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Risen 3: Titan Lords

17:1006/09/2014Posted by Raymond WebsterOne Comment

The third game in the Risen series, Titan Lords is a return to the Medieval aesthetic of the first game, and a move away from the Pirate-themed Black Waters. Sadly, though Risen 3 is entertaining to play, and filled with interesting ideas in its aesthetic, but far too filled with imperfections, glitches and simple design flaws to be truly great.

Its controls require a similar degree of mastery as a fast-paced precision fighting game, but only because they are unresponsive and awkward; one must learn how to win despite them, not because of them. Probably the greatest failing of the combat system is the lack of confirmation of hits; attacks can connect against targets apparently completely missed, while direct hits can do no damage with it being unclear if the enemy blocked or the hit detection has failed. This is further compounded by the imprecision of the lock-on feature; it is active only when the player is looking at the enemy, has problems selecting a specific enemy in a large group and does not account for the camera being blocked by terrain. As a result ranged combat, while incredibly powerful, is inherently imprecise; shots can be wasted as the lock-on fails or selects a heavily damaged enemy (or even an NPC) rather than the intended target.

Thus until one levels up, and learns useful skills such as ripostes and attack speed upgrades, the game is frustrating; once one has a few levels and upgrades purchased, it becomes significantly easier – and a quite entertaining, if still patchy, RPG. Blocking is still comparatively unwieldy and the best strategy is still most of the time to roll around in circles and throw knives or shoot pistols, but it feels almost more satisfying than the floaty disembodied weapons of Skyrim. Risen 3 is unwieldy through and through, so imprecision is more easily forgiveable. What is more, the emphasis on sword-and-sidearm combat that the game pushes from the start is very thematic; the game is about pirates, and your fighting style is initially set as a very pirate-esque one. On top of this, the player is given a very powerful ally at the start of the game who can (sometimes, when the AI permits) take hits and allow for gaining significant experience by hiding behind him. Levelling is a mixture of visiting skill trainers to learn techniques and increasing stats to be able to do so; both money and experience (called Glory) are required. The process is quite slow, with the experience requirements to improve a stat increasing rapidly compared to the experience given by enemies – and it is necessary to spread experience comparatively thinly as upgrading equipment is quite uncommon (necessitating a change in secondary weapons as ammunition permits) and often quests will call for a certain stat to make completing them a lot easier.

Often the imprecisions of design create amusing situations for the narrative and scripting, although this can as easily be frustrating. It is amusing when sometimes fights with NPCs start seemingly at random as part of dialogue, only for the NPC to be defeated, fall unconscious and then stand up completely in good graces with the player – on the other hand it is less helpful when NPCs get stuck in walls or fail to spawn. Keeping multiple save files is vital – the game can be brought to a halt both by glitches or simply taking a wrong turn and ending up stuck with no items in an area filled with nigh-impossible to defeat enemies. Similarly, actually understanding quests – working out what needs doing – requires puzzling out cryptic hints and map markers and generally talking repeatedly to every NPC with a unique name until they do something interesting. All the ingredients of an RPG are present, but they rarely work as intended. That enemies do not respawn makes exploration and backtracking somewhat more bearable, but also makes experience into a finite resource and turns the process of exploring an area into killing everything, then seeing what quests one has accidentally triggered in the process – in one cave I missed the NPC who began a quest, completed a few of its objectives at random by exploring, then had to go through a number of dialogue options to be told to do the things I had already done and then confirm I had done them.

The sheer lack of direction the game gives you – a list of places to go after the prologue and then each island a place of gaining quests to do various things – is evocative of far better RPGs, and were it more finely balanced and tightly coded Risen 3 would be very good. Having a game, Souls-like, where one can explore and make mistakes and die to surprisingly tough enemies is a good thing – it is exploration and direction at once – but Risen 3 could do with more direction at times, and less of a brick wall of difficulty if one goes to the wrong place. An over-levelled enemy will be barely dented by weak equipment and – combined with the unpredictable combat and love of stun-lock cycles – generally unbeatable even with great skill.

Aesthetically the game is similarly uneven; parts of it are very pretty, like a more fantastical Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, while others are dull caves of poor lighting choices or ropey water textures for puddles. Seemingly random lag and stuttering does not help the controls, either. The sound design is best described as maverick – voice acting has a refreshing disregard for inflection, pacing or consistency of accent and often borders on the parodic, especially for the Gnomes who populate some areas. The lack of character customisation is a story conceit – the story has a fixed protagonist – but at the same time is a disappointment. Games like Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur had customisable main characters who nevertheless were seated well within a fixed plot and for Risen 3 to offer you only an unpredictably-accented man feels dated and unambitious.

All told, it is hard to recommend Risen 3 in good faith; it is too inconsistent and unpredictable to be good. It is entertaining seemingly at random, with the player able to enjoy long periods apparently uninterrupted by glitches or imprecisions, but this invariably comes crashing to a halt as an unclear or glitched quest or a stunlock from a weak enemy causes a game over or sudden ceasing of progress. Players tolerant of very imperfect games will find enjoyment in it, but ultimately it is far from good.

Risen 3 was reviewed on PS3 with a copy provided by the publishers.

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One Comment »

  • walk in bathtubs said:

    There’s definately a lot to know about this issue.

    I really like all the points you have made.

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