This poor place hasn't been used for its intended purpose in years, but I enjoyed writing here back in the day. I only use it when I feel confident that I will finish and review a game, the game isn't under embargo, and I have the down time to write between playing sessions. Also, it helps if the game isn't very good and I'm not playing it 10 hours/day like I did Divinity and Rorona Plus.
I know I've been reviewing for RPGamer too frequently when Macstorm starts pushing me to review awful games. After seeing my forum posts about Gothic 3 a few days ago, he asked me to tackle Piranha Bytes' latest example of how not to make open world RPGs, Risen 3: Titan Lords. RPGamer had an early access review code for it, but no one on staff took the free code. I survived Gothic 3, so let's see if I survive this. Fun fact:
I was supposed to review Risen 1 for the 360. I played it for less than 20 minutes and hated it so much I never tried it again. This makes Risen 360 the worst video game I have ever played.
I went to the manual to catch up on the story and lore.
That bodes well. I go to Wikipedia and read the plots of Risen 1 and 2. Then start the game.
My first, odd impression was that Risen 3 actually runs much better on my PC than Gothic 3, an eight year old game. It loads fast, the textures appear fast, it saves fast, and other things ending in "fast" that ended in "terribly slow" for Gothic 3. I had to turn Gothic 3's graphics settings to meh for it to maintain a playable FPS. Risen 3 suggested I played on all Ultra/High settings, and my PC is old. The FPS isn't great. I figure I'll lower a few things tomorrow and see how that helps. Still, the performance overall is good and the graphics look nice. Gothic 3's performance was terrible.
The nameless, half-naked hero wakes from a tutorial-filled nightmare to fulfill my heterosexual incest fantasies when his boobtastic, scantily-clad sister tells him it's time to go treasure hunting. Sis wore her Slutty Pirate outfit to work again, talks flirtatiously at all times, and mentions constantly that they're siblings just so the player is clear on what's up. Nice. The Nameless One dies, is later brought to back to life by a half-naked voodoo man with a reverse tramp stamp in body paint, and I'm wondering who the hell did these character designs. While speaking like a bored narrator doing a Pirate Johnny Depp impression for the heck of it, Voodoo Man dryly lists 3 factions, 2 potential party members, a leader to visit, and the free DLC island, all in different locations I can visit in any order. And I gained 6 levels and can allocate points. I'm overwhelmed and confused in so many ways.
But if my experience with Gothic 2, Gothic 3, and the Wikipedia pages of Risen 1 and 2 taught me anything, it was to expect a crappy, uninspired story from Piranha Bytes. What matters is how bad the gameplay is on a scale from "Risen 1 on the 360" to "Like Dark Souls, only broken and more frustrating," which I assume is the best I can realistically hope for. An hour in, it's not nearly that bad. Risen 3 plays how the Gothic 3 manual said Gothic 3 was supposed to play. It's unforgiving, tactical realtime combat. I've already died a few times. The mechanics and controls are working in a logical way, which I can't say for Risen 1 or Gothic 3. I expect to finish this one if it's nothing more than Gothic 3 minus brokenness, and I might even enjoy it some. Just being able to instantly restore health feels like a hug from Jesus after 60 hours of Gothic 3.
The default volume was super loud though. The opening cinematic startled me. I turned the master volume down to 70% a few minutes later, and just in time. Right afterward a monster burst out of a wall and startled the hell out of me. If I left it on 100% I might have screamed. Although I startle easily, I'm 19 months scream-free on video games (January 2013, The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 3) and want to keep that going. I'll have to lower that some more while I'm in the options turning down the graphics. Fun fact:
My brother saw the new TMNT movie last weekend, and in rating it to me pointed out that he was only startled once while our mother jumped twice. Therefore, it didn't startle him much and was a good movie. This is how our family rates things.
Date: 8/21/14 5am
Game time: 9.5 hours
After the first chapter had the subtle pacing of a train wreck, not much has happened in the 8+ hours since. It seemed logical to me to check in with the Pirate King first, which ended up being the right call. His island was small, the quests were fast, and it eased me into the game much better than Chapter 1 did. Then I went to the... voodoo pirate... island. For 6 hours I did quests and waited for the twist that would reveal how the native tribe would end up remotely piratey, but it didn't happen. They're just typical video game natives who love human sacrifice and angry gods, and hate white people and clothing. The pirates expose as much skin as possible while still looking like stereotypical pirates too. While I have no qualms with a game full of sexy, half-naked people, I get more immersed in realistic, gritty worlds like Assassin's Creed IV, The Witcher 2, and Fallout 3 where people who should look dirty and unkempt do. I completed all the voodoo pirate quests, found out the shaman there can't help reduce my undeadness yet (the game lied to me!), and the next stop will be the mages who supposedly will show me how to destroy underworld gates. The last stop will be to see the demon hunters, who got off on the wrong foot when the first one I ran into was awful in combat and a jerk.
The writing in Risen 3 is so bad. At times it's like an early children's book that intentionally uses a limited vocabulary and repeats phrases. Most conversations are like:
"I was walking on the beach when I lost my dog."
"Where were you walking on the beach?"
"I was walking on the beach that is to the south when my dog was lost on the beach."
"What does your dog look like?"
"My dog looks like a white dog and was on the beach to the south."
Seriously, most of the dialogue reads like that to me, and I bet some of it has been exactly that bad.
The quests have some fun ideas, though. One involved helping a destitute man. Seemed like a normal throwaway quest. When I completed it, he offered to give me a choice between a trivial amount of gold, or something so awful I knew the quest reward was meant as a joke and asked for the awful reward. The next few lines and the result of the quest caught me off-guard and made me laugh. It had an unexpected outcome to what looked like a super-generic fetch quest. To get around the fact that the voodoo tribe hates white people, there was a short sequence where I used a voodoo doll to control the body of a tribal, then made him walk around and talk in tribalese and convince them to hate white people less. Those two moments were funny, well-written, and creative, but they stand out because nothing else was. It's a whole lot of "I'm a wuss and left my clothes in a bird's nest that inexplicably appeared while I was sleeping. Get them for me." "Where is the bird's nest with your clothes?" "The bird's nest is to the north and I left my clothes in the bird's nest." "I will get your clothes from the bird's nest to the north and bring you the clothes." Then the quest reward is 100 gold coins. Also, the voice actors speak slowly and there's a brief pause between lines, so it draws all these bad conversations out.
Everything else is fine. Combat is unique. It's like... the recent Batman games where you sort of teleport to enemies 20 feet away to make a melee attack, plus Dark Souls's quick dodge being the best way to avoid an attack, and the speed of combat is somewhere between the two. Kinda slow when you're doing a combo, but fast attacks snap out instantly. The nameless one has a lot of life and healing is instant, so although the mechanics are those of a tactical action game, it's easier than 3D Zelda. The only punishment for getting hit a lot is that combat will take longer and being pinballed or stunlocked is never a fun feeling.
I'm slightly disappointed that the open world isn't bigger. The islands so far have been what I consider small zones, like a BioWare or Witcher take on open worlds, not like Bethesda or Gothic. This thing is meh-ing out to a mediocre experience where the most fun is coming from my internal monologue making fun of it, even though it's not bad. Mostly it's a Fashion Police / Fashion Queens (depending on whether my internal voice is talking white or black at the moment) reaction to how everyone is dressed. OH! I found my Incest Pirate Sister today, but she won't rejoin me because my vessel is too small and she likes them big. I'm stuck with the voodoo guy who I noticed today has a proper tramp stamp in body paint in addition to the reverse one. He keeps aggro better than Sis anyway, and heals me for free. He said he dreams of being a woman sometimes. I'm... not really sure what's up with his character.
Date: 8/22/14 1pm
Game time: 21 hours
The pacing on this thing has become crazy. While questing on the mage island, I played for about 3 hours straight and did nothing but talk to people and complete peaceful quests in town. I know I play RPGs slowly, but this was 3 hours of clicking every dialogue option and listening to the voice actors talk, and then running back and forth to fetch various things. Then it took less than two hours of monster slaying to finish everything on the island. While a 3:2 questing:fighting ratio can be fine, the dialogue in Risen 3 is so boring. There wasn't much speech that was as bad as I exaggerated in the last update, but even when it doesn't sound like voice actors reading a children's book, it's still slow and dull.
When I'm talking to NPCs, I'm bored and looking forward to ending all the gab and getting to fighting. Then when I'm fighting, I find combat irritating and look forward to getting back to town to chat more. Not good. I'm also scared that I'm not exploring much outside of where quests send me, but 21 hours in, it's still chapter 2 and I've only explored half of the islands.
But at least it looks pretty. The demon hunters win the best dressed award, wearing head to toe leather, metal, and fur in what I had thought was a hot, tropical setting. Maybe my assumptions on the climate were influenced by the lack of clothing worn by the pirates and tribals I first ran into, but the mages, guardians, and demon hunters look like they're living in mid-winter. The Gothic series had faction armor. Assuming Risen does too, the main choice between factions comes down to whether I want to wear blue armor, leather and fur, or a man-skirt. I'd like to think I'm a deeper person than this, but the reality is that if the guardian armor was the wrong color I'd never join them. I have a natural aversion to certain colors, particularly in games where they pop more than in real life, and although I'll rationalize it as something else, the truth is I like the color blue and am drawn to the guardian's clothing because of it.
The factions could have used more thought and fleshing out. The voodoo tribals hate outsiders, treat women as inferior beings, and have a caste system with rigid ranks and rules. The guardians distrust outsiders, treat gnomes as inferior beings, and have a militant ranking system. However, an NPC keeps telling me that the tribals represent freedom while the guardians represent overbearing order, specifically calling out the above actions by the guardians as proof. Even though the tribals do every one of those things too. That bothers me, especially with the NPC's unending whining about it. I want to slap him and ask him how on earth the tribals promote a free lifestyle when they too have strict rules, their own form of repression on women and white people, and a caste system that doesn't allow for changing ranks. Whatever.
Smaller consistency issues exist too. A fishing village complains that there isn't enough food to go around, but the developers put raw fish EVERYWHERE in the village and a quest reward shows that one of the villagers has a month's worth of food. I think I ended up stealing or otherwise obtaining over 20 fish in a tiny village that the storyline said is starving. It's little things like this that Bethesda gets right in its games. Designers can tell stories with how items are placed in the world, and it damn well better line up with what NPCs are saying. Risen 3, at times, appears like different people worked on different parts of the game and didn't talk to each other during the process.
The pirate, voodoo, and guardian quests are done, and the demon hunter ones are almost done. Picking a faction is more about the player's fetishes or outright role-playing than a choice between skills. As best I can tell, the faction determines what theme your spells will have, but won't impact anything else in character growth. I'm leaning toward joining the guardians at the moment. Lawful/order alignments in games tend to attract me unless there are character or story situations pulling me in another direction, and Risen 3 isn't putting any depth or heart into the decision. Plus, the cadets practicing with the magic gloves look cool. It isn't because they're blue, see?
Date: 8/23/14 7am
Game time: 30 hours
Japan knows how to do adorable, entertaining mascots. When the West does them, we end up with Jar Jar Binks, and video games tend to be more light-handed with intellectually challenged comic relief characters, putting humorous spins on them rather than making them outright goofy. We get HK-47 or Minsc, not Teddie. And that works out okay.
But I love the mascot-like gnomes in Risen 3. Stupid, obsessed with money, and with no grasp of the human race's morals, they always make me laugh. They speak in part English, part gibberish, and their word for human is "Homi." That's pronounced like "homie" and I get Saint's Row flashbacks every time a gnome calls me homie. Even on an island where the game states that gnomes are treated like slaves, they're so damn excited to please the humans and get shiny treasures that it didn't convince me to feel sorry for them. I have a pirate gnome in my crew who literally ninjas the loot when I bring him off the ship. I end up racing him to corpses in an attempt to rip off monkey paws and spider eyes before he does. He returns everything when I ask, but it's still funny, and the first time I saw him steal a golem's heart after a fight it was a wtf moment. He also curses like a sailor (he's a pirate, I guess that's what the writers were thinking). Gnomes don't really use profanity in the game, so that's funnier to me that it really should be. Also, he calls urine golden puddles and collects it because it's very valuable. It's gold! Seems the little guy is a returning character from Risen 2.
I'm enjoying the combat now. After getting access to magic attacks, I'll never return to swords again. Magic is unblockable and free to use. The balance is that it comes out slightly slower than sword attacks, but not by much. It hits multiple targets, does much more damage, keeps distance between me and foes, and usually stuns them briefly. It fixed or at least negated most of what annoyed me about combat. It's making the game much easier too, but I'll take it.
Slutty Sister's questline in the game involves having her chat one on one with pirate NPCs, who are always like "IT'S A WOMAN!!!!!!" and then tell her where some treasure is buried because they want her to sleep with them. Then she walks away and we steal the treasure. It's understandable because the male to female ratio in this game is around 100:1. The protagonist doesn't sound interested in women in the game at all, even the flirty ones and prostitutes. Or men, the once or twice that came up as a joke. I still assume that he's smashing it with his sister.
I'm happier all around because the crew dialogue has been better than the rest of the game's bad writing, the combat is fixed, and the quests are faster. The pace has picked up, and it's partly my fault for waiting so long to join a faction that it stayed slow in the first place.
Date: 8/23/14 11:30pm
Game time: 35 hours
This game is really getting on my tits.
After spending 30-something hours chuckling in the Underworld, the game's antagonist finally BWAHAHAHAHAed his way out of hiding, tossed out every generic evil mastermind line in existence, said everyone was his pawn, said his plan worked perfectly, blah, blah, blah, he has the power of a god, some more evil laughter, then he left without killing the protagonist or harming anything more than his self esteem. I chased down someone who had been traitorously helping the antagonist. That guy also laughed maniacally off and on, talked about the power of a god, had the decency to explain himself a bit, it made absolutely no sense whatsoever, then he died. The only way to find the villain again is to finish up some hanging quests I hadn't done because they seemed time consuming and dull. Then there will be some more fights, I can find the villain, and I bet despite him being a god I'll kill him and can stop playing.
I've reached that point where I'm now clicking through the dialogue so it moves faster. And how much faster it moves! Combat is even faster now that I bought some abilities that make me even more butt kicking. The enemies are no tougher than they were 2 hours into the game, so I burn through them quick, quick, quick! The only thing slowing me down are the scripted boss fights, which are terrible. Terrible and long, but probably not as long as they feel due to how irritating they are. Looking forward to ending this thing tonight or Sunday.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.