All right, let's get underway then.
System: Xbox 360
Release Date: Feb 22, 2010
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: Deep Silver
Risen is a "western" RPG developed by the German company Piranha Bytes, which some of you may recognize for their work on the Gothic series. Published by Deep Silver, Risen came out on the Xbox 360 in 2010, early in the year.
Known for the slow pacing of the Gothic series, Piranha Bytes used much the same formula for Risen. There isn't much story beyond the basic synopsis you are given at the start of a new game, at least, none that I have found yet.
You start out after a shipwreck, alone on a beach and surrounded by corpses. I didn't have the advantage of a manual, so I had to play around with the controls for about fifteen minutes before I was comfortable enough to move away from the tide. The controls were a little counter-intuitive. I had to use the directional pad to access the menu, as opposed to the back or start button you would use for most other similar games. There are hotkeys, but without the manual, I had no way to figure out how to use them.
The UI was poorly ported over from the PC version, resulting in text that didn't scale properly (I had to get within touching distance of my 32 inch screen to read anything) and the bigger the screen, the worse the result. The numbers on the inventory menu were basically impossible to see from a comfortable viewing distance, and I couldn't tell you how much of, or even what I had with any confidence.
The music was a pleasant surprise. Aside from the opening strings sounding very similar to the intro from Fallout that is. The in game music is very unobtrusive and gentle. Unfortunately, that lulled me to sleep on several occasions. The combat music wasn't quite robust enough for my liking, but it got the job done.
The enemies in this game do not scale, and that was an unpleasant surprise. I was barely out of the introductory area when I was getting routinely owned by palette swapped stronger versions of what I was fighting on the beach. Thanks to the aforementioned bad text, I was often left unable to know just which iteration of a creature I would be facing. The difference between a hungry wolf and a vicious wolf is several orders of magnitude.
Combat itself is initially quite brutal, and I learned very quickly that this game is all about timing. You get to take about three swings before you start your animations over, and often you are left wide open in the beginning. Once you master the attack patterns of a given enemy type, though, it becomes much more manageable.
Leveling is handled by a series of skill trainers. Each time you accrue enough experience to level up, you get "learning points", which along with a hefty sum, can be used to customize your character. This is the only customization you get, by the way, as you are locked into playing as "generic mid 30's white male with brown hair and stubble" for the whole game. The options aren't very appealing, and again, lack clear explanation in game.
There is little to no storyline at all, outside of some ramblings about an order of mages exploring temples and a group of bandits living in a swamp. The game practically forces you into going to the bandit camp, as choosing to explore the only town in the opening area locks you in. You quite literally cannot leave once you enter, unless you exploit a glitch, which means you miss out on several quests and skill trainers.
Item and inventory management don't really seem to matter all that much, as I haven't found an upper limit to how much you can carry. I have found that you won't be getting armor for quite a while, unless you somehow manage to accumulate 500 gold in the first forty-five minutes of game. You are left in rags and barefoot until then, and when you do finally somehow manage to scrape together enough to upgrade, it is simply a set of clothing, with no armor value to speak of.
All told, this is a slow paced game with little going for it, aside from the atmosphere. The atmosphere is amazing, it feels dark, gritty and forlorn, and somehow, despite all the flaws, manages to keep me playing. I shouldn't be surprised though, this is from the developers of Gothic.
I can't really recommend this unless you prefer slow paced grind fests. Outside of Gothic and Ultima VII, I don't really have a point of reference, or any other similar games to recommend. I would say check it out if you like gritty and realistic games, but don't expect too much. Overall a solid entry, but I expect a little more technical polish for a game this recent.