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Risen 2: Dark Waters preview: Murky depths


There's an interesting trend lately of hardcore PC RPGs coming out of Europe, of which The Witcher 2 is only the latest and greatest so far. One of the earliest entries in this sort of splinter genre was 2001's Gothic, a game that was extremely popular among its European audience despite being the first title put together by German developers Pirahna Bytes.

After a few Gothic sequels, the company introduced a new Pirate-themed RPG a few years ago called Risen and, this past week at E3, introduced that game's sequel to all of us. Just like the rest of this crop of European RPGs, Risen 2 seems a quality RPG wrapped in a not-so-great game.

The graphics are definitely better, and the controls are a little more usable than they were (Deep Silver, who's publishing the game, went so far as to show off bugs in the last version to the press just to make clear how much better the sequel was). But in the end, Risen 2 seems like it will have all of the pluses and minuses that this type of RPG always seems to have.

Gallery: Risen 2: Dark Waters (E3 2011) | 14 Photos

If you enjoyed the first Risen, then you'll probably love Risen 2 -- the graphics are significantly more colorful and vibrant, the fighting is more organic, and the stories and factions that were in the first game are back in the second, still allowing you to do more and explore the world.

The one major change we got to see was that Pirahna Bytes has abandoned the sword-and-shield idea, and instead gone for a dual wield setup, letting you put a gun in one hand and a sword in the other. But even that isn't really necessary -- the whole point of a game like this is that you can do what you want, so if you want to just hack and slash or just shoot from a distance, that's viable as well.

Which sounds good in theory, but in practice, Risen 2 seems to fall back down to the realities of game development. While the graphics look better, the gameplay still looks as frustrating and inaccessible as all of these other hardcore RPG titles, with various monsters assaulting you as soon as you step out into the world, and lots of complicated mechanics with not a lot of direction.

I was told, for example, that you'd have your own ship, with faction companions on it that would open up new skills and abilities. But even just watching the gameplay showed me that there wasn't much explanation for that. And even things like combat came across as difficult and unclear, even without a controller in my hand.

There are those players, of course, for whom inaccessibility and difficult mechanics are actually selling points for a game, and those people will probably enjoy Risen 2 for both those things and for its undoubtedly complex story and dozens of hours of gameplay.

To those people, I begrudge nothing at all. Go forth, I say; enjoy your clumsy mechanics, and put up with your awkward user interfaces, all to explore a universe you enjoy. Risen 2 is set to come out next year, and there will be a console version (that has been crafted from the beginning of development to look and run better) to go along with it.

To the rest of you: I'll see you in Mass Effect 3.

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