Risen 3: Titan Lords - Review
Risen 3: Titan Lords starts with an epic battle aboard a ship, guns are fired, cannons roar and men cut each other down with cutlasses. It's all very Assassin's Creed IV. It also runs at around ten frames a second and half the textures haven't loaded properly.
That's one of the major issues with Piranha Bytes latest instalment of their fantasy series. They certainly don't lack ambition, their game world is huge, but it's strung together with such shoddy technical elements such as ugly, muddy textures and a wonky combat system that, try as you might to love it, it continues to disappoint. It's a game that's budget simply cannot keep up with the developer's goals.
But boy do those glitches lead to some surreal moments. Hacking away at a giant angry dodo that had walked across my path, I swung my sword only to send the annoyed bird hurtling over the nearby mountain. I found it's body several minutes later, gently bobbing in and out of the ground as if it wanted to try to hide from the shame. Similarly, the game's camera will test to see whether you're still awake during conversations by randomly nose-diving into the ground, or perhaps melding into a character's back.
Likewise, the A.I. frequently has characters behaving in a bizarre fashion. Walking through the back of a building, a demon-hunter took offence to my snooping and immediately attacked me with a giant broadsword. Or take the game's weird approach to morality; soul points are earned for good deeds and deducted for evil ones, seems simple enough. Little do you know that something as innocuous as sleeping in an owned bed will have your character's very soul degrade, as if some great metaphysical law has been broken.
To be fair Risen 3 possesses an almost Deadly Premonition level of charm; where its technical short fallings add to the experience rather than take away from it. At the same time however, the actual gameplay is so uninspired and awkward to get to grips with that even the funniest game bugs can only maintain your interest for so long.
Quests are thrown at to you like they're going out of fashion, and, rather than being neatly ordered under your quest tab, they are instead dumped there in a giant mess. After several hours of gameplay it became impossible to work out just what needed to be completed to progress the plot and what was simply filler. Likewise, many quests were so convoluted and full of irritating, fussy requirements that any drive to complete them quickly wanes. Many characters will tell you to return later or meet them at a specific time of day, only doling out quests at specific times, or when you talk to them at certain locations.
This wouldn't be so bad had the game implemented a wait system but it hasn't. Instead you're required to sleep in order to progress time more quickly which means hunting for a bed becomes a priority most of the time. Even worse, one quest requires you to cross a lake full of lava. Initially, I whip out a spell of parrot flight (yes, you turn into a giant parrot), a spell that the game had stressed the importance of during the tutorial. I begin to fly over the bed of lava, only to be met with an invisible wall in mid-air to halt my progression. Not only does Risen 3 want you to jump through countless loops to complete a quest, it'll also punish you for applying fairly sensible logic to a puzzle.
Perhaps this would have been forgiven had the game's other elements been up to scratch but, sadly, they aren't. Combat initially has something of a spark, as timing is required in order to succeed rather than just mashing away with the attack button. Problems rear their head however, whenever there's more than one enemy engaging you, with multiple monsters capable of stun-locking your character to the point where there's never an opportunity to counterattack. This is made even worse by an awkward frame rate that has the habit of frequently tanking whenever there's more than a few bodies on screen.
This led to many embarrassing moments where I had to goad enemies into attacking my A.I. companion and gently draw their attention to me one at a time, or carefully angle enemies so they'd fall off a cliff. Occasionally my character would channel his inner baseball player once again and knock a character through the air.
It's a shame that the combat wasn't better designed because the actual levelling up of your character is one of the aspects that Piranha Bytes nails down rather well. Many of the game's NPCs have special abilities they can teach you, such as how to craft potions, use runes, or be a better swordfighter. Each lesson requires that you character have reached a certain proficiency in several stats (i.e. melee, toughness, cunning etc.), in order to learn the special skills.
Overall, it's a good level up system, and the game gives you a remarkable amount of freedom on how to upgrade your character, along with suitably varied amount of weapon types. Still, Risen 3's weirdness manages to work its way into this part of the game too, such as the pig farmer who can "train" you to eat uncooked meat.
Despite the vast world at your fingertips, Risen 3's story doesn't hold together either. The main character is voiced by an actor who sounds like they're actually drunk; slurring their way through lines of dialogue and being about as interesting as a slab of concrete. Not that the plot itself is all that engaging, due to the awkward quest structure, it's a story that never picks up pace since you're never sure whether you're actually playing through the main quest line or not. Much like The Elder Scrolls games, there's the impression that completing the main quest isn't the main focus of Piranha Bytes game, it seems more happy when you're wading around getting involved in random quest and killing monsters than anything else.
Risen 3: Titan Lords is the kind of game with commendable ambition, but not the budget to see it through. Had the developers focused on smaller, more densely packed world and honed the combat some more, this could have been a genuine alternative to the usual western-RPG fare.
As it stands though, this is game that can be enjoyed in the same way that you can laugh at a quirky B-movie; it certainly has more charm than Bound By Flame, another fairly recent low-budget fantasy effort. Play it for the silliness and there's fun to be had, just don't expect the experience to be polished or all that engaging.
Risen 3: Titan Lords was released on August 15th for the PC, PS3 and 360.
This review is based on the 360 version.
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