Risen 3: Titan Lords
For possibly the largest and most expansively open Piranha Bytes game to date, my review of Risen 3 is going to be short and sweet. Why? Because there just isn’t much to say about it besides “go buy it.” Yes, I’m a lifelong PB fan; my teens and early twenties were spent playing the Gothic games. Yes, I tell anyone who cares to listen how the original Risen is better than Skyrim (for the things I value in an RPG, anyway). But those recommendations always come with the caveat of, “Beware, the combat is weird at first,” or, “True, Risen 2 starts pretty slowly and takes about ten hours to really open up.” But with Risen 3, there are no caveats. This isn’t just a great RPG in my own mind, where I ignore the rough edges and focus on what I love about it. This is just a great RPG, period, full stop.
If you’ve been following along with the series so far, the beginning is slightly jarring, as you’re suddenly inhabiting a different character than that of the two previous games. You play a hitherto unmentioned son of Captain Steelbeard, brother of series-regular, Patty. It seems a little strange to start with a character that everyone seems to know and talk to like he’s a well-established part of the universe but…he’s not, until this game. And then there’s his voice. In what is probably the single worst decision the developers made with this game, your new Nameless One’s voice is about the most cliched, gravely, cool-aloof “hero voice” I’ve ever heard. Think Jason Statham but less charismatic. Over the dozens of hours playing, I finally grew to accept to this eye-rolling attribute, but it never really sits well.
The plot of Risen 3 continues the saga of the battle against the Titans. This time around, it’s not altogether clear who the true enemy is at first. All you know is that during one of your pirate-y treasure hunting adventures, you stumble on some terrifying evil and have your soul sucked out of you (which has the practical effect of sapping all of your pirate captain badass-itude, plunking you back down to weakling status). From there, you must island hop, meeting the various factions that are working to stop this new evil from enveloping the Southern Seas. The mention of a pirate-themed beginning is sure to ruffle some feathers (pun intended), given that Risen 2’s pirate focus didn’t sit well with long-time fans. Still, after the intro, you aren’t so much a pirate anymore as merely a lone drifter.
The one thing that PB nailed in this new Risen is diversity of tone/theme. Each of the three faction (Mages, Voodoo Pirates and Demon Hunters), along with their islands, feel totally unique and fitting. These are all caribbean-esque islands, so of course they all have their share of palm trees and rocky bluffs. But it’s as if each faction/island combo is a retrospective of past PB games. The Demon Hunters resemble the dark, brooding nature of the old prison camp dwellers from Gothic; their island contains the same kind of rolling hills and valleys, ancient cathedral-type ruins, and flowing lava you would find in those older games. The Mages harken back to the first Risen, with their medieval armor and robes, seeking to tame (and exploit) a more tropical environment. And of course, the Voodoo Pirates are very much a continuation of the feel from Risen 2 – dense jungle teeming with primitive natives, outcast pirates and ancient tribal magic.
Unlike in previous PB games, where the factions seemed to always fall along a pure-melee, pure-magic, and a melee-magic hybrid gameplay decision, Risen 3 says “have your cake and eat it too!” All paths contain equal parts magic, melee and ranged, if you so choose. You would think that being a Mage means you’re the standard glass cannon, but not so! Along with shiny armor, you can use guns, find mage-specific fencing swords, and even master “melee magic” (attack spells that are equipped and used like short-range weapons).
So then, the Demon Hunters are all about melee combat, right? Certainly their look and magic is geared towards brute force (strength and speed buffing spells), but then they also get limited access to melee magic and shadow minion summoning. Even telekinesis, an ability you would think very specific to the Mages, is a skill you can learn as a Demon Hunter. Lastly, the same pattern holds true for the Voodoo Pirates. Their magic revolves around necromancy and life draining, but you have just as much versatility to make a knife-throwing, axe-wielding terror. Since every faction has decent access to most magic and skills, it allows you to pick the faction you like within the context of the game, for roleplaying reasons, without having to give up the gameplay you want to experience. No two Risen 3 characters will play and end up the same. And hell, even if you grow attached to a particular spell from another faction’s arsenal, feel free to craft and scavenge a whole bunch of single-use scrolls to supplement your innate magic.
Here’s something you’ve probably never heard from someone playing a Piranha Bytes game: I really dug the writing. Not only does the plot contain a few legitimate surprises, but the characters are all surprisingly fleshed out. I often found myself honestly torn between who I should take with me to explore this or that island. Edward would be fun with his no-nonsense, “get your shit together” attitude (he actually expresses that sentiment often while you’re conversing with people), but Bones’ wry sense of observational humor would have me softly chuckling more often than not. And they aren’t just static murder machines, either. If you join the faction of your favorite companion, they will come along for the ride. Edward may start out as a vest-wearing, arrogant prick, but the Demon Hunters will eventually shave his head and he’ll don the appropriate armor along with you. Oh, did I not mention that? Yeah, joining a faction also fundamentally changes how your character looks. I know, pretty cool, huh? You don’t get story-driven character-altering decisions in Skyrim. Also, Demon Hunters use a blink-teleportation instead of a normal dodge (squeal of nerdy delight). Okay, enough of that gushing diversion.
The combat, with the small but impactful addition of a dodge-roll function, is by far the most lively system PB has ever made. Whereas in Gothics 1, 2 and Risen, your character’s feet felt like they were stuck in mud while you fought, here, you’ll be constantly flipping and flying all over the place to avoid getting surrounded. The one thing I do miss is the extra bit of timing/tactics that used to be available for things like parrying blows and riposting. Still, when given the choice, I’ll take nimble and kinetic over stagnant and methodical any day. Leave the sitting and thinking for strategy games. And in the case of magic attacks, gone are the days of mana (cooldowns are new hotness) so, magic ends up being much more spontaneous and much less potion-drink-y.
One last magic-ish ability that you receive right at the start of the game is Astral Vision. For the first third of the game, you’ll probably forget that it exists but once you join a faction, you can start upgrading it with various skills that allow you to spot people, enemies, treasures and plants from great distances and even through walls. Is it necessary to the gameplay? Not at all. But damned if it isn’t a really cool add-on mechanic. It’s Risen’s magical version of Splinter Cell’s thermal vision goggles.
Finally, let’s talk polish, something that Piranha Bytes has been struggling with for their entire existence. It’s near perfect. Huh, I guess this is going to be a pretty short paragraph. Indeed, I didn’t run in to a single major flaw (bug, progression-halter, mysterious falling-through-the-world death, etc.) in 50+ hours of playing. The only thing I noted was that one line of my character’s spoken dialogue seemed to be missing. That’s it. For fans of the Gothic and Risen series, this is downright shocking. Shocking, but extremely welcome, if for no other reason than we can finally say, “Nope, Risen 3 was not a mess at launch. It worked beautifully!”
If you haven’t already decided to buy the game while you’ve been reading this review, I’m not sure what else I can really say to convince you. For every reason I play RPGs (big decisions, interesting characters, fun gameplay, immersive exploration), Risen 3 hits every sweet spot. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to start planning out my Voodoo Pirate run-through!
Reviewed By: Brian Mardiney
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a digital copy of Risen 3: Titan Lords for the PC provided by Deep Silver.