Risen 3: Titan Lords - Review  

Ten Years after Its Time
by Glenn Wilson

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20-40 Hours
+ The gameplay is fine
- Bad script and story
- Not much else to say here
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   Originally known for creating sloppy, difficult RPGs that gave the player full freedom in an open world, then deprived him of anything resembling a functional control scheme to interact with it, Piranha Bytes continues moving away from both the pros and cons of its heritage with Risen 3: Titan Lords. Although it is restrictive, small in size, and has a game world that doesn't change, Risen 3 is also easier, more refined, and more approachable than its predecessors. The continued steps away from a legacy of cult classics pose a question: who is the target audience for a game too mainstream and uninteresting for hardcore RPG fans and too slow and chatty for fans of open world action games? Is a severely limited action-RPG take on Assassin's Creed IV-lite a game that's relevant in 2014? No, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

   Risen 3 takes place shortly after Risen 2 without providing any background information on the setting. The male, unnamed protagonist is Patty's brother whose existence wasn't acknowledged in the prior games. Changing the protagonist between games wasn't handled well. Returning characters can't chat with him about past events because he wasn't around, and without establishing the setting, the game expects the player to already know the events of Risen and Risen 2 to fully appreciate characters and factions that were fleshed out in those games but not in Risen 3.

   While searching an ancient ruin for treasure, the hero stumbles into a massive skull cave spewing a small contingent of shadow warriors. When he gets too close to a crystal gate, a shadow lord pops out and sucks the soul out of his mouth, killing him. A pirate's life is full of tragedy, and after three or four seconds of crying Patty leaves his corpse in the sand and goes back to treasure hunting. For reasons that aren't elaborated upon, a part-time shaman returns him to life and sets him on a quest to reunite with his spirit stuck in the Underworld. The game's subtitle implies there will be titan lords too, but don't hold your breath.

   The story as a whole is uninspired. Crystal gates to the Underworld start appearing everywhere, unleashing shadow minions upon the Southern Seas. The hero cooperates with human settlements in the area to close the gates, kill the shadow armies, and get his spirit back along the way. There are three joinable factions on separate islands, and membership in one serves as a bottleneck for plot progression rather than a well-planned addition to the story. Regardless of which faction is chosen, they coexist peacefully and the hero ultimately needs to assist and recruit all three of them. This is in stark contrast to past Piranha Bytes games where siding with a faction was serious, world-changing business. Here, it affects the hero's chest armor and which spells are permanently learned, but nothing meaningful related to the story. Although the world is open and the small islands and their "run to every corner of the island and do something" quests can be completed in any sequence, the player only picks the order of events that will all occur by the end.

Gnomes are a humorous, well-written exception to everything else. Gnomes are a humorous, well-written exception to everything else.

   Unfortunately, the characters and dialogue are no better. The writing is dull and repetitive, and when everyone is chatty it makes listening to the voice actors slowly enunciate each line feel like it's taking up too much of the game's total playtime. Inconsistencies in the setting and writing impact all aspects of both. A starving village complaining about the lack of food might have piles of fish lying around. Four NPCs in a row might make a nearly identical gallows humor joke, then no one else in the game does. It's distracting when large chunks of the script read like they were written in the same sitting by the same person due to the repetition therein. Word repetition frequently occurs within an NPC's conversation when dialogue relies on parroting the same exact phrases in statements and interrogatives, back and forth. Dialogue also has issues where the flow is off, with NPCs and the hero having unnatural segues and answering questions with incorrect expressions and sentence structures. The writing has some successful moments and executions, but on the whole it stretches out and hurts an already uninteresting setting.

   The battle system has its problems too. In the beginning, the hero fights as a pirate using a sword for a melee weapon and pistols or throwing knives for ranged attacks. Melee range in Risen 3 is a long distance. When initiating an attack, friends and enemies leap-teleport across the distance to strike, not unlike Batman in his modern series. Attacks can form a three-hit combo. The first attack is lightning-fast while the final hit takes so long that most enemies in the game recover from being stunned and can land a hit before it comes out. Between defending, teleport-attacking, and charged strikes, combat has a tactical feel to it that's somewhat lost in the speed and chaos. Some enemies are so fast they can instantly launch stun-locking combos at will. Others are so defensive it can take a long time just to land a strike. Companions are bad at drawing aggro and most enemies come in packs of two to four, meaning the player is stuck rolling all over the place, trying to avoid stun-locks from fast foes while getting a few hits in when possible. There's no way to lock onto a single enemy, making it tough to target one and take it out before hitting the others. Combat can be annoying and test one's patience, but due to a large health pool and instant, animation-free healing, death is hardly a serious threat.

Sword versus shark-mouthed dinosaur? Not recommended. Sword versus shark-mouthed dinosaur? Not recommended.

   Combat completely changes later in the game, though. Whether it was to encourage players to try guns and magic when they become available, or pure sadism, the ability to counterattack after a parry is a special talent which must be purchased from a trainer after experience points are spent upgrading the hero's melee attribute. This skill, which should have been available from the start, goes a long way toward fixing melee combat. When guns are equipped in the melee slot, combat becomes even easier. Gunshots can't be blocked and are more powerful than swords. Although they must be manually aimed with a radial sight on the screen, hit detection is generous. Finally, after joining a faction the hero can use magic as a primary attack. Like guns, magic can't be blocked. Like melee, magic auto-aims. Using magic or guns negates everything that was tactical about combat, making it so much faster and easier that only role-players and the masochistic would still be using swords by the endgame. It would have been nice if there were more balance between these mechanics or if swordplay were less frustrating, but it's fun to blast through foes quickly in the last half of the game. The progression system provides more than enough experience points and stat-boosting methods to be a journeyman of everything and a master of whatever playstyles are preferred.

   Risen 3 fares well overall when it comes to the presentation and performance. The art style is lifelike, but more clean and color-saturated than the real world. Outdoor areas are nice and vivid without looking cartoony. Character models have an unnatural shape that's unfortunate during all the bobbing-head dialogue, and indoor locations can be untextured and bland, but considering this isn't a high budget game nothing is appalling. System performance is excellent; the game saves and loads almost instantly and handles memory well with a low profile. Textures don't pop-in distractingly, there's no tearing, and it doesn't have any of the technical issues that are usually a Piranha Bytes trademark. The music is serviceable, but the sound is pulled down by the rough voice-acting. The hero's voice-acting is great with natural gravel to it. NPCs, though, are awful and made worse by how long-winded every character is. Sometimes words are mispronounced and sentences are emphasized incorrectly, like the actor had one take and didn't know the context of the line.

   Risen 3 is a decent game. It looks, runs, and plays fine with the main downsides being the story and script and anything related to them. The problem is that everything Risen 3 does decently has already been done better. It's Assassin's Creed IV without the assassin mechanics or ship battles. It's Fable III without the smooth, balanced combat or personality. It's Arkham Asylum without Batman or his combat tactics. It's Dark Souls without the challenge or atmosphere, New Vegas without the solid script or meaningful faction choices, and Gothic without the openness. It's a small in scope, small in size, very generic hodgepodge of the foundations of many PS3 and 360 action games and RPGs without any of the specializations that made them memorable and superior. Ten years ago Risen 3 would have been ground-breaking, but today it is a fine, unremarkable game I expect to forget about in a few weeks.

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