Release Date: Out now
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Website: Official Site
Piranha Bytes knows you probably didn't like Risen 2, and so the studio symbolically kills it off but 30 minutes into the sequel. There's our hero from 2012's pirate-themed adventure, still nameless after all these years and looking as though he just wandered off the set of Assassin's Creed IV. But piracy apparently isn't what you want, and so he dies in front of a glowing portal in a ruin without so much as a last "Arr."
Fortunately, he is risen. His corpse spends three weeks fermenting in the tropical sun before he's brought back to life by a loopy shaman. Piranha Bytes revives the series with him, and fittingly sends him off in search of his soul. It's a generally fun romp that takes him into deep caves hiding menacing shadow lords and into bleached dreams where he waxes philosophical with villains from Risens past, but happily it's not the kind of game that demands encyclopedic knowledge of its forebears. Risen 3: Titan Lord's tale of securing the help of powerful mages stands quite well on its own.
You can thank the three new factions you can align with for a lot of that. The voodoo of Risen 2 makes a return in the camps of the "natives," but they never quite steal the show quite like their neighbors. The Guardians serve the mages on their rocky isle, but their melee prowess (and gear) adds a welcome edge to the spellslinger faction by leaving them with a degree of melee prowess. (They're kind of what the Templars of Dragon Age would act like if they served the mages rather than oppressed them.) Scowling in stage left, we have my fellow Demon Hunters, who bring a bit of Conan-style grit to the proceedings.
Yet more importantly, the three factions bring magic. Magic enhances the experience of Risen 3 so thoroughly that it's appalling to think that its predecessor shipped without it. A chief complaint of Risen 2 was that the tendency of enemies to gang up on you kept you from attacking, but here I send them flying back with a spell like the Demon Hunter's Shockwave. While they're wiggling from shock, I whip out a crossbow and— thoonk thoonk thoonk —they collapse like dominoes. It's stupid fun.
But let's be candid: it takes a while to reach this state of combat nirvana. Risen 3 wisely isn't so stingy with gold and gear as its predecessor—nor does it leave the locations of quest objectives open to guesswork—but its core combat does rely on the same dubious dance of parrying, heavy attacks, and slashes despite fancy new animations. Risen 3 is strikingly bug-free considering the series' reputation, but sometimes obviously hits seem to miss and relentless enemy attacks can still break through seemingly well-timed blocks.
But this is a world where Glory is earned by killing chickens minding their own business, to say nothing of chopping down liches from other dimensions. Glory is everywhere, and it's used to boost stats that affect our hero's prowess in stats such as skills such as Melee or Influence. It's a versatile system, and one that allowed me to turn my Demon Hunter into a battle mage of sorts that wreaked havoc with his battleaxe while summoning demon dogs. (He also makes a mean bottle of rum.) Not powerful enough? Buy some lessons from folks around towns. Toss in consumable spells of both the crystal and runic varieties and companions from various factions, and the combination ensures you'll find few situations where hope is in short supply.
And situations abound. Piranha Bytes here finds a pleasing balance of combat and story, and it seasons the experience with minigames for lockpicking or arm wrestling for extra gold. And bless my beard, the ship battles! Somebody's clearly been playing Assassin's Creed IV at Piranha Bytes, and it's paid off. Once our hero nabs a ship, sea monsters or clashes with enemy ships sometimes rudely interrupt his treks to new islands. Good timing, too. These battles appear precisely when the rest of the game starts to slip into an all-too-predictable rhythm, and its versatile mix of broadside cannon bursts and races to keep powderkegs from exploding on deck ensure the concept never outstays its welcome.
Some small concerns remain. The scattered, male-dominated islands of Risen 3 always capture the intended ambiance of their settings well, but very few vistas inspire the taking of personal screenshots for the heck of it. Frankly, it looks old.
But I didn't want to stop playing. Fifteen hours in, I faced my toughest challenge yet in the form of giant spider-thing that spouts giant insects from what looks like Galactus's large intestine. At last she falls.
"What is this worm doing in in my cave," she asks.
"Kicking your ass," our hero says. I actually clapped.