what I'm talking about.

I see more Risen's have, ahem, risen, but I'd want to go back and beat this one anew before moving on to the next and I'm never confident I have enough time tucked away to pull it off. Who else would cover already twice covered NES atrocities?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 31, 2014:

Thanks! I plan to play all of the Gothic and Risen games at some point, and review them all here, despite the lower marks that Risen 2 and 3 have garnered.

Going back and butchering things that kicked my ass the first time really was satisfying in this one. I especially loved that they didn't respawn, so it was like the beating they took was final.

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