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Risen (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16+.

Story: Some generic fantasy world has undergone a cataclysm thanks to the release of a whole load of titans. You're shipwrecked on a small island that's remarkably untouched by the chaos elsewhere. (Well, apart from the ancient temples full of deadly monsters which have risen out of the ground, that is.)

rifle the corpses of your shipmates for suppliessearch the beach for survivors and then head inland, looking for clues as to what is going on. The stern warriors of the king's Inquisition have taken control of the only town and have a plan to deal with the titans. Are they part of the problem in the first place, though? Then again, the rebels led by the former governor, Don Esteban, are a dubious bunch, too...

Gameplay: This is a serious role-playing game. The kind where you have to blat countless opponents over the head to gain enough experience to go up a level and then spend ages sifting through your character's inventory in order to trade items and equip the best loot. There are quests to go on and dungeons to explore. There are also endless monsters to be eaten by because your armour's rubbish and you haven't levelled up your sword skill enough.

You control a single character from a third-person perspective. Combat is surprisingly tricky, involving a mix of timing, footwork and strategic use of the environment. Going up a level brings learning points which can be used to improve skills, provided you can find a suitable trainer and enough gold to pay them. Skills range from sword and bow proficiency to alchemy (for making potions), lock picking, prospecting, smithying and sneaking. Later on, magical abilities can be learned as well, allowing such things as telekinesis, levitation and transformation.

Save System: Save at any time. It's a pretty slow and clunky process, though, considering how often you'll want to save. See those ostrich things just next to the start location? They'll kill you. See that wolf over there? It'll kill you. See its four friends hiding in the undergrowth? They'll kill you quickly. See that empty corridor? It will kill you quicker than that... Then the lizardmen hiding round the corner will kill you some more, just to make sure.

Comments: I'm a big fan of the sort of computer role-playing games that are descended from Dungeons & Dragons. I can't be doing with the tedious battles and melodrama of Japanese RPGs but I like exploring ruins, collecting loot, running errands for villagers and agonising over whether to spend my next upgrade on improving my lock picking or sword skills. I originally bought my 360 to play Oblivion and didn't regret it.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you shouldn't play Risen. Simple as that. Risen is for fans of the genre. It doesn't pander to newcomers and is full of foibles and irritations that only veterans will put up with. If you like the sound of exploring an open world and living the life of a wandering adventurer, play Oblivion and Fallout 3 first. If you love them, Risen might be worth a look.

Since Oblivion came out, similar releases have been thin on the ground. There's been maybe one a year - Two Worlds, Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and Sacred 2. (I suppose Fable 2 counts as well but it's more an adventure with RPG elements than a full RPG.) I've had to make do with what was available. Despite all their flaws, I quite enjoyed Two Worlds and Mass Effect.

Risen should be onto a winner. It's easily better than Two Worlds and much more complex and expansive than Mass Effect. The only problem is that two similar games came out in the same month - Ego Draconis and Dragon Age Origins - and, in the New Year, there's Two Worlds 2 and Mass Effect 2. Suddenly there's competition in the world of wandering exploration and looting.

Risen doesn't really seem to have been expecting this...

The game goes out of its way to kick you in the teeth. This is probably best exemplified by the way it displays a gold value for treasure you find but only ever lets you trade stuff for one-fifth of the marked price. Handing over mountains of treasure for almost no return is demoralising. Much of the game is taken up by scraping together the gold essential for training. This involves fighting monsters but fighting monsters without being killed requires getting some training.


All in all, Risen is rock hard. On 'Normal' difficulty, it's consistently as difficult as Fallout 3 ever gets on 'Very Hard'. This can be tiresome. That said, there are well-designed dungeons, excellent quests and some interesting moral dilemmas as you decide which faction to side with. For every flaw, there's a fantastic feature to be discovered - if you're prepared to persevere. It can easily take twenty hours to get to the point of learning basic magic, for instance. The dialogue is well-written but presented in a tedious manner. Some elements of the interface are cunningly adapted for the Xbox, others are ripped straight from the PC and are laborious without a mouse...

It's a bit of a mess.

It's not broken, though, and it's already being sold cheap. If you know your bolts from your arrows and your teleport stone from your ice crystal, it'll make you smile (when you're not gnashing your teeth in frustration).

Conclusion: The very definition of a 3/5 game. If you like complex, free-roaming RPGs that take their influence from Tolkien rather than manga, then you'll get plenty of enjoyment from Risen. If you don't, or you're not sure, you're liable to give up in disgust after half an hour.

Graphics: Dark and rough but adequate. An update from Xbox LIVE fixes the worst problems but you'll still have to be willing to put up with distant objects popping up from nowhere, combined with some stutter when the action gets hectic.

Length: Very long.

Rating: 3/5.


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