The biggest problem I had with the combat is the lack of any real dodge move. The problem is that blocking only stops the attacks of human enemies, and even then, only as far as melee attacks go. Swords and spear thrusts you can turn away, but thrown spears, or attacks by animals can‘t be blocked. It means that the only way you can avoid those kinds of attacks a lot of the time is by literally jumping out of the way. There were times when I resembled a monkey on a caffeine drip, with all the jumping I was doing to avoid attacks, especially from things like warthogs and alligators. The ability to just tap a button and direction, and do a little pirouette out of danger (if timed right, of course), would do a lot to add more flow to an already robust combat system.

Running in tandem to that little gripe is the one I had with the skill system. As a whole, I actually rather liked the system. You earn glory (which is basically experience points) for killing monsters, completing quests, finding treasure and discovering new locations. You can then use that glory to upgrade one of your five attributes: blades, firearms, toughness, cunning and voodoo. Each of these attributes has a subset of skills that you can advance in. However, in order to advance these skills, you have to find a person to teach you either the new skill or a higher level of a skill you already know, at significant cost.

Gold isn’t exactly at a premium in this game, (especially if you decide to advance your cunning skills, which include thievery and pick pocketing), but you need it for so much that the added burden of advancing your skills can sometimes leave your purse a little lighter than desired. This is why I didn’t learn voodoo: given the difficulty I was playing at, combat skills had a much higher priority for me, so I never really had the money to invest in the arcane. Like the dodge-less combat, it fits with the overall challenge of the game, but making the skills even just a little cheaper would have made for a much smoother system of levelling, and allowed for a greater customization of your character.

Being able to mix and match your outfit isn't always enough.

Of course, the key to combat is variety in the type of enemy you’re fighting, and while Risen 2 doesn’t boast a huge number of different enemies to fight, they aren’t so few that you’ll find yourself totally bored, either. Travelling through the islands you’ll land on, you’ll see enemies ranging from firebirds (cockatrices, for those in the know), warthogs, alligators and monkeys, just to name a few. There’s also the all-important human element, which gets special mention simply due to the sword fighting.

When you go up against another person wielding a sword, the animations used in the game make it feel like a duel straight out of a pirate movie. It’s not like the two of you are holding rapiers you start swinging like broadswords, you actually go into a duelling stance, and I found myself constantly circling, waiting for my chance to strike. This is where the blocking, parrying and riposting come into play, making combat with humans much more interesting than the combat with wild animals. Although, given the number of human enemies you’ll fight, it’s surprising that the relatively simply touch of an animation stays fresh the whole way through, but it does.

Of course, all the pretty animations in the world don't help if you've got no style.

I know I mentioned ‘the islands’ quite a few times already, and given the property we’re talking about, you can probably guess most of what I’m going to say, but I have to mention it anyway. Risen 2 takes place on a series of islands. The first thing I want to say is that, graphically, these islands are absolutely stunning. The foliage casts shadows along the paths, the waves crash and break over the sand, and the sun sparkles off the water. The trees and bushes are lush and green, and the play of light in the sky at different times of day is just astounding. The way the light dims and shifts when you enter caves is also extremely well done, and it’s worth mentioning that, even though you spend the entire game jumping back and forth between a series of islands, they’re all so well designed that it never feels repetitive.

That, in part, is what makes this semi-open world feel so well designed. After you get your own ship, and have the ability to choose which island to go to and when, the game really opens up. Each of the islands is big enough to warrant exploration, and I found myself spending just as much time wandering through the wilderness searching for ruins to plunder and chests to dig up as I did actually progressing through the story. It’s a testament to the developer’s talent that I never found myself wandering when I didn’t want to be. Even when, a couple of times, I found myself searching for a quest objective without the aid of a map of the area, the general direction of the objective is laid out on the sea chart (which is basically an overworld map), and finding my way there was extremely enjoyable. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun wandering (aimlessly, at times) in a videogame.

Pretty visuals are the only thing that could make a wannabe pirate stop and stare dreamily at the water.

Now, I know for many, the problems I had with the combat and skill system will be easily dismissed by the notion that the game is meant to be challenging. And I can concede that point, to a certain degree. Even if you disagree with those complaints, though, there are a myriad of smaller problems that dot Risen 2: unfortunate blemishes on an otherwise clean façade.

There are frequent problems with collision detection, although, strangely, it only seems to affect NPCs. It’s not uncommon for several guards to be standing within one another while watching you from a doorway, but these problems never really extend to the player-character, except in the case of ledge climbing. This means that, overall, it’s not really intrusive, but it does detract slightly from the overall experience.

There are also problems with the dialogue. The one that caught my attention the most was the odd inconsistency in the voice-acting. Sometimes, the delivery was perfectly adequate, putting proper pause, tone, and emotion into the dialogue. Other times, though, it’s extremely flat, wooden, almost. It’s not even a case of some voices being stronger than others: sometimes the same character will deliver a perfectly fine line, and then lose all of their emotion for the very next one. Again, it’s more of a case of being jarring and detracting than anything, but in a videogame, immersion can be make or break.

And, obviously, a game that lets you drink a fellow pirate under the table is taking immersion seriously.

The only actual intrusive problem, as far as the dialogue is concerned, is that sometimes there are disconnects between what is being said, and what is being otherwise presented. That doesn’t make sense, I know, so here is an example: after you get your own ship, you have the option of ordering one of your crewmates to follow you off the ship and into the world. Sometimes, though, even if you don’t have a crewmate with you, some of the delivered dialogue is addressed to the non-present ally, or, if you do have a crewmate with you, it is the wrong one that the dialogue is addressing. I found that most of this disconnected dialogue was directed toward Patty, so maybe the game was telling me to take her along more often, but either way, it could get very confusing.

There were also times when the reply an NPC made to a dialogue selection didn’t actually make sense following that particular choice. I suppose I should also mention that the gestures the characters make while speaking generally don’t match what they’re saying, but this is a common trope in videogames. It’s the problem with recording dialogue and animating characters separately. It’s something you see so often that you stop noticing it after a while, but at first, it is a little odd looking.

Dead people also have a tendency to ragdollize really weirdly. Those with weak constitutions need not apply.

Overall, though, the problems with Risen 2 are minor. Some unobtrusive collision-detection and messy dialogue don’t take much away from what is otherwise a very solid RPG experience. The game is graphically stunning, the combat solid, and the semi-open world very well-designed. It is a great example of what every sequel should do, taking what made the original fun and building on it until you get a game that is equal to its progenitor in some respects, and outright superior in others. Risen 2: Dark Waters is definitely worth your time if you are a fan of the original, any of Piranha Bytes previous titles, or action-RPGs in general.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Graphically stunning island setting
+ Maintains the level of challenge of its predecessor
+ Robust combat system…
-  …that could benefit from a dodge mechanic to add flow
- Expense of skills sometimes feels too high
- An assortment of minor dialogue problems and inconsistencies

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

Risen 2: Dark Waters was developed by Piranha Bytes and published by Deep Silver. The game will be released on April 27, 2012 for the PC at an MSRP of $49.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.