Coming off playing countless hours of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I'm in for a rude awakening as I sit down with Risen 2: Dark Waters. The PR representative behind my shoulder advises me that there are traps in the area I'm currently exploring. Nuts to that! I carelessly wander on and a stick with spikes attached to it comes up out of the ground and whacks me over the back of my head. As it pops up I'm prompted to press the Y button on my Xbox 360 controller, but I wasn't able to gather my wits quickly enough and I die. Yes, that's right. No depletion of the health bar here, just harsh and instant death.
The premiss of Risen 2: Dark Waters is simple enough. You're the old nameless hero of the first game, you saved the world, but you're not a celebrated hero and more of a washed up drunk these days. You're tasked with infiltrating the pirates as they seem to have stumbled upon a weapon of great power that can be used against the terrible monsters that terrorise this world.
The first part of the hands-on demo involves proving your worth as a pirate. There is some drinking, gambling, sneaking, cheating and lots of treasure hunting involved. Complete enough of the tasks and you're in good with Captain Steelbeard.
We're playing the Xbox 360 version of the game and it feels a bit odd as the game undoubtedly looks a lot better on PC. The early version we're playing looks a bit rough around the edges and falls well short of the visuals of competing console RPG's. What Risen 2: Dark Waters should be commended for, however, is that the ambition to release simultaneously on console has not meant that the game has been "dumbed down" as PC players would put it.
The game refrains from pointing you in the right direction with shiny, blinking markers, and even if there are map markers (to help you navigate the map) you still need to pay attention to the dialogue (and from what we've played it is fairly entertaining), and you need to complete each part of the mission chain before the next segment is activated. An example of this was when I was searching for "Pete's treasure" early on in the game. You're given a location through a dialogue in the tavern, and as you arrive in the cave you stumble upon Pete's dead body. By searching it you find the location of the treasure and you can now dig it up. If you don't search the body you won't be able to dig up the treasure, so you need to complete each step along the way, and this is obviously one of the shorter mission chains in the game, but from what I experienced you need to pay attention to names of characters and the hints they give you throughout the adventure.
Later on in the game you will start collect various characters for your crew, some pirates, some natives and well, there seems to be quite a lot of them and putting your team together in a balanced way is apparently key to being successful later on in the game.
The next section of the game sees us on a new island where the man who apparently now holds the weapon - Turnbull - has settled with his troops. Apparently he has coerced some local natives into helping him and your mission is now to gain the trust of the natives so they will aid your cause. This is also a fork in the road in terms of combat and gameplay mechanics. If you choose to side with the natives and learn voodoo you won't be able to join the inquisition and learn advanced shooting techniques allowing you use of rifles and more powerful firearms (you can still just pistols though). Personally I found voodoo to be far more interesting as it will allow you to control NPC's and do lots of other nice little things. It's a very fitting magic system and it also has a crafting side to it as you will need to make voodoo dolls using hair from the people you want to control. A simpler way to use voodoo is to make an enemy fight one of his mates.
Piranha Bytes have also incorporated a bit of humour into the combat. You can throw salt and sand into the eyes of your enemies, and if you pick up a coconut you can throw it. You can also use a parrot to confuse or distract enemies, and finally you can take control of your pet monkey to scout dungeons, search for treasure and more. And naturally you drink rum to replenish your health.
Risen 2: Dark Waters has the makings of a sleeper hit. It does away with some of the comforts we've gotten used to with modern day console friendly role playing games, and paired with a number of fun and different features like voodoo, the swashbuckling based combat, and a good dose of pirate humour, it could very well be just the right medicine for those who felt disappointed with Skyrim.