REVIEWS -- Risen -- Xbox360
Risen is broken but functional, even appealing
by Florian Eberhorn
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy/Rent
There’s something rotten at the core of Risen. But, then again, the same can be said about cheese, and both are strangely addictive, the smell notwithstanding.
They call me the Castaway. And it has become the only name I know, here on this god-forsaken island. For the gods, they do have forsaken us. As we have forsaken them. And in vanquishing our gods, we unleashed something older and fouler and stronger into our world. Something has risen, like ancient ruins from the ground, brimming with evil. And it has rained destruction upon the earth with violent, unearthly storms. It was only this island that seemed to be spared the unholy wrath, and this was why the Inquisitor had tried to come here.
I was a stowaway on his ship, but the ship foundered in the storms, and I was washed ashore. I came to on a lonely beach, amidst the lifeless bodies of my former shipmates. But something was wrong. Firstly, it was dark. It should’ve been morning, but it was dark. Too dark. Trying to look too closely hurt my eyes. Secondly, there was something wrong with me. With my head, with my neck. Looking up and down did not pose a problem, but just slightly turning to each side, I found myself spinning in that direction with dizzying speed. It was quite annoying and soon gave me a slight headache. I looked for a way to change this, but my options were strangely limited. There was nothing I could do.
There also seemed to be foul magic about on this island. Whether it was mountains and trees in the distance, or small stones and plants just a few feet away, with my every step they seemed to blink in and out of existence. First it was there, then it was not. Bad Magic. As much as I whished in these first moments, that I had never washed up on this shore, now that I was here, I decided to try and make the best of it. And even if the dense jungle ahead of me did not look friendly or inviting, I could not remain here. I was clothed only in tatters. I had no food, no shelter. No gold. If I wanted to survive, I had to change all that.
As I divested the deceased of their earthly possessions, careful to only gingerly turn my head lest I wrench it from my neck, I found another survivor, a fellow stowaway called Sara. But something seemed wrong with her as well. Her head and body seemed stretched, malformed. Not necessarily unattractive, but… strange. Sill, as women all over the world would have it, she immediately commenced to order me around. Granted, she disguised her orders as helpful suggestions, and truth be told, helpful they were.
On her suggestion, I scavenged the beach, and amidst various sundries, I found a sword and shield to defend myself. Some of my other finds might have seemed useless, but you never knew when you needed something until you needed it, so I gathered whatever I could find. Luckily, I have a little magic of my own. It’s a pretty common enchantment, these bottomless pockets, but infinitely useful. Sadly, all my newly accosted possessions were no hindrance for the wormlike monstrosity that swallowed me whole, when, in my search for pearl-yielding mussels, I had mistakenly ventured too far off-shore. Curiously enough, the monster spat me right out again onto the beach, completely unharmed. Just to prove a point, I wandered once more into the deep waters, only to be swallowed and spat out again. And again, and again, and again, until a mystical, blinking green light in my head gave me an ill-deserved sense of achievement.
Shortly after, Sara and I ventured along a torch-lit path deeper into the lush tropical forest. As with other little details, the torches seemed to be magically lit as we closed upon them. It was not long before we encountered our first fight. There were creatures in our path, only some of them familiar, but all of them dangerous. They all fell before my might, eventually. It was not, however, easy. As I first drew my new, yet rusty, sword and small shield, advancing on a hungry sea vulture, I realized that I didn’t really know what to do now. Not completely. I knew how to block and how to strike. I also knew what to do to perform a counter-parry, yet I was sure I had not learned how to do that, yet. At this point, I wouldn’t have minded some additional instruction, whether it be from Sara or otherwise.
Finally, I had to stop and the world stopped around me, and I consulted the instruction scrolls to remember that I could also dodge out of my attacker’s way. That knowledge proved most useful, and it was enough to get my companion to the relative safety of an abandoned hut. Inside, I found a pan, and, hidden in a locked chest, some gold and potions. With the pan in hand, I made us some briefly fried meat on the fire, the meat taken from the animals I had slain on our way here. Since I was injured, but did not want to waste my healing potions or my food, I decided to sleep and heal in the hut’s bed. Sleeping also would have regained any of my Mana, my magical energy, but, my pants aside, I knew nothing of magic back then.
I slept until noon, and finally, with the sun up and shining, I could really see my surroundings. While Sara decided to stay behind, I wanted to look further inland. I told her that I’d be back. And I would be, later, but I sometimes wonder if things would have gone differently, even just a little, if I had decided not to. The path I have walked was not the only path there was, and frequently I had to face decisions that would have a definite and lasting influence on what has become of me. I might never know.
As I followed the path deeper into the island, slaying the solitary beasts in my way without much difficulty, I came upon an ancient ruin that, from the looks of it, had just recently risen from the ground. It was guarded by a pair of giant moths, and this is where I died my first death. Fighting a single enemy was not necessarily easy, but fighting more than one seemed to be a nightmare. As always, as soon as I had my weapon drawn and approached the creatures, I focused my attention on one of them and began circling my prey. But now that I had two targets, my ability to focus seemed confused, and I felt myself constantly shifting my attention from one to the other, or stuttering between, and it was this confusion that caused my death. I felt inept. Inadequate. I knew I was better than this. It was infuriating.
I had not chronicled my progress for a while, so when I came back to life, after an eternity of waiting, I had the unwelcome opportunity to refine both my fighting and my walking skills. Not that it prevented me from dying several more times before I finally encountered another person, a hunter named Jan, who told me more about the island and all its strange happenings. First, the ruins had come out of the ground, bringing along foul and vicious creatures. Then had come the storms, cutting the island off from the outside world. Now, the Inquisition has landed on the island, taking control of the Harbor City and the Monastery of the Mages’ Order. Only a handful of bandits, hunters and brigands, the men of Don Esteban, fight this alleged tyranny, but they had to withdraw from the city and take refuge in the ruins of an old temple, deep in one of the island’s swamps. He offered to take me to the bandits’ camp, and he warned me, quite insistently, about not going anywhere near the Order or the Inquisition, whose warriors would arrest me on sight, and force me into joining the Inquisitor’s cause.
Not knowing what to think, I let Jan lead me to the bandit camp, and there I spent my first few days. During my stay, as I performed several tasks (that did, more than not, involve fighting for my life) to gain the Don’s attention, I used every opportunity to talk and learn from the Don’s men. Truth be told, some of what they said did not make much sense, as if they were answering someone else’s questions. And sometimes, even though their lips moved, I could hear no words coming from their mouths. As I said before, Bad Magic. Still, I found my conversations to be quite entertaining, not the least due to my own considerable wit. And many of my new acquaintances were most helpful. Some could even teach me new skills, help me get stronger or more dexterous, or train me in fighting. That is, of course, as long as I had the necessary experience and enough gold to pay their “training fee”.
My choices of weapon were the sword, the staff and the axe, wherein axe-training also included any form of war hammer. Since I had learned from my previous encounters that it was preferable to have a shield handy, I decided to find my future in sword play, learning new attacks and counters. The staff might be powerful and quick, but, like the axes and hammers, it requires both hands. And even though I knew that with enough training I would eventually be able to handle even the mightiest Hammers and Axes with only one hand and a shield in the other, it would take quite some time -- and gold -- to reach that level. And I was unsure, if I would manage to endure that long.
As for attacking my enemies from afar, there was the choice of bow or crossbow. Actually, as one of the trainers put it, he preferred the crossbow to shoot fleeing enemies in the back. In all my time on this island, not once did an enemy run away from me. Which weapons I could wield, depended solely on my own skills: my strength -- for most melee weapons and the crossbow -- and my dexterity, which mostly only affected my proficiency with the bow. I could tell already that I had quite a ways to go, and no way at all to master more than two weapons, with the strength or dexterity to actually use their more powerful variations.
And there were other skills to master. The hunters taught me how to skin and gut animals, taking skins and trophies I could sell to merchants. From the bandit smith I learned the art of, what else, smithing. With the right equipment I could forge swords, better than most I could find or loot or buy, and even magical rings and amulets. The results, however, were predetermined, and I felt a certain lack of variety -- a lack of creativity. Even in the art of alchemy, there were only a few, set ways to brew potions from the ingredients I could harvest off the land. Of course, before I could brew one of these potions, I first had to find or buy a recipe. As with the smithing, the lack of creativity and experimentation came as quite a surprize.
As time went by, I started to wonder, when, if at all, I would be introduced into the mysteries of magic. In had already found magical scrolls in treasure chests and on the bodies of the slain, but any child can read a scroll, and, if necessary, infuse it with a little Mana. That is, if there were any children on the island. Nobody ever told me where they went. Unfortunately, as I found out, only Mages and Warriors of the Order are trained in the magic arts, which rapidly made me reconsider my allegiance with Don Esteban’s band of brigands. I would be able to eventually learn the art of scroll-writing, rendering any spell runes I acquired not completely useless, but the combat magic of fire, ice and projectile spells, the Magic of the elemental crystals, would forever be denied to a simple bandit. And as I continued my journey from the bandits’ swamp into Harbor Town, I soon realized that I had to make a choice.
But then, I made many choices, some for the better, others for the worse. I cannot and will not explain my choices any further. Only this much I may tell you: eventually, my path was set by my own actions, and I learned the truth about the ruins and the storms. I heard of gods and Titans, and of lizards that walk like men and had ruled the earth in the dawn before time. But I fear of spoiling too much. Suffice to say, that despite the broken and flawed world of which I tell, I found myself growing to like, if not love it. Still, as I write these notes in the hope of enticing another adventurer into making his own choices, I would be amiss in not leaving you with some of my personal insights and observations:
• Accept the world around you. In my journeys I saw wonders and weirdness, heard things I did not see, saw things I should have heard but couldn’t. I walked under lush and vibrant trees, and over stone faces that looked to be little more than flat coats of paint. I sneaked through shadowed caves in the flickering light of my torch. I experienced time itself stutter, freeze and jump, quite frequently at the most inopportune of moments. And I wondered about the strange deformities that had apparently afflicted the island’s womenfolk. But wondering was all I could do. And once I learned to accept it, I found peace.
• Be careful who you hit. In most of my early encounters with the island’s creatures, I contrived to draw my enemies close to my allies, and together we made short work of most of them. However, should I accidentally hit one of my allies, they would subsequently turn against me. There was no way for me to apologize or explain the accident. Luckily, as opposed to monsters and such, fights like these never end in death, merely unconsciousness, but an unconscious person cannot stop another from taking everything that’s in their pockets…
• The enemy of your enemy is not your friend. While I explored the island and its many caves and ruins, I noticed something very peculiar. Despite their very open animosity to my own person, the creatures seemed to have no problem with each other, and I witnessed packs of hungry wolves placidly pacing next to a group of wild boars, or Lizard Warriors running right by great, ashen beasts without so much as a passing glance. As it seemed, the creatures would often act contrary to their own nature. Or maybe it was the Risen that told them the only real threat came from me and my allies.
• Know your limitations. Not everything in this world might function as it should or as you might expect it. It will take an excruciating period of trial and error for the unprepared to learn their own limits. So be prepared. In the same venue, just because you can attack something, does not mean you should. I had to learn pretty quickly, that until I could wield more powerful weapons and armor, some forces should not be mettled with. Do it at your own risk, and don’t say I didn’t warn you so.
• Chronicle your progress. Do it often; do it regularly. Do it before every fight. Do it after every fight. It will take time and it will be unnerving, but it will be worth the effort, if you can deign to spare it.
• Finally, even though much has remained unsaid, I implore you to be gracious and patient. There will be more flaws to discover, more imperfections. But if you can find the heart and patience to overcome these obstacles, you might still see the diamond, for all its flaws.
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Piranha Bytes / Wizarbox
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: October 1, 2009 (EU)
Review Date: 19-10-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Xbox Live
It was fascinating to see graphical excellence and embarrassments so blithely meshed together. Fascinating, and it gave me a headache.
Read the manual. Study the manual. Be prepared. It’s not half bad, when you know what to expect, and once you get it, it won’t let go. Until you get it, however…
I would categorize this unpolished console port to still be “in production” -- it really should still be in production. Everything seems to be in its place, but not completely there.
If it works, it’s great. It’s a big “If”, though.
It is quite possible that after hours of seemingly frustrating gaming, you`ll discover that you’ve either grown to like the pain or, indeed, the game. And you’ll keep coming back for more.