Risen 3 is the Boris Johnson of video games: insanely ambitious, very eccentric, aesthetically horrifying, and a little bit pants. It has a unique personality, which isn’t necessarily a good trait. In many ways, Risen 3 reminds me of a macro Morrowind: after a short tutorial you’re dumped into the world and expected to tackle objectives however you see fit; like Morrowind, the combat is real time but still relies on dice rolls to decide if a hit makes contact; like Morrowind, it now feels archaic.
It begins with two galleons locked into a boarding battle at sea. Here the game teaches you the basics of movement and combat as you swashbuckle your way across the ships’ decks. Fire blazes, wood falls, NPCs do battle and the frame rate sputters along – like the decks of the ships you’re fighting on – creaking under the strain.
Combat’s the first thing the game showcases and it’s easily the most frustrating and broken component. There’s no lock-on function, so you’re constantly wrestling with the camera. You can parry blows, but it’s really just a very weak block that can be easily staggered. To avoid heavy blows you must roll, which often leaves your back exposed – it also takes so long to recover from a roll that the enemy is usually taking their next swing by the time you get your bearings. Magnifying its incompetence, there’s no weight to any of this – combat is a damp flannel.
Things get worse when multiple enemies attack you, because the combat feels like it’s built with one-on-one encounters in mind. Enemies have the ability to jump backwards when you swing at them, which isn’t an ability the player has outside of rolling – this often leads to the enemies feeling like they have a sixth sense as they evade your swings effortlessly and swarm you from every angle. The various creatures don’t interact with each other, either. There’s no ecosystem – you can aggro a group of different species and they’ll all attack you together. Sometimes you’ll be fighting a dinosaur, a tiger and a tree – this isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
At certain points you’ll walk into a confrontation with your sword drawn, a cutscene will begin and the game will immediately throw you into battle afterwards, your sword back in its sheathe. Likewise, if you use an item from the main inventory instead of from the quick selection radial, the game will also put your sword away for you. When you run out of items in the radial, you have to manually replace them when reacquired, so it’s easily done. All these little annoyances soon pile up.
I often felt like snapping my controller in a fit of rage and launching the disc into the sun. Even after turning down to Easy – although the combat ceases to be as difficult because enemies do less damage – it’s still maddeningly frustrating and devoid of enjoyment. It’s Swinging and Missing That First Mudcrab In Morrowind: The Video Game.
It takes around ten hours playtime for your character to reach a level where combat’s a little less frustrating, but it never feels good. Leveling up is achieved by collecting ‘glory’, which you get from killing enemies or creatures (stabbing defenseless turtles gets you 20 glory!) or completing quests.
Exploration and conversation make up much of the rest of the game; there’s the pirate island, the military-controlled village, and the island inhabited by superstitious natives who dabble with “vodoo hocus pocus”, among others. If you know a racial stereotype, chances are Risen 3 has it. Obviously a lot of games have similar issues with lazy writing, but the delivery here just makes matters worse. The protagonist, who’s on a quest to save his soul from the underworld, sounds like a bad Jason Statham impersonator with Tourette’s syndrome. Maybe I missed the point. Maybe his terrible, terrible acting is all part of him having no soul. If that’s the case, it must have rubbed off on the supporting cast because it’s all utterly soulless. I feel my soul’s been tainted by it.
It sounds like all the lines are being read from a script whilst the actors are being forced to watch the bowls championships and listen to Coldplay. To worsen things, the game sometimes forgets what it said five minutes ago, reinforcing the feeling that the actors are reading detached lines of dialogue without context. One side mission saw me finding a dead body with a spearhead sticking out of him, the protagonist verbalising that fact. Minutes later, he proclaims the body had a sword thrust through it. It sounds small, but coupled with all the game’s other massive problems it really sticks.
It’s a shame the game is so riddled with issues, because it has some cool ideas up those frilly sleeves. The game’s pretty relaxed about how you go about quests, even telling the quest giver to f**k off if you get bored. There are also various different factions to side with, changing the story’s direction and also your choices for armour and skills. You can even get perk-like skill upgrades from various NPCs with the right stats and coin, growing your character as you see fit. On top of this, the game really lets you loose within the confines of its islands, going as far as letting you turn into a parrot to soar above the maps. Unfortunately, for all its ambition, once I got wings I just wanted to fly away.
PS3 version tested.