Risen 2: Dark Waters Hands-On Preview – Who Do You Voodoo?
Written Monday, February 27, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
There are two fundamental, inarguable truths in life: everyone loves pirates and everyone loves monkeys. On that basis, Risen 2: Dark Waters might just be the best game ever made, as it includes oodles of both, all washed down with a hefty swig of rum and plenty of salty language. In fact, when one of the first lines we're greeted with during our hands-on is “I see you're out of your wanking pit, you pig-shagging landlubber!”, (albeit repeated ad infinitum) you know you're in for a treat.
Playing once more as Risen's 'Nameless Hero' running around Tacarigua - one of Risen 2's multiple islands - we're first tasked with impressing Captain Steelbeard so that we can join up with his motley band of pirates and presumably sail the seven seas while getting it on with his daughter, Patty. Trouble is, it's not enough to simply do just one thing to impress the grizzled old buccaneer, as he's a demanding old sod. Besides, we're distracted by a drinking mini-game that requires you direct your drunken hand with the left analogue stick and knock back bottles with the push of a button, as you get increasingly sozzled making it more and more difficult.
After losing the challenge several times, we press on with the quests in our logbook, which involve gathering rum, attempting to unlock a sealed treasure chest and following a dodgy pirate turncoat named Meeks and killing a weird sea monster known only as the 'Sunken One'. Incidentally, winning the drinking challenge also earns you a map for Steelbeard: just one of the many things you have to do to impress him. Like any RPG worth its salt though, there's a myriad distractions like these that conspire to tear you away from the beaten path, whether it's picking flowers and berries or slaughtering the native fauna with your cutlass. You can also walk around the village and chew the fat with the locals, who'll teach new skills like smithing, increased toughness or combat upgrades in exchange for gold.
We also pick a lock, steal some loot and kill a few innocent vendors in the dockside town, before moving on to another of Risen 2's islands, which consists of dense jungle, waterfalls and towering ancient temples. At this point in the story, we're on board with Steelbeard, Patty and his crew, so following the pair through the jungle, we're tasked with slaying vicious blue claw monkeys before going off on our own to infiltrate the native Shaganumbi tribe and bring down the Inquisition bluecoats with a little bit of voodoo. It's during this section that there's actually a choice to be made in Risen 2 that'll ultimately shape the way in which you'll play the game and the skills you'll have access to. To voodoo, or not to voodoo? That is the question.
Touching base with the natives, we have to gain their trust by first completing a few quests, including finding misplaced bags of plants and herbs, before then entering the Shaganumbi camp where a missing member of the tribe needs releasing from an Inquisition prison. On the path to rescue the imprisoned native, we encounter the Inquisition guard who we can either complete a quest for, or ignore completely. Choosing to press on, we free the captive and continue the Shaganumbi questline, killing the bluecoat guard and failing the attached Inquisition objective in the process. In Risen 2, you can side with either the native tribe or the Inquisition and get accompanying abilities added to your skills, but with the Shaganumbi promising voodoo magic, we're hooked.
Escorting the freed tribe member back to camp, we must first recover a valuable and powerful voodoo idol before returning, and it's here that we get sidetracked and decide to explore the jungle for a bit. The foliage is remarkably dense and lush, but in this preview code there's a lot of pop-up and the occasional instance of lag that makes running through the swaying grass and vibrant green leaves a little less pleasurable and attractive than it ought to be. However, we're assured that this is Piranha Bytes' primary focus at the moment, with the visuals being continually polished and optimised as we speak. There are aesthetic touches that we're hoping will be added, including splishy-splashy water effects and rain among other things, and we're told that the final game will look as good as you'd hope.
Even in its current state, Risen 2 still looks pretty good though, yet it's evident that there's some way to go before it'll look exceptional. And as Risen 2 plays pretty well, features distinctive characters, some humorous dialogue and the requisite RPG depth, the graphics let it down despite being a marked improvement over the console port of its predecessor, which wasn't exactly a looker. Slashing through the undergrowth, carving up exotic firebirds, more monkeys, giant termites, warthogs and vicious jaguars however, we soon forget the current graphical shortcomings and enjoy the multi-directional combat, which enables you to deploy a parrot as a distraction, whip out a flintlock pistol, throw salt into an enemy's eyes or just slice away with your trusty sword, getting a slow-mo payoff for flashy kills. It's yet another improvement over the first Risen and further indication that the sequel should be a step in the right direction.
Upon returning to the Shaganumbi settlement, we're tested with some questions and a duel with the entrance's guardian Samir in the Temple of Ancestors, where we also send our monkey to do some pilfering and lever pulling for us. Gaining entry to the temple, we set the idol down on its plinth and gain the powers of voodoo. This enables us to then create staffs for manipulating animals and enemies, or craft voodoo dolls and other useful trinkets imbued with mystical powers. You can use voodoo to make gorillas fight, or indeed have anything fight anything, unlocking masses of potential for mayhem with the right ingredients. We're curious what the Inquisition path in Risen 2 can offer players beyond better swords and guns, when voodoo offers so much.
Whichever path you choose to follow in Risen 2 though, you can have companions join your crew like Patty and voodoo priestess Chani, all of which can be accessed via your character menu that also lays out your skill tree, inventory and quest logbook. If Piranha Bytes can get the visuals up to snuff and tighten up the combat a little bit more, then Risen 2 seems to have all of the other RPG components pretty much nailed, making it one to keep an eye on. But it's the freedom of choice promised by Risen 2 that makes it an appealing prospect, as well as shades of Monkey Island in its themes, what with plenty of rum-swilling, pirates and monkeys galore. And everyone loves pirates and monkeys, right?
Risen 2: Dark Waters is out on April 24th in North America and April 27th in Europe.