Adventure, swashbuckling, tropical islands, strange creatures and ancient ruins; these are a few of my favourite things (and in the game). I gave my brother my gog.com wishlist so he could birthday me without fear, and he first picked Risen 3: Titan Lords — a game which has all of these things in spades.
I don’t go on traditional summer holidays these days, but a trip to some imagined tropics doesn’t sound so bad…
Risen 3: Titan Lords
It’s funny because in reality I hate hot, humid places. I’m a cold-blooded northerner and if the temperature goes above fifteen degrees I start to get irritable, and yet… I’m a sucker for tropical game settings. The lush jungles of Crysis, the swamps and temples of Jedi Knight II‘s finale on Yavin-4, and of course the verdant rubble-strewn expanses of Warcraft III‘s Sunken Ruins tileset… Risen 3 takes place in a sprawling virtual Carribbean, with crystal aquamarine waters, thick and colourful vegetation, bathed in constant sunshine.
Your opening quest leads you off the golden sands and into an ancient jungle ruin in search of treasure, so it quickly ticks that box too. The game is pirate-themed to go along with the tropical geography, so you’re swigging rum to recover from fights instead of chugging down health potions and wearing a tricorne instead of a helmet. Under the bonnet, sure, it’s just another third-person action-RPG, but a change of clothes into something brighter has never gone amiss, especially when the result is a properly luscious world like this.
The creatures of this tropical landscape are also a refreshing change from the norm. While real world creatures such as monkeys, jaguars and alligators take the place of wolves and bears, we’re mostly treated to more vibrant fantastical creatures like the flightless half-feathered Scavengers and swarthy Water Lizards. There’s quite a large bestiary, and even generic creatures have had makeovers — Giant Crabs are ball-shaped needle-toothed monstrosities and Cave Bats are vicious grounded crawlers rather than tiny, irritating flying enemies as their name might suggest.
(Alas, there are still spiders. Seriously, with an otherwise amazing bestiary, couldn’t they have done away with spiders? There are at least six different breeds, and there’s a whole perk that improves damage against them. Seriously. Seriously.)
Animals tend to do their own thing unless disturbed, so sighting a pack of Rammers (“our rhinos are cooler”, but they really are) isn’t necessarily the end of the world, and at night when they settle down to sleep (still in the middle of the path) you can sneak right past. Not that you would, though, because killing most animals nets precious meat that can be roasted into nutritious ration packs at a campfire, and some additional learning of skills can let you harvest pelts and horns too.
Of course that tells you that all the staples of the modern RPG are here. Collect herbs, chip ores out of walls — there are many, many forms of crafting scattered around the world. Although it does take a leaf out of one of my books: the various forms of crafting must first be learnt from people around the world before you can indulge them.
True, it’s mostly a matter of pouring money into somebody once, but for many you need a certain level in one of your attributes too, and it all makes the world feel that much more grounded. Your character is as a pirate warrior, not a blacksmith or spellcrafter or distiller — to get down these paths he needs to learn. Even byond that, smithing only allows you to reforge some broken weapons and upgrade others — you aren’t able to become a complete master that forges better kit than the gods themselves.
There is no levelling up, either, so there’s no rampant and slightly nonsensical escalation of enemy strength through the game — combat relies on that varied menagerie of strange animals rather than a numbers game. Challenge comes from circumstances rather than mathemagic.
And those circumstances are very fluid; battle is all lunging backwards and forwards, diving and rolling while your enemies try to circle you and evade your strikes. In other words, it’s proper swashbuckling. The dynamism does mean that you spend quite a lot of time slashing at animals that have been backed up against the walls and are hidden by the foliage, or dragging more enemies into the fray as you stray into their territories, but things are always exciting.
Kills and quests do net you “glory” points that can be spent on improving attributes (that in turn improve skills), but while some of these include basic improvements to your weapon damage and hit points and armour, they are constrained to gentle boosts rather than an inexorable ascendance to godhood.
Though it is an open-world game, it is very much narratively directed in the style of a Mass Effect. You are handed a character who gets cursed after the intro and therefore has to save himself, which will just so happen to involve saving the world too. As a half-dead pirate you’ve got to start from scratch, acquire a decent ship and gather a new crew, plus orchestrate an alliance of all the disparate factions to fight The Shadows.
This means travelling around the five islands to explore and do quests in order to ingratiate yourself with each one’s particular inhabitants, until you can convince them all to sign up. This means joining one and only one major faction, rather than being the master of every guild at the end of Skyrim.
It is a little bit overwhelming, the number of things that get dumped on you at the start of the game. Mass Effect starts with three planets and gives you the fourth half-way through to avoid such a massive dump, whereas Risen throws quests and quests and quests and quests at you all the time. Side quests, main quests, almost every character who can talk will give you a quest — and that is a lot of characters. Even exploring the islands on your own will cause you to stumble over quests you haven’t activated yet, giving you bonus Glory and Success! messages for picking things up or killing animals.
Overall though, niggles aside, I’m loving it. Sure, the combat and the dialogue are a bit janky sometimes, maybe it would have benefitted from focusing on and polishing fewer islands to avoid overload — but ultimately it’s fresh and bright and pretty and the underlying systems are pitched at just the right level.
Though I didn’t know it, it seems like an expansive tropical swashbuckling adventure holiday is exactly what I needed — so, thanks bro!