Nov 19, 2010

Risen Review Follow-up

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I wanted to do a quick follow-up on my Risen review now that I've completed the game, the reason being that the game actually changes quite a lot after about the half-way mark. A lot of what I said in my first review rings true throughout the entire game, but there's easily more that could be said about it to get a more complete picture.

Risen belongs firmly in the camp of the old-school when it comes to game-play. This is something of a mixed blessing – although it's refreshingly different from most recent RPGs, some of the design decisions in the game come off as a little... let's say backwards. In one way, this gives it a hint of retro charm. On the other hand, sometimes these choices just come off as a little silly, or break some of the immersion of the game. These issues come more to the fore-front after the half-way point of the game, as it takes a fairly dramatic turn in style. I want to say straight up that I don't think any of this is particularly bad, but it's definitely worth some examination.

 The game is divided into four chapters, all of which have a distinct feel and pace. Generally speaking, the game slowly builds up momentum and the level of action increases over time. The game goes from a being very dialogue-focused at the beginning to being quite combat heavy in the last two chapters. This is actually very positive – it gives the game shape and variation, and stops it from becoming stale. The game is also just the right length. I finished it in about 30 hours on the hardest difficulty, and just as I was beginning to get a little tired of it, it was over. It didn't overstay its welcome, and it was long enough to provide a satisfying experience.

The change in pace of the game fits the story well – as things become more urgent, you begin progressing through the game much more quickly. During the first chapter, you don't even really know what the over-arching story is going to be about, and you accordingly spend a lot of time doing side-quests and exploring. In the second, you know a little bit, but there's no real urgency to get things done with quickly. You're a little more focused, but still feel like you have plenty of time to complete other tasks and enjoy the world. In the third and fourth chapters is when the game kicks into high-gear, and you try to resolve things as quickly as possible. If you're playing the way I did, you've normally completed most of the other content by this point and explored a majority of the game-world.

What this means is that the game avoids a situation where there's some kind of giant threat looming over the world, and you find yourself collecting groceries for the nice old lady down the road, because you want to experience all the content. Too many RPGs, I think, set up very detailed worlds with a lot of content, and then throw in a main quest line so urgent that it's impossible to justify doing anything else from an RP standpoint, meaning that it hurts immersion when you do decide to take a few side-quests.

I mentioned in my review that the game is very difficult. It actually gets a lot easier towards the end, but what I'm finding now that I've started a second play-through is that this mostly player-skill related. Although my character got a lot better, the main reason the game got easier was that I got much better at it towards the end. It's hardest mid-game, when it's transitioning from low-combat to heavy-combat, because you haven't had much time to practice fighting yet, really, and the game starts expecting you to do a lot of it. There's quite a bit of satisfaction in looking back at how far you've come in terms of player skill when you walk into a room teeming with monsters and completely annihilate them, especially when a few hours ago, just one of them would've had you tearing your hair out in frustration.

And the game can be quite frustrating at times. I think it's a price you have to pay with this kind of game, with a more old-school style, and some serious challenge to it. You will run into fights that you have to play dozens of times to get past, you will occasionally feel like the game is unfair, and you won't always have the items that you need to advance without specifically seeking them out. Just as a tip, stock up on Levitation, Nautilus Transformation and Telekinesis scrolls whenever you can, and always carry a pickaxe and a shovel. You'll thank me later.

Sometimes frustration can come from not being able to advance because you have to do something that you don't realise is possible, even if you have everything you need. I'm actually okay with this. It adds more of a sense of problem solving to the game, especially towards the end, where there's a lot of dungeon delving. Just remember to try different things out and experiment and you can get through okay. It's just not always obvious what you have to do.

The later portion of the game actually heavily recalls, to me, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You need to collect items from a set of dungeons which are completed through a combination of combat, exploration, and problem solving. Risen has a stronger emphasis on fighting as opposed to the heavy puzzle-solving style of Zelda, but there's definitely a similarity. And it works as well here as it did in that game.

Probably my biggest complaint about the second half of the game is that the climactic encounter of the game isn't. It's a very standard, very boring, and very easy boss-battle, as opposed to the epic encounter that the game has been building up to. It's a pretty serious disappointment to have an anti-climactic and rather abrupt conclusion after such a rewarding journey.

Even still, Risen remains a very strong RPG that presents several different types of game-play over its substantial duration, and gives you enough to leave you satisfied without getting stale. If you want to pick it up, you can buy it from Steam, unless you're in Australia, where it was refused classification for featuring some extremely tame drug-use references. You should be able to find somewhere to import it from if you look though. is currently out of stock, but you can pick up a copy over at

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