German developer Piranha Bytes clearly doesn't give a toss about accessibility. If it did then Risen, its new fantasy role-playing game, wouldn't play slower than a legless turtle. If it did, then Risen wouldn't be an overwhelming sprawl of a game that tries its damnedest to make you feel very, very lost. If it did, then Risen wouldn't make you want to tear you hair out in frustration every time you swing your sword. If it did, then Risen wouldn't be half as annoying as it really is.
The thing is, some people actually like their role-playing games like this. They love the slow burn. They love spending 10 hours walking aimlessly around Harbour Town, talking to awfully-modelled and generically-voice-acted NPCs, with absolutely no idea what they need to do to get quests finished. Well, there's no accounting for taste.
Risen had potential. It's got a lot of cool ideas bubbling under the surface. The story itself is an interesting tale that sees you, a stowaway on a ship sunk by a storm, washed up on the shore of Mediterranean-styled Faranga Island, which is suffering from mysterious earthquakes and the scramble to control treasure-filled ruins that have suddenly sprouted (hence Risen) from the ground. And the moral dilemmas the game poses are, in many ways, better executed than anything seen in BioWare's or Bethesda's best. After only 20 minutes you're asked to make a decision that'll drastically alter the rest of the game: should I align myself with the raggedy Outlaws or the brutal Inquisition? At first, the game's NPCs make you feel that the Outlaws are the "right" choice, fulfilling the classic Rebel Alliance role, but the more you play the more you get a sense that there's more to both factions than meets the eye.
The quests themselves are well constructed, intelligent and believable. Sure, there's an unreasonable amount of dialogue to listen to, and the cinematic camera angles that depict conversations look like something from the dark ages, but what they actually have you do and what they actually have you consider is impressive.
For example, one quest sees you trying your hand at Hercule Poirot-style crime solving. A burglar is on the loose and it's clear he has a spy scoping out storehouses. But who is it? You need to spend time interviewing the main players, asking them who was hanging about at the time of the theft. Not only do you have to identify a suspect, but find some evidence, too.
Another nice touch is the complete lack of a morality system. There's no positive or negative karma, no paragon or renegade alignment. You never make a decision that affects how good or bad you are. There are just quests that need to be resolved, factions that can be joined and played off of each other, and NPCs that pay for your services. Risen doesn't judge your decisions, which is something of a rarity in this genre.
So, everything's set up for an epic, engaging single-player RPG experience. The problem is that all the good in Risen is unceremoniously snuffed out of existence from the very moment you wake up on the island's shore. Risen's ridiculous refusal to help you, even a teensy weensy bit, is its undoing. Everything, and I mean everything, seems designed to piss you off.
First off, the Xbox 360 version of the game (the version tested) is a technical mess. The framerate is abominable. You can see it chug even when you're just walking about in the day time. The game's horribly dark, but when night time comes it's nigh on impossible to see anything. So, you use a torch to light your way. "Hold on there buddy", Risen says. "If you're going to use a torch, then give me a sec. I need to prepare myself for a heart attack."