Before E3, Risen 2 was completely off my radar. After sitting through a demo of the game, the huge improvements over the previous game and the strong pirate theme have really piqued my interest. The game takes place 10 years after Risen 1. The city of Caldera is under siege by Titans, and you need to find a way to stop the sea creatures from attacking the city and the ships supplying the city. Over the course of the game, you will grow from a nobody to a pirate captain in command of a large ship and crew. The make-up of your crew is determined by your actions and dialog choices over the course of the game. For example, if you are a jerk to a certain faction, they may not send you a representative to join your crew. Your ship eventually becomes a melting pot of all the different characters and factions you have allied yourself with over the course of the game. Your crew will interact with each other and jump in on dialog sequences on both the ship and on land.
Each crew member has a role on the ship and each fits into various character archetypes when they join you on away missions. For example, you can recruit a melee fighter who doubles as the shipís cook, or you can recruit Betty, the navigator, who you talk to move from port to port. You can also take a crew member with you on shore leave to help you in combat. One of the great things about your companions is that you donít have to manage or babysit them in any way. You donít have to level them up or give them items to heal them. The intention was to have them help you rather than be a burden. You are not stuck with a companion when you land on an island. At any time, you can fast travel back to your ship and switch your companion with another crew member. For example, when you are in a wide open area, you may want to take your favorite musket-wielding crew member to pick off enemies in the distance, but when itís time to venture into a more confined dungeon, youíll want to take your melee-focused swashbuckler to better deal with close quarters combat. You can also opt to bring along a healer to support you from the sidelines. A lot of the fun and strategy in the game will revolve around recruiting crew members and deciding who to bring with you in any given situation.
The combat in the game has been changed greatly thanks to the addition of firearms. Your character can quickly switch from ranged to melee combat, although if you want to, you could easily specialize in any one area. When engaged in swordplay, counter moves and parries play a big role in the combat along with identifying an enemyís weak point. For example, you will have better luck defeating large crab enemies by kicking them and knocking them on their backs. However, you wouldnít want to kick an alligator as it would simply try to bite your foot off.
Perhaps the most interesting and unique aspect of the gameplay in Risen 2 is the skill tree or lack there of. The skill tree in this game has been moved out into the game world and is represented by various teachers. I was told that the goal was to have learning new skills be more of an emotional experience and be tied directly to the choices you make and the relationships you form in the game. For example, there are always different options to solve a quest. In one scenario, you can persuade a bouncer blocking a door to leave or you can simply beat down the guy to move past him. Things get interesting if that guy is a mentor in the world and could potentially teach you a new skill. If you beat him up and he hates you, then he may not want to train you. Similarly, if you start doing quests for shady people, you will start learning rogue-like skills from them. Rather than clicking on an icon in a menu when you level up, the choices you make in the game have a direct impact on how you grow as a character.
The game is currently in pre-alpha stage but looks great even at this early stage. The game is being developed on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 in parallel. I was ensured that the console versions of Risen 2 will not be an inferior product like Risen 1 on the Xbox 360 was. There will be some slight graphical differences with the console versions since the Xbox and PS3 are several years old, but the developers will maintain all of the atmosphere and features of the game across all 3 platforms. This means that you will get dynamic shadows, real-time lighting, and a dynamic weather system no matter what platform you get it on. That said, the Xbox 360 version of Risen 2 is already looking leaps and bounds better than the Xbox 360 version of Risen 1. Another interesting technical note is that there is only one loading bar per island. This means once you step on to an island in Risen 2, you will not see another loading screen even when entering interior spaces or dungeons.
This is an even more impressive feat when you learn just how big these environments are. Just one island in the game makes up about 70% of the main land mass in Risen 1, and there are multiple number of these islands. Risen 2 is meant to be one immersive handcrafted streaming experience. The developers have decided not to use any kind of level or dungeon generators. There are no cookie cutter dungeons or towns, no random chest filling, and no dungeons are recycled. This means that every chest and piece of loot you find was placed there by hand by one of the gameís developers. It seems like a ridiculously massive undertaking, given that the developers are promising 40-60 hours of gameplay and multiple massive islands, but the game should feel more organic and immersive as a result.
Risen 2 is set to come out in the first half of 2012 for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. Like I mentioned above, before I took this appointment at E3, I had no clue this game was even in development. Now, with everything I know about the gameís sense of freedom, its scope, and its handcrafted nature, Iím eager to see how the finished product will turn out.