Risen originally found you washed ashore on a volcanic island, faced with Titans and monsters while ruins mysteriously erupted from the earth. The CG trailer for Risen 2 released earlier this year plays a similar tune, showing how Piranha Bytes continues to take its original pirate RPG theme to its logical conclusion by bringing together swashbuckling and dark voodoo magic. On paper, what's basically a combination of magic and pirates is still a fraction too camp to suggest a distinguished RPG; but the fact that my notebook has MAGIC PIRATES! scrawled across the bottom of a page speaks to the way Risen 2 appeals to the primordial, reptilian part of our brains that identifies with these things.
When Risen was released in 2009 it controversially split opinions thanks to a bad console port of an initially well-received PC title. At this point in development it's still too early to tell how the game compares on different platforms, however it's certainly gotten sharper.
Risen 2 transplants the comedy quirks of adventure games from the 90s into modern framework. You play the "Unnamed Hero", the very same from the 2009 original, in an unlucky position that begins with being betrayed by shipmates and marooned on an island. Taking place 10 years after the events of the first games - that's 10 years after you defeat your last Titan - the world continues to be infested with nasties and you are now tasked with infiltrating pirate ships for information on sea creatures that have reared their head. Elsewhere other monsters continue to roam, while some Titans are left under the control of particular magic-wielding enemy pirates.
You're helped by gnomes now, who now make a more prominent appearance. The beginning of Risen 2 shoves you into a lost-in-translation multicultural subplot where the Hero is invited into the homeland of a race he used to kill, many who have begun to learn swear-laden English from passing pirates.
Puzzle-styled quests leave you to decipher their pidgin language by interacting with NPCs, trading with them, and judging their responses. To build a sail, for example, The Hero trades with a reluctant gnome salesman for t-shirts. He will yammer in a complaining tone when you offer him the incorrect item to trade a currency, but by interacting with other indigenous NPCs the Hero will begin to learn the basic lingo himself.
You can have extended conversations with the game's quest givers, choosing from a list of options that further the plot or offer extensive details about the characters or lore. The result is more Monkey Island than Oblivion, particularly when you're tasked with collecting objects to build a raft by doing favours or trading with others in the town hub.
Later on when you've made a name for yourself by defeating major enemies, NPCs will react to your presence and speak about your earlier successes. You'll find a similar (albeit more aggressive) response by drawing your sword, which provokes characters nearby - a feature that later can be incorporated into how you solve a quest. Guards that catch you with a weapon at hand can be lured into areas and disposed of covertly.
This is one of various ways to complete a quest. The combat-hungry user can technically battle NPC's head-on in a mission to steal a set of keys, for example. In fights, the Hero can now unlock "Dirty Tricks" - essentially traditional pirate-styled moves that can be interlaced into the standard sword-fighting. Kicks, sand-throwing, gun play, or even the ability to send in trained pirates to interfere are standard elements of the mano-a-mano combat.
But the user who prefers less aggressive tactics can take control of a trained monkey and steal them stealthily instead. Similarly, a day/night cycle effects how quests can be solved, as guards follow different patterns during different hours. Going to bed forwards the time of day and wakes you up at your hour-of-choice, settling you into the correct part of the guards' routine.
Risen's hit-or-miss history - most of which based on technical blunders - makes it all the more difficult to gauge how successful its sequel might be, particularly in the wake of 2011's collection of RPG blockbusters. However even in the shadow of bigger titles it already has a strong identity that suggests it can overcome its past, if not through technical prowess at least through charm and fine design ideas.