Thursday, April 9, 2015

Game Review - Risen 3: Titan Lords (Xbox 360, 2014)

Risen 3 suffers from what I like to call the "Chrono Cross syndrome" - it's technically an acceptable game, but even at its best moments, it's a disappointment when taken in the context of earlier games in the series.  It ultimately fails to reproduce the engrossing elements that captured my attention when playing the original Risen, despite giving a smoother experience.

First, the good news: The mechanics of Risen 3 are easily the best of the series so far.  It's still a third-person action RPG, and the gameplay has the same general feel, but the whole thing is much more natural and fluid.

The biggest improvement is the addition of a dodge ability.  Instead of being stuck blocking attacks while your enemies dance around you, your character can now dive to the side to avoid taking damage.  While the game still gets frustrating in a few places, this simple addition makes combat a hell of a lot less tedious.

Most of the other basics come straight from Risen 2.  You are again playing as a pirate (a new protagonist this time, though still nameless), and early on you'll get a ship that will let you travel between the game's different areas.  The ship travel is little more than a gimmick for transitioning between otherwise similar regions, but it certainly doesn't get in the way.  You'll also assemble a crew, then you can take a single shipmate with you as you go adventuring inland, and you'll earn experience that you can apply directly to improving your major attributes.

Another nice change is that Risen 3 merges the previous games' magic systems.  You can build a character strong in Voodoo (Risen 2's only source of magic) or you can focus on traditional elemental magic from the first Risen game.  Of course, you could forgo magic altogether and instead develop a strong melee or ranged fighter, or you could grab some skills in each category for a more balanced character.  Those choices didn't strike me as hugely important, but they were a little better fleshed out than in the past.

On the gameplay side of things, that's pretty much it - nearly all the quests are trivially straightforward with in-game quest markers, and you don't get many interesting choices along the way.  Despite the lack of depth, it's as entertaining as any other RPG with decent real-time combat.  A couple boss fights break up the pace a bit, but the main appeal will be fighting monsters and following the story.

And that's where the disappointment sets in.

At the end of the introductory area, the player character dies.  A couple weeks later, a mostly-crazy mystic revives you, but your soul has been lost to the spirit world.

From (nearly) the start, your main motivation is retrieving your soul.  Along the way, you'll have to make deals and help members of various factions, all while trying to figure out how to restore yourself.

That got me all excited because it was reminiscent of Risen's plot, where everything stemmed from the protagonist's desire to survive following a shipwreck.  The letdown, made worse by my anticipation from similarities to the first game, is that the major plot points slip away from that initial motivation.

The latter half of the game is filled with sudden problems you'll have to solve (and at least one bait-and-switch) that don't fit smoothly into the narrative of finding your lost soul.  These random plot points destroyed my immersion in the game world, and the last third of the story felt more like a chore than an epic conclusion.

In short, the storyline starts strong but fizzles near the game's midpoint.  After seeing how well a similar sort of story played out in Risen, it's sad to see this one flail around in the final acts.

Add some awkward glitches (like the game hanging every time I tried to save in the final area, resulting in corrupted save files), and you have a game that is solidly in the range of mediocrity - it's decently amusing for a good chunk of it's 20 hour length, but it will likely bore you well before its lackluster conclusion.

My Rating: 4/10 - mediocre.

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