Piranha Bytes' RPG Risen is getting a second chance in America. Originally released in Europe on October 2009, reviewers slammed the game as "unfinished and unrefined" and "a technical mess" -- for good reason, too. The original retail release of Risen on Xbox 360 was largely a "beta" version of the game.
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Four months later, Piranha Bytes is putting the true finishing touches to the game, and the improvement is immediately noticeable. The European game's framerate was inconsistent at best, but this revised version is -- dare we say it? -- playable. In fact, aside from the occasional hiccup, the experience is rather smooth. According to the developer, Risen now boasts higher resolution textures, denser vegetation, better lighting, sharper fonts and brightness controls. Visually, this is pretty much a different game altogether.
Unfortunately, that still doesn't place Risen in the same league as games like the graphically underwhelming Dragon Age Origins. This is still a visually dated product, but at least this time around, the game is playable.
It's hard to judge the quality of an RPG's gameplay in under an hour. However, the developers have assured us that improvements have been made here, as well. The controls have been changed for the US release, streamlined for a more "console-like" feel. The triggers attack and defend, while the face buttons can be mapped with items/magics/skills. The difficulty has been toned down as well, making it a bit easier for people to get into the game.
Risen definitely has a few attractive attributes that should appeal to the RPG junkie. There's a surprising attention to detail, something the game's facade makes hard to believe. Every action is seemingly tracked by the game, and although there is no overarching "morality" system, NPCs clearly respond to your actions. For example, if you're caught stealing from a woman's house, she will cry out for help. Even after leaving the area, the woman will not forget -- she will always hold a grudge against you. Every action an NPC can do, the player can do. Blacksmiths, for example, will have to heat and hammer metal and go through a multi-step process to forge new weapons. Players, should they pursue the craft, will be able to learn the process, step by step.
Eurogamer wrote in their original review that "there's clearly a really good RPG buried under all this technical mediocrity." With the improvements made to the US version, Risen has earned a second chance at proving itself. However, are these improvements enough to sway gamers still deep into Dragon Age Origins? We'll find out when the game releases February 25.