Risen 2: Dark Waters

Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2012 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

I decided to start Risen 2: Dark Waters right after the first game in the series, while I still had fresh memories about it. I bought it on Steam including all DLC, so there will also be something about those. One contains pirate clothes and two are actual adventures lasting about one hour each.

The title screen music was quite nice but also revealed that it wasn’t the same composer as in the previous game. In fact, a lot of things had changed. The nameless hero, now drunk in the beginning and without access to magic, had a big mullet and no longer resembled Wentworth Miller. His voice actor was also different. From a tower in the very tiny harbour town, Caldera, Commandant Carlos and our hero watched a medieval ship being trashed by a Kraken. The only survivor swimming ashore was Patty, the pirate daughter from the first game, and she also looked and sounded totally different.

Typical Piranha Bytes – no regard for continuity there. The Gothic series also had the same problems.

The interface was also handled quite differently in the sequel. There were absolutely no window panes anymore. All looting, inventory, attributes, logs and whathaveyou were shown in dark, separate screens. How very 2010’ish. Even looting a chest showed a separate screen, and looting corpses just grabbed whatever. Along with the vastly improved textures, sharp lighting and the larger font for dialogs, all the improvements made me think of a similar jump between the Two Worlds games. The first one was also crude in many areas that the second game improved upon in much the same way.

And this time they even allowed me to rebind the quicksave key.

However, this was still very much a Piranha Bytes game, for better and for worse. Same tough combat in the beginning (thankfully made easier by having Patty as a companion), same problems scraping up enough gold for training and equipment, same type of flowers to pick up, same excessively babbling dialog that I often just had to skip through, and the same dark and cramped dungeons where a torch in one hand was often indispensable. And there were the oddities, like how trees “sprouted” their fauna on their branches as I got closer to them.

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But after a while it was also obvious that a low budget had still had a big say in this sequel. There was no real intro, for example. It was just text on a dark background and a narrator. Models were improved and seemed to have more animations, but they still had firm eyeballs and the gesticulation during dialog was way too elaborate. And lip sync was a complete joke. The Muppet Show had better lip sync.

And cripes, that cursed thunder storm again, with multiple lightning and rumbles almost every second.

On the plus side, there were a lot of smaller improvements in other areas. Human models would align correctly on slopes and stairs. Waterfalls looked very convincing, with a lot of damp clouds all over the place. Tips about keys to press popped up from time to time. Companions could join on a ship as I met them, and they all had comments and banter both on the ship as well as when one of them tagged along and I spoke to an NPC. Thank you, BioWare, for the inspiration.

But even though companions had comments about some quests (even several long sentences) not all could be freely chosen to bring along from the ship. Some just had a comment and didn’t follow it up with a command for joining. Especially Eldric was a lazy bastard. Out of the up to six companions that joined my crew, I used Patty and Venturo the most. All of them had battle shouts when an animal attacked, and Venturo’s was something in the line of, “I got your back, John!”

John!? Is that my name? I thought I was supposed to be nameless?

Conversely, NPC gossip on the streets was far too simple. Often just the same sentence repeated ad infinitum. It also didn’t fade out well as I walked away. It just sort of held the level and then cut off. It was really grating and it made me want to get away faster.

After reading up on the game, especially about the two faction choices, it was clear to me that I wanted to go with the pirates and their guns. The natives on the islands offered voodoo, but I learned that their magic is actually somewhat disappointing. So, guns. I also read that it would be very prudent to steal as much as possible, which I reckon is much in line with the pirate setting anyway, so once again I went against my usual role playing nature and used both sneaking and pickpocketing.

Down at the beach in Caldera, I tried walking out to the edge of the low water. I was shown a black screen and then sent backwards about 10-20 meters. That big ass sea worm from the first game must have wanted too big a fee this time around. Or maybe it was hired to play the Kraken instead. Priorities.

Levels had been abandoned for endless glory which was technically still just XP. A bunch of thousands could be used on blades, firearms, toughness, cunning and voodoo. This increased the section of choice not only for effectiveness, but also to gain access to specific NPC training options for gold. These options had their own specialized sections such as dirty tricks, power attack, silver tongue, and so forth. It worked reasonably well. I focused mostly on firearms but also increased some cunning to make sure I could pick pockets, open locks, and sneak inside houses without being asked to piss off.

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And there were noticeable improvements within the area of minigames. Especially lockpicking. The developers must have been aware that the left/right lockpicking in the first game was lacking because it was improved considerably with a tumbler minigame, sliding a lockpick on spring pins. In the beginning, with locks of only four pins, I thought it was underwhelming as I just went in and out and all the pins got up. As more advanced locks of six and eight pins came along, I got their idea. Pins requires the correct neighbor up to stay up which makes it necessary to move the pick in and out in specific patterns. I actually thought it was an okay lockpick minigame. Not the best I’ve seen, but it kind of made sense in the setting of these old medieval locks.

Among other minigames were for example a drinking contest against a bloke on the other side of a table. Half a dozen bottles are lined up and I had to grab each one to drink it. Each swig made the whole thing even more blurred and uncontrollable, and bottles could tip over. Another minigame was just the good old shooting gallery with a pistol, shooting targets as they rushed in from the left side of the screen. Pickpocketing was pretty much the same as in the first game and thus not really a minigame. A gate of my thievery stats determined whether a dialog choice was possible or not. If it was possible, I always got the loot without the NPC suspecting anything.

One thing I absolutely didn’t like were the death traps. I first found these in dungeons after grabbing an idol followed by a rumbling sound. Going back, I was cut in half by a swinging axe trap. I did see a hotkey I had to press too. Maybe. I believe it was shown in the time it takes an electron to do one orbit around its atom. Later I also stumbled upon spear traps in the grass outside. All of them absolutely required a quickload actually knowing about it or it was virtually impossible.

But I liked the focus on the loud sound effects. It actually made me think of Dragon’s Lair – not a lot of QTE in PC games manages to do that for me anymore.

Another QTE was when attacked by a cat creature such as a jaguar or a panther. If I didn’t manage to keep it at bay, it would fling me on my back. I then had to abuse the jump key to escape and get back on my feet. It was never difficult, just a little annoying.

The game was spread out over about half a dozen smaller islands, and the layout of the islands were dominated by ravines and areas that actually made me think of the first Guild Wars game (only without the excessive invisible walls). Sometimes it was possible to climb a cliff and cut a corner, and the game would of course allow that. There were also step-by-step edges to climb here and there in the landscape again, and it was wonderful now being able to climb them without getting stuck in the graphics as I did all the time in the first game. Most edges didn’t really reveal much, though. Maybe I found a tiny pool of loot on top and that was that.

And again there were treasure chests to dig up from red crosses.

Sometimes it was possible to use a small rowboat on an empty beach to sort of jump to another part of beach on the same island. It didn’t really make much of a difference and I didn’t use it much. There was no rowing animation, the screen just faded to black and loaded the destination.

One thing that was conspicuously simplified, that I imagine some gamers might find too lazy, was provisions. Instead of apples, bananas, meat, berries and their hundreds of variations, all that kind of food just amalgamated into one icon for provisions. Clicking that on my action bar then regenerated my health slowly. I was fine with that. Saved me from looking up food icons in my inventory. It was still possible to cook meat at a campfire, but all kinds of meat became the same provisions.

Immediate health recovery (now called blood) came from bottles of alcohol.

The combat actually didn’t feel that tough in the first session, but as mentioned Patty helped a lot. She had abilities I didn’t have yet, such as kicking. Even so, the fights against three or more animals were often chaotic. I don’t think Patty had any kind of skills for holding aggro. Sometimes one of the creatures just starting running for me just because of the way I looked at it. Most animals attacked head on or in groups. The gray claw monkeys were easy when they started strafing in circles. They forgot to attack and I could cut their health down without trouble. Not too surprisingly, humans were the worst in close combat.

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Not having any blade skills yet, it was pretty much just stabbing and dodging. I’ve read that dodging was added in a patch after gamers complained about this missing, but it honestly didn’t feel like it mattered all that much. In spite of excessive rolling around I still got hit a lot. Later, I bought a musket called “Shotgun” but I could barely even hit the planet I was walking on, and I also had the same problem throwing coconuts. More skill was clearly required.

I liked the way guns were conveyed, though. A big, flat “BLAFF!” with lots of smoke, and a few seconds of cooldown for slow reloading.

Later – a bit too much later for my taste – I learned the kick myself to keep enemies at bay, but it didn’t work well. It used the same key as for jumping and I had way too many situations where my hero just carelessly jumped upwards instead of delivering the lifesaving kick he was supposed to. I thought it was me doing something wrong and tried to use direction keys together with it, but although it did seem to help a little, it was never consistent. After a while I just stopped bothering with it.

Blade combat was often involuntarily funny as I hacked a few times in the air after the critter was all dead.

With more glory (XP) and merchants, firearms became considerably better – maybe even a little overpowered. It didn’t take long before I had a double-barreled musket for twice the fire rate, and it ate a good chunk of health out of almost any enemy I met. A companion to tank for me, possible with me dodge-rolling behind him or her, and a couple of shots or three from my musket. Done deal, and no friendly fire to worry about. And if the enemy still got too close, I could smack it back with the butt of my musket. I liked it a lot better than fighting with blades. I used this for most of the fights in the rest of the game.

Enemies were hogs, apes, cats, alligators, strange sand creatures almost all teeth, giant crabs with a turtle shell, termites looking like a walking “C”, grave spiders, giant spiders, some kind of water zombie, ghouls, giant crawling bats, and more. There were also a lot of gargoyles, possibly only connected to one of the DLC. The cats were panthers and jaguars. Apes were easy gray monkeys, dark blue monkeys that had a little too much health or hardiness for my liking, and occasionally a rare gorilla.

I didn’t really like the way the beach critters – sand devils and giant crabs – just popped out of the sand almost close enough to lift me up in the air. Sand devils were amazingly fast. They could probably give a cheetah a run for its money. Giant crabs could be kicked over on their shell, but somehow they managed to get back on their feet after a few seconds. I just wish they were both always present at a distance. I like to know what I’m getting up against.

Spoiler: Click

The tiny harbour town Caldera merely served as a starting point and Patty and I was brought via a ship to the first actual island, Tacarigua. It honestly didn’t feel that big and the thing with areas and ravines put a limit to the exploration. It turned out that most islands in the game were built like this.

Map

But after acquiring a few quests, we were off exploring and killing.

One of the quests was about getting a shirt to cover my upper body, as Patty had trashed all my Inquisition clothes. Our nameless hero was on a covert mission to infiltrate the pirates and learn about a way to deal with the titans. He already looked the part with an eye patch after having lost an eye to the tainted ocular from the first game. Ouch.

I even had a set of pirate clothes from one of the DLC, but the game wouldn’t allow me to put it on until I was a true pirate. I actually had to buy some clothes to begin with. At least I could put on a ring with 5% extra XP gain that was also part of the pirate clothes DLC.

There were a bit too many escort quests in the beginning. Even Steelbeard himself led me to the first Moluccas camp, populated by African style natives with funny accents and exorbitant body paint. It was as if the quest NPC didn’t really trust my ability to find stuff myself. Here, let me show you. There it is. Now do your thing. Do you want me to guide you back as well? Luckily not all islands were permeated with this stuff, but even the last major area on Maracai Bay had a few more. The escort system was of the kind where the NPC waits for you if you fall behind to fetch a flower, then asks you to hurry up as you return.

I found a cute trick to deal with the pesky thunder storm on the Sword Coast. In the harbour town, Puerto Isabella, there was a ship docked that I wasn’t allowed to enter yet. If I approached it, a guard told me to buzz off. At this point, the developers seemed to use the exact same code as when running too far out towards the sea. The screen went black and I was sent backwards about 10-20 meters. For some strange reason, the weather was also reset as the screen faded back in. This could replace the repulsive thunder storm with a sunny sky in an instant. I abused this quite a lot.

The adventures on the Sword Coast concluded with me gathering four soldiers from the Inquisition to fight Captain Crow and a big titan boss in the Earth Temple. One of the soldiers was Venturo, who would later become one of my ship mates. Another one had lost his musket and I had to go through a surprisingly long detective quest chain in order to get it back first. The confrontation with Crow and his minions was introduced with a few nice cutscenes. Crow summoned a titan boss with his spear.

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Luckily all the humans, including Crow himself, were pushovers and died fast. The titan boss, however, which was some kind of enormous stone golem, took quite a while to get down. It had one of those soft spots that sometimes opened up, and I then had to carefully throw Crow’s spear inside. There were a lot of kiting and most of my four soldier companions just kind of stood there, not knowing what to do. Finally I got the boss down and it was back to tranquility. I started clicking the soldiers, one by one, to hear what they had to say about it. I think only Venturo actually had a pertinent comment.

Sancho, one of the other soldiers, just looked at the dead titan and said, “I’m hungry.”

Steelbeard got the news and was jolly, as Patty and I joined him for a walk down to the beach. Then the sea bitch, Mara, who was the big baddie of the entire game, appeared and impaled Steelbeard in a telekinetic stunt. He died after a few last words to Patty and our nameless hero. These cutscenes were actually quite nice – even touching. Certainly not what I expected from Piranha Bytes. Steelbeard was buried close by and then Patty and I had to go steal a ship.

Of course arriving to Antigua had to be accompanied by that blasted thunder storm. I tried sleeping it off on the ship, but even after hundreds of hours of sleep it was still crackling on outside. I then gave up and collected quests in the harbour town. After talking to Admiral Alvarez, the thunder storm finally settled down. I wonder if that was a coincidence or if a weather trigger was connected to his dialog?

I liked the bartender in the harbour town. He actually had a line that made me laugh out loud enough for my neighbors to detect. I initially also liked Captain Slayne. He later turned out to be a betrayer on the Isle of Thieves, isolating me inside a cave with a timely bomb. I then found him back on Antigua later, challenged him, and killed him fast with a few musket blasts to his face.

Don’t take a blade to a musket fight, Slayne.

Isle of Thieves was surprisingly dense with quests and points of interest given its relatively small size. I met a clan of gnomes with quests, one of which had a pirate captain’s hat and became another ship mate. He had learned his English from other pirates and it showed. Almost every single sentence was fucking this or that. “Fuck yes!” was frequently aired. He was also a master thief.

One of the quests on Isle of Thieves was about killing a gnome-eating boss that looked like an amalgamation of teeth and muscle. It was one of the most difficult enemies to deal with in the entire game. Apart from having a ton of health, he had the ability to snatch my weapon of choice with his long tongue. When my trusty musket went away like that, I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

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Sword! Two or three hacks. Snatched too. Inventory! Where did I leave that other blade I looted recently? Hack, hack! Also snatched. Inventory! What do I have left? Ah, the titan spear. Let’s try that. Luckily he didn’t snatch it and I finally managed to hand him his ass. I then looted him to get all my weapons back.

Developers, please don’t force me to reposition weapons on my action bar after something like this.

Antigua was also the first island where I discovered gargoyles. They were strangely easy to kill, compared to how big and nasty they looked. A few musket shots each. I found the bearded druid Eldric from the first game, and together we visited Storm Island and killed a lot more gargoyles. This was one of the two meaty DLC. As such I guess it was okay. A small, secluded island, somewhat damp and misty, with geysers to seal with ointment from gargoyle eggs, and a very nice blade to loot in the small temple at the end. Eldric then revealed that more gargoyles had to be killed on all the other islands. Typically three or six on each.

But oh, Eldric, it was really sad to see you just using a sword and nothing else.

There was a trip back to Caldera, the tiny starter harbour I thought was just that. Turned out there was a little bit of town behind a gate as well. To get inside the parliament here, I had to impersonate a messenger. A typical quest chain in the game. One of the steps were about putting on a messenger suit. This fooled me into thinking there was a bug regarding the change of clothes because the messenger suit was almost the same as the black pirate suit I was already wearing – only slightly brighter.

Only much later in the game, after having been slapped by a ton of animals, did I notice that I was still wearing the weak sauce messenger outfit. D’oh!

I was impressed with the amount of quests, dialog and story on Maracai Bay. This is a late game island we’re talking about. Too often this is the point where an RPG developer starts slacking – maybe introducing a much more linear streak of battles. But not here. The harbour temple gave the wrong first-hand impression. Another village with natives popped up to the south, and it was swarming with quests. I had to do a quest chain as a trainer for a chief candidate, where I actually did all the work for the lazy bastard. One of the tasks was about finding a trail of feather signs in the jungle. And an expedition of Inquisition folks were also camping in the village, led by one Corrientes. They didn’t have all that much to say yet. It all seemed fine and dandy. Lots of stuff to check out.

Some of the duels with natives were sheer Indiana Jones. Again, don’t bring a blade to a musket fight.

Soon I had to find a way to bypass a fire barrier in a small dungeon to reach a seemingly important temple in the south western corner of the Maracai Bay area. I examined a few small temples to put three idols back for a guardian, and in one of these, a bunch of half naked pirates and natives had been killed and stripped off their clothes. Not long after, a twist came which I admit I actually didn’t see coming. All the Inquisition people were the actual pirates led by the bad ass Captain Garcia, whom I had been looking for all the time. And at this point came a questionable piece of game design I really believe the developers should have reconsidered.

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The thing is, I had this revelation when talking to a shaman a small distance outside the village. Corrientes (now known as Garcia) and half a dozen of his men were camped inside the village of the natives, and the natives themselves were also more than half a dozen. What would you have done? I did the only thing I believed made sense – ran back to the camp and confronted Garcia. And as soon as he knew that I knew, him and all his men attacked. All of the natives still believed he was Corrientes and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. So they too attacked – me! And Venturo, who was my companion. And Bones, a crazy, half naked weirdo who had just agreed to also be a part of my crew. Three guys against over a dozen pirates and natives in one very chaotic fight. Spears thrown, shooting from all corners, hacking, slashing.

I managed to brute force through by swigging a lot of rum and grog for instant healing. Good thing I had accumulated so many of those. A powerful musket and a low difficulty setting helped me, but I imagine that a lot of other gamers got stuck here. When the fight was over, all the pirates were dead – including Garcia. All of the natives just got up and continued as nothing had happened. They even had the same jolly dialog as before.

Never mind. I got a liquid from the dead body of Garcia to be gulped by the fire barrier. I could then enter the dungeon behind it. It led to an open space with a lot of the toughest kinds of animals. Finally, the temple. Boss time! Maybe even a big titan? I ran inside… and found absolutely nothing. Just a small room. No doors. No secret handles. Nothing! It smelled like one of the showstopping kind of bugs. I tried reloading, traveling, going back, everything. The temple was still just empty.

I then quit to read up on this on the internet. Remember that shaman I visited outside the village, where I got the revelation that Corrientes was in fact Garcia? What the developers expected me to do was to immediately go to the fire barrier. Two of Garcia’s men would have been waiting there, and after killing them, Garcia himself would have been waiting inside that temple. It made sense regarding what the purpose of the temple was, and I guess it would also have been a much easier fight since the natives from the village wouldn’t have been around.

But why would I ever want to go straight to the fire barrier? I knew Garcia was waiting in the village!

Never mind. I started the game and recited a password to a dungeon gate on an earlier island – a password I had read about on Garcia’s ship by the beach in Maracai Bay. The dungeon revealed the last piece of titan weaponry needed to fight Mara, and that got the wheel spinning again.

There never was any showstopper.

Next, it was necessary to talk to the ghost of Steelbeard to learn the location of the water temple, where it was believed that Mara could be found. The Isle of the Dead led to the Underworld here by collecting a few plants and dusts for a potion to fake death after a nap on an altar bed. The area on this island was small, dark and ominous, and kind of reminded me of a mix between Myst and one of the zones in Mines of Moria, the great expansion to Lord of the Rings Online.

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The switch to the Underworld was a little cheap, however. It was just the exact same area all over again, only with much brighter and sunnier lighting, and green leaves on the previously dead trees. Instead of angry ghouls, guardians and hunters there were four natives lost in limbo that I had to help out with small quests. This gave me a Skull Sceptre that the gatekeeper Tao could use to call upon Steelbeard. He arrived on his big ship floating in the air, with a typical green tint.

It was impossible not to think of LeChuck here.

But Steelbeard was not really himself. He had memory problems and also trouble accepting that he was truly dead. Luckily he did remember the location of the water temple.

The ship was attacked by the Kraken on the way there, and it quickly turned into a very typical boss fight. I was on the deck of the ship and constantly had to check both sides to see where the Kraken would emerge from the water. It had two kinds of attacks. Either slapping with its big tentacles with me doing a dodge roll, or it opened its mouth for me to throw my titan spear into. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It wasn’t really hard and I never felt in real danger.

The Kraken turned into Mara and swam ashore on the tiny island with the water temple. There was virtually nothing to explore here at all. My ship arrived, my crew killed a handful of nasty enemies, and I ran straight inside the temple to an arena with Mara waiting. And this is where it got really ridiculous.

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No, not like that. Not like the boss fight was incredibly difficult and I shook the wall with cursing. It was actually the completely other way around this time. I barely went in, shot my musket a few times while backpedaling, and that was it! This was followed by a cutscene of John… I mean the nameless hero, stabbing Mara to death, the body turning into stone, and a final kick smashing it to bits.

It was probably one of the easiest end game boss fights I have ever witnessed.

Before the game rolled its credits, I had a small talk with each of my crew mates. Jaffar, the cursing gnome, received Steelbeard’s hat as thanks. I just had a friendly word with the other companions. Again, BioWare. But I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff anyway, so I guess it was okay.

Probably the craziest thing about the entire game were those quicksaves. I’ve seen a few variations in my gaming time. Some games have had a few files in rotation, but most of the time it’s just one file. But here, I had a separate file for every single quicksave I ever did. With me being one of the most incessant save-a-holics in gaming history, it was inevitable that I would end up with almost 6 GB of quicksave files.

But I don’t care. If there’s a quicksave option in a game, I will always abuse it. Excessively.

Version: Steam | Length: 29 hours 17 minutes

5 comments on “Risen 2: Dark Waters

  1. Hmm, might have to try the game at some point, I think it’s in my Steam backlog… Anyways, your comment about the save files made me think of the original Witcher game. That game had huge save files and every quick and autosave got a new, separate file; you could easily have 3-6gb of saves after a playhrough….

  2. I had to purge the list of quicksaves to prepare the archive with manual saves for my page with save games. To make sure I didn’t botch this, I used the in-game delete function for every single quicksave. It took forever to do. 😀

    I’ve just started playing Risen 3: Titan Lords (might as well) and thank goodness it’s got only three quicksaves in rotation. Phew!

  3. Did you removed the “reply to comment” feature? Anyways, ingame save archives these days seem to be getting worse and worse; seems that for some reason more often than not these days you can’t even name your saves, so if you have this “Just before huge split decision” save you might want to return to you’ll have to figure out which day you created it and which zone you were in, since you can’t just save the game as “Huge decision #37”

  4. Fortunately Piranha Bytes seems to agree since you can name your saves in all three of the Risen games. Personally I’ve really warmed up to auto saving in newer games. It’s actually quite nice to sort of forget about saving and just let the game handle it all for me.

  5. Yes, autosaving is nice, especially if it keeps a few “revisions” (maybe 10 would be a good number), in case you screwed something up earlier on (disenchanted the Spear of Destiny :p). But I still also want to be able to create specific named saves for those really big game moments in case I at some point just want to jump back and “relive” those.

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