by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
After having brought us three games in the Gothic series, Piranha Bytes is exploring a completely new setting in their upcoming role-playing game, Risen. Starting from scratch, they are building up a new mythos surrounding the volcanic island on which the story takes place and have created new bestiary and races to make the game feel fresh in the sea of CRPGs that all have elves and dwarves and other over-used elements. But, let's take a closer look at the game and what it will offer.
In an RPG, the story plays the centre-most part. If the story fails, the game will fail, however fantastic it looks and however creative the world is. The story, however, needs to be complemented with an interesting setting.
Risen takes place on a volcanic island with a Mediterranean style climate. The technology level is comparable to the western idea of medieval, although there will be a fair bit of magic thrown in. The developers have stated that they wish the setting to be more real than their previous titles and thus the weapons and armour will more closely resemble their historical counterparts without such exaggerations as you are likely to find in many other games. Personally, as a sort of history-buff, I find this a very likeable approach, including the developers promise of gritty, dirty style to the graphics.
The developers have been fairly tight-lipped about the story, but we do know that the main protagonist is a man who is washed up on the shore of the island and is as new to the setting as the player. Unlucky fellow that he is, he soon learns that the island is under a mysterious curse and Evil seems to be rising from every hole on the ground, bringing with it strange new creatures and monsters.
The story, whatever it will turn out to be, will unfold in four chapters, which open up new regions on the island to explore. Other than these limitations, the developers promise that you will be able to freely study the locations without any annoying load times, despite the fancy graphics.
Beasts and ways to kill them
As in all RPGs, your character will start out with relatively limited skills. This will also show in the way he uses his weapons to attack his enemies. The developers have said that as the character gains experience, the fighting animations become more and more acrobatic and fluid. The weapons are based on historical examples, but there will be some special weapons also in the mix to give the game some added colour. And fighter-enthusiasts need not worry: you will be able to use all sorts of shield and sword combinations as well as two-weapon fighting.
Naturally, the game will not lack in magic either. The developers haven't said much about the spells you can expect to see, but the preview videos and samples show various sorts of fire bolts and balls, as well as some sort of freezing or stunning spells that hold the enemies still while you hack and slash at them to death.
The bestiary includes some very interesting new creatures in addition to some familiar ones. Starting with familiar stuff, we'll see Wolves, whose aggressiveness in the game is explained by their extreme hunger that makes them attack practically any fleshy target they spot in the wilderness. Another familiar sight to old-timers are undead Skeletons who roam the land, killing every creature who still holds onto life in some manner. Likewise Ghouls have adorned more than one RPG in the past – they are basically zombies but with unearthly hunger for meat. According to the legends on the island, ghouls were once evil humans, who turned to these evil creatures after their deaths – becoming what they always were inside when they were still alive. Ogres, however, are not aggressive creatures at heart and some of them have actually been tamed into human service. Another way to bind one to one's service is blood debt (Wookies, anyone?). Last, and perhaps the least, come Gnomes with their unending yearning to steal anything that they can lay their hands on. Anyone who ever played the Ultima series (especially Ultima III) series will remember these critters with a special sort of fondness.
As far as it comes to original bestiary, Risen introduces quite a collection. Sea Volchers are big carrion eater birds who are rather peaceful unless you go and bother them by trying to take away their food. Giant herbivorous Thunder Lizards are lazy but very territorial creatures, who warn off anyone who approaches them with thunderous beats of their tails. Rotworms inhabit swamps and marshes and have become more common in the recent times. They tend to roam in the depths, but sometimes they surface in their search for food. Ashbeasts are perhaps the most violent species on the island – cave dwellers who are almost insane in their aggression towards anyone trespassing in their labyrinth-like dwellings.
Good CRPGs are an unfortunately rare sight in today's game market, so we hold high hopes for Risen. The developers are working on a demo which will allow us to see what the game will offer a little bit better than the trailers and stories do, but I'm pretty confident that, with the experience that the developers have of RPG design, we will be treated with a fine CRPG.