It's remarkable how much sense pirates make as a theme for a roleplaying game. While all the pursuit of glory and riches never entirely sat comfortably with the concept of playing as a noble hero selflessly setting out to save the world, mercenary behaviour is piratey through and through. It's primarily for this reason that swashbuckling RPG Risen 2 isn't the outright disaster it often threatens to be.

A name and a fantasy setting is just about all that Risen 2 shares with its 2009 predecessor. While that was a strange, cruel and often incredibly ambitious roleplayer with a wide range of decisions and consequences, (if one that collapsed into tedium in its second half), Risen 2 sails close to action gaming conventionality. Tasks and quests are generally completed in one fixed way rather than organically coming up with your own solution to them, there's rarely an option to overcome obstacles without resorting to open combat and the storyline doesn't offer any meaningful branching. It's hard not to see Risen 2's straightfowardness as being a sap to commerciality, but in fact that's okay: an indulgent pseudo-Pirates of the Caribbean adventure is no bad thing.

Trouble is that giant Kraken, malevolent sea gods, voodoo rituals and wisecracking salty seadogs aren't all Risen 2 has in common with Captain Jack Sparrow's exploits. Like the later Pirates films, Risen 2 is bloated, over-long, obsessed with plot-resolving mystic items of legend and doesn't know when to shut up and get on with things.

It's a long game, likely to chew up in the region of 40 hours depending on how much time you spend on the (generally tedious) sidequests and trying to max-out your character, but unfortunately a huge chunk of this is pure flab. There's an absurd amount of not terribly interesting conversation, all of which involves watching characters with semi-static faces and an all too obviously limited repertoire of animations. The writing isn't bad, there's just far too much of it and far too much of it is exposition or vaguely grating humour. It's all fully-voiced, which just seems like a crazy waste of the game's budget. Less talking would have made a tighter, more dramatic game as well as freeing up cash for better setpieces or not having to reuse the same dozen or so character models again and again.

 Risen 2: Dark Waters

As it is, the ratio of being entertained to being bored is way off, with far too much time spent listening or performing menial chores and way too little spent feeling like a pirate hero. Combat difficulty is all over the place too, meaning frustration is regular. Despite a genuinely fascinating skill tree, the trouble is that the more interesting abilities such as having a pet monkey to steal stuff for you come at the expense of basic aptitude with swords and guns. Experience points and cash don't flow especially freely, so if you pour what you do get into Cunning or Voodoo, you'll find you're all too easy prey for the monsters, pirates and potentially divisively-portrayed 'natives' which roam the lush jungles and forests. A recent patch has addressed the peril somewhat, but there's still a disjointedness between the action movie plotting and the stop-start, quicksave-frenzy of the fighting.

Again, it's the pirate element that saves it. Rather than the usual fantasy RPG swords and spells tropes, Risen 2 sticks tightly to welcome piratical stereotypes such as cutlasses and pistols, impressive hats, pet monkeys and parrots and a general misanthropy from and towards everyone you encounter. It gives the game character and charisma, and that often offsets its other irritations.

Risen 2: Dark Waters: Specs

  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. PC system requirements: OS: Windows XP (with Servicepack 2) Processor: Dual Core with 2.1 GHz Memory: 2 GB System RAM Hard Disk Space: 5.5 GB Video Card: 512 MB Radeon 3870 / GeForce 8800 GTX DirectX®: 9.1c Sound: DirectX compatible soundcard Additional: Keyboard/mouse or gamepad required Internet Connection required for online activation
  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. PC system requirements: OS: Windows XP (with Servicepack 2) Processor: Dual Core with 2.1 GHz Memory: 2 GB System RAM Hard Disk Space: 5.5 GB Video Card: 512 MB Radeon 3870 / GeForce 8800 GTX DirectX®: 9.1c Sound: DirectX compatible soundcard Additional: Keyboard/mouse or gamepad required Internet Connection required for online activation

OUR VERDICT

Risen 2 just about avoids becoming a disaster, but it's a game very badly in need of editing - if it were somehow possible to release a director's cut that lost some of the bloat, rebalanced the combat and made the stealth and conversation skills more useful it would really be onto something. Instead, it's a game with a strong sense of where the right place to go was, but couldn't quite make it there.

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