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18.08.2011 00:30 [Risen 2 Misc (english)] gamescom 2011 Preview by foobar

gamescom 2011 Risen Preview




Introduction



During the gamescom 2011, yours truly got the chance to play Risen 2 - Dark Waters for the first time. The version that was presented to the public at the gaming stations at the Deep Silver booth was restricted to a small area on a single island of the Risen 2 world. This allowed only few and mostly ambiguous glimpses on the larger story line. The same goes for all other aspects which require having experienced the whole or at least a major part of the game. Since there is already plenty of material on the general setting and basic plot available, I will spare you the umpteenth repetition of already known facts and focus on new infos.


Graphics



The graphics of Risen 2 seemed already better than what was shown on the first screenshots. The extreme and overwhelming bloom seemed reduced to a bearable level. This was in no small part due to the weather system. Contrary to the publisher’s constant sunny weather screenshots, the game presented itself with rain, wind and thunderstorms which gave the game a somewhat darker flair, opposing the tropical idyll it was before. And even if the palm trees were not bent by the wind as you might know it from reality, it is still impressive what Piranha Bytes managed to paratremise out of the SpeedTree engine.

Another interesting thing is of course what could not be seen on the screenshots so far – the animations. And indeed, the characters in Risen 2 now show mimics and emotion - if somewhat rudimentary. The character acting pales in comparison to recent BioWare titles but is a huge improvement compared to the stone-carved faces from Risen 1.



Controls


The first thing that one notices – negatively – when playing Risen 2 is the new control with the free camera. While it might fit well to a game-pad with its two analogue sticks, it basically just makes everything more complicated. Especially on the PC which in most cases has only one analogue input device – the mouse. The activation focus in Risen 2 only locks on to things in viewing direction of the character, not to things in viewing direction of the camera. But the camera is the only thing you can aim directly, at least on the PC. As a consequence, whenever you want to pick up an item or talk with someone or open a chest or plunder a body or ram you épée in somebody’s stomach, you first have to turn the camera towards it. Then you have to press the assigned Forward key to get character to turn in that direction, too. This second and completely unnecessary step proves annoying during normal exploration and often fatal during time-critical combat. A simple key with which you could unlock a normally fixed camera (in games with such a function usually called Free Look) would be great deal more useful.

On the positive side, we can now navigate through dialogues completely via keyboard. The assigned movement keys (normally W and S) select a dialogue option and the space bar confirms it. By this, you can completely control dialogues with your left hand alone while the other remains on the mouse. The proven and easy Gothic system (mouse wheel + click) does not work, however. Apparently, a free mouse cursor is mandatory in dialogues nowadays.

The newly introduced firearms can be used as a melee weapon, too. A left click will hit the enemy with your rifle butt. A right click activates aiming mode. In this mode, a circle will appear that indicates the hit zone with its diameter (assumingly) changing with weapon and skill. Left clicking will fire a shot and after a few shots, you need to reload.


Gameplay


Experience and learning points do not exist anymore. Piranha Bytes changed the skill system and you earn fame points. Which are basically just relabelled experience points. These fame points can then directly be invested in skills and perks. So you do not need to for your next levelup anymore and can spend any experience you gain right away. It kind of reminds me of the upgrade xp in The Dark Eye games like Drakensang. But you still need trainers, of course. No clicking in the character sheet here, sir.

Quests often offer multiple solutions and you can save or earn one or the other bag of gold if you talk to people and open your eyes and ears when walking through the world.

Other then that, Risen 2 plays basically just like Risen 1 – for better and for worse – and should prove no insurmountable challenge to anyone.


Bugs


It should be said beforehand that the version we played was described as an early bate by the developers. They said that some problems in that version were already fixed by now. However, I did experience any severe problems myself. Sometimes, the game froze for a couple of seconds – even during fights – before then continuing as if nothing happened. Whether this is a problem with streaming or something else remains a mystery to me. While trying to redistribute other people’s good fortune into my own pockets by sneaking into a barrack full of sleeping soldiers, I noticed that the character leaves sneak mode when you try to open a locked chest. This resulted in the soldiers waking up and attacking me and makes the sneak mode not particularly useful for thieves. Furthermore, it took some tries before my character managed to sneak out of the barrack again. It seemed as if he did not raise his feet high enough.

And during the presentation of the game by Piranha Bytes it completely froze on the PC they used.


Atmosphere


What exactly makes up the atmosphere of a game is the subject of many lengthy discussions. I think it’s basically the entire presentation of the game world. A lot of individual factors work together to create a – hopefully harmonious – overall picture. A very important factor in that equation is the story that is being told, I believe. But of course, exactly that was basically not visible in the small demo level I got to see. Other than that however, everything that defines good Piranha Bytes games is there: The detailed, organic looking level design, the plausible quests, the good and often down-to-earth and believable dialogues, the world that invites exploration...

I did not manage to actually immerse in the game. But that is most like due to outside circumstances. Standing at a trade show booth with all the noise and the people around you makes it kind of hard to loose yourself in a game as you would do in your silent room at home. Personally, I do not expect any problems in that matter.


Miscellaneous


The quests in the demo level were believably presented, narratively correct wrapped and contrasted nicely with the WoW and G3 niveau that is ever so common in the business nowadays.

While you might argue about the user interface, it proved to be functional and I found everything I needed without problems.

The Piranhas refused to tell me anything about the magic system, even when I explicitly asked. Meanies.


Conclusion


The small bugs and problems cannot be hold against a beta version. Other than that, Risen 2 left a good impression and addressed a couple of issues I had with Risen 1 – especially in the area of story and character presentation that is so important to me. But in the end, one cannot really judge the narrative layer of the game by such a small demo level. The main problem on the ludic layer is the free camera which forces the player to point both camera and character in a certain direction, whereas with a fixed camera the character would automatically turn according to the camera movement. At least on the PC version, I doubt that this will find many friends. And a simple key to switch between fixed and free camera does not strike me as such a bad or expensive compromise.

If you like story-driven singleplayer RPGs and don’t have any problems with the pirate setting, you should definitely keep an eye on Risen 2. Only sad thing is that, according to current information, we won’t be able to buy it but will have to rent it via Steam.





  written by foobar