Review: Risen 3: Titan Lords – Shallow Waters
Risen 3: Titan Lords is Piranha Bytes’ latest RPG epic that turns you into a no-nonsense swashbuckler seeking personal vengeance against the demonic denizens of darkness that took his soul. It’s also an adventure-action RPG where you can turn into a parrot, drop more “eff” bombs than you can count and captain a ship of mentally unstable crew members.
Risen 3 starts off like any other pirate adventure, a journey to a mystery island with the promise of fortune and infamy that doesn’t quite go according to plan. Risen dives hard into the pirate tropes with your nameless hero visiting a collection of small tropical islands to deal with brigands, voodoo mystics and demons from the deep. And like a true man of the sea, you’ll never stick around on dry land for too long.
Your quest to reclaim your lost after a treasure hunting trip gone awry will have you island-hop across a lot of familiar settings you came across in Risen 2. It was neat to see places that were once vibrant and filled with life in the last game succumb to demonic darkness forces tearing apart their lands. There’s a general vibe of distrust and desperation that comes across most of the civilians you meet that is actually pretty bad-ass. On the other hand, seeing the same areas retreaded doesn’t really make the game feel like a sequel but more like expanded DLC.
The quest system has been revamped to give the player a bit direction when art adventuring. The inclusion of a mini-map is a welcomed addition since the biggest problem I had with previous Risen games was that you really needed to pay attention to quest givers in order to get where we’re you’re going. While I appreciate the hardcore nature of the “Here’s a quest. FIGURE IT OUT!” approach to adventuring, being able to see that you’re going the right way makes things less frustrating.
Risen 3 really has fun with the pirate lifestyle, including silly abilities like training a monkey to steal or magically turning into a parrot to float across chasms. The character customization gives you plenty of options to make meaningful character development choices. Every successful pirate deed, whether it be completing a quest or straight up just killing dudes, will give you Glory which you then use to level up your characters in various ways. I really like how varied ways your pirate could end up.
I decided to focus more on firearms and all manners of persuasion (see: threatening people with harsh language). Intimidation became my favorite dialogue option since it lead to some unique rewards. There is though a finite number of Glory you could spend, so trying to make a jack of all trades becomes a little bit more challenging. I found just sticking to straight melee and health upgrades should hold you over for the majority of the game.
During your adventures you’ll recruit a handful of companions that reside on your ship, said ship acting as your hub world. Once you have access to your first ship, a tiny sloop, you have complete control on when and where you should go. This type of unparalleled freedom have always been what Risen has been about.
I just wished that the voice actors shared the same enthusiasm for privateer shenanigans. All the voice acting from the entire cast seems to deliver each line with the same lack of emotional weight. Everyone seems bored that the end of the world is coming or that hellhounds are bearing down on their town square. This doesn’t ruin the game (aside from some cringe-worthy dialogue) — instead it almost fits into the game’s charm. Hearing your Shaman companion Bones tell enemies he’s going to wear people’s faces is kinda of silly and terrible at the same time.
There are three major factions your character can join: the Guardians, Voodoo pirates and and the Demon Hunters. Swearing your cutlass to one makes the other two unavailable. Each faction has their own quest lines and side specific gear. I choose the Pirates since that seemed like a good fit for me since I’m already a bad ass pirate. These factions do provide a fair amount of replay value, as well as playing into the level of freedom I mentioned earlier. I loved being able to visit any island and take any quest in whatever order I wanted to, reminding me fondly of the approach the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games.
You also have a ton of freedom in how you want to dispatch foes. Swords will be how deal most of death you deal. Magic also becomes a great option since most of the offensive spells are insanely overpowered and offer a good variety to combat. I was glad to see a general improvement in the combat department in this third Risen installment.
Here’s the thing though: once you discover that you can’t be hurt while rolling, this literally ends up breaking combat completely. If you find yourself catching a beating from a baddie just rolling around until you get your bearings or have your companion finish them off since they have crazy high health and are very rarely knocked down. This is how I got past most of my difficult fights. Every fight ends up looking like your character is a gold medalist in Gymboree with all the rolling you do. The roll-roll-slash-roll-slash tactic sometimes becomes your only tactic when the difficulty decides to spike without warning.
The parry system takes some getting used to since you have to hold the parry button and time the counter just right in order to really take it to an opponent. Again, you’ll see it’s a lot easier to roll behind bad guys instead of figuring out the system, which is a real shame.
Ranged weapons don’t fare as well in combat compared to magic and swordplay. In the heat of battle, trying to line up a shot with ranged weapons like pistols or throwing knives makes you feel like your character maybe drank too much rum. The auto-aim, meanwhile, prevents you from selecting exactly who you want to shoot. It’s tough to predict your firearm’s range so if you miss chances you’re taking a sword to the noggin immediately after. If you’re going to put points somewhere, melee weapons is where you want to put the bulk of your investment as far as time and resources are concerned.
The lack of polish seems to permeate through almost every aspect of the game. I mentioned earlier how easy the combat can be exploited with only rolls. Enemies will get stuck on geometry while companions will just vanish without a trace for 30-45 seconds will no real explanation. The menus and inventory management are an actual headache to cycle through. The textures often look muddy and rough to look at from up close. The character animations come off stiff during cut-scenes and very herky-jerky when fighting with attacks awkwardly chaining together.
Risen 3: Titan Lords will still manage to hold your attention. Where this game excels in is its overwhelming sense of freedom and control you have over your pirate and your journey. If you’re big on pirates and don’t mind some boring broken combat, consider taking a 30+ hour voodoo-inspired romp through an intriguing open world. However, the uneven difficulty, exploitative combat mechanics and uninspired story will turn off most people who aren’t hardcore RPG fans.