Six years ago I had a unique experience. After a few adventures in Gothic 1 I had already caught the Gothic fever, but the high point of this state of euphoria was only truly reached once I played Gothic 2. In its company I remained without words, a game in which the Piranha Bytes designers invested all their talent and created a fascinating fantasy world. There were bugs, but even so, a lot of RPG fans ignored the shortcomings, being swept by the story, gameplay and atmosphere.
Then along came Gothic 3, created with the same attention for details, but which suffered from the symptoms of a rushed release. Currently, after installing the Community Patch 1.73, I can say that Gothic 3 is finally what it should have been from the beginning, but better late than never. I’m saying this because I can’t imagine why the fans would waste their time with so many bug fixes and improvements if the original game didn’t have some potential.
After some disputes with Jowood, Piranha Bytes gave up the Gothic series and choose to walk their own road in the RPG world. Thus Risen was born, an RPG that even if it doesn’t want to be sequel to the Gothic series, it surely inherits its style.
Fairy tales, damsels, pirates, islands and treasures
The Risen storyline isn’t something you haven’t seen before. It’s full of clichés and things seen in other RPGs, the Gothic influence can be felt everywhere, but it doesn’t throw these elements together just for the sake of it. The premise is that the human’s world is under attack and earthquakes, volcanoes and any other force of the nature are taking hold on the things that man created during his existence, transforming everything in ashes.
In the middle of the sea, a ship fights with the storm. And on its deck, a scared mage tries without success to repel the attack of a huge creature. The ship is destroyed, the only survivors being a damsel and a new nameless hero, both castaways on a strange island. From here onward, the story slowly enfolds and during it you’ll meet interesting characters and situations, exotic places and almost everything one would expect from a story told around the fire in a chilly evening.
The thing that makes the difference between a common RPG and a memorable one is the way you feel and perceive the world in which you make your first steps. Here the talent of Piranha Bytes shines, in the sensations you experience on the very beach you were shipwrecked on. In the unrest you have when you enter the forest or the fear that you feel when exploring the first cave. And this is also backed by the technical aspects, as the lightning storm for instance is excellently rendered.
Pretty hot out there, sir
An element with a big influence over the gameplay in Risen is the island itself, much different than the one in Gothic 2, which had a more temperate air and a German feeling (except for the area introduced with Night of the Raven). Here you’ll encounter palm trees, lush woods, tall grass, narrow bridges over big gorges and exotic temples. The level design entices you to explore and the whole island is filled with secret areas, so that every corner can hold a surprise if you look hard enough.
Even though it’s not a big island, Faranga has a lot of things to offer for a disoriented castaway. He can choose to either go to the bandit swamp, or take a ride to Harbor Town or, why not, join the ranks of the monastery at the foothill of the volcano. Whatever the choice, our hero won’t run out of activities, wherever he may be going.
I remember that, at its time, the first Gothic had been recommended to me as a hunting game by someone unfamiliar with RPGs. I was very skeptic regarding the things I was going to do in it, but pretty soon I’ve discovered that it wasn’t a Deer Hunter of the medieval times, where one could roast scavenger meat on a fireplace. In Risen, when you roam the woods you may feel like you are in a hunting game, but one where the roles have changed. Now you are the prey and the creatures are your relentless hunters.
That is because the island is as perilous as it gets, danger is everywhere and, just like in the previous Gothics, at any given time you can find yourself with a deadly creature on your back, because there is no level scaling or progressively dangerous areas. The main roads are relatively safe, but you shouldn’t always put your faith into this.
Should something unexpected happen, run with confidence to any farm or lodge you may happen to find on your way, because people will help you when you are chased by a monster that doesn’t seem to care whether he blocks or not the access routes between important areas. As a personal advice, don’t go exploring the cave system until you reach a higher level and carrying a better weapon, a shinier armor and, preferably, a new ability or spell.
From this viewpoint, Risen does a great job in reminding you that in the wild there are no jokes to be had and an idyllic place may be so only visually. When a gorilla or an ogre “touches” you, I don’t think you’ll consider the place a picturesque one, despite the fact that the island seems quiet. And if the pleasant areas can prove to be very dangerous, then what about the more sinister portions, full of ghouls, giant scorpions or God knows what else?
Even if Faranga is a dangerous place, you are not thrown into the dangerous stuff right off the bat. There is a small, relatively safe area at the beginning, which serves as a tutorial. Here you’ll encounter only milder versions of animals like wolves, vultures, some kind of hedgehogs, gnomes, but once you reach the first bigger road you’ll see the “Real Deal”. For Gothic fans and those experienced in RPGs, it’s recommended to choose a higher level of difficulty, but the novices or those without much time at their disposal should stick to the lowest level. Even so, the difficulty influences the amount of damage the hero takes, but not the strength of his blows, so take care even on Easy, as some opponents are really tough!