Risen 3: Titan Lords is the latest role-playing game from German developer Piranha Bytes. The game sells itself on player freedom and a steeper learning curve than most modern games. The developer is offering a product that will not hold player’s hands as they explore the tropical island setting and make inroads with the various factions and characters they encounter.
The setting moves away from the standard medieval RPG setting and places the player in a pirate themed world with high fantasy elements. The story begins with an unnamed pirate and his scantily clad sister landing on an island in search of a lost treasure. From there, the plot weaves into stolen souls, voodoo priests, a guild of mages, and plenty of island environments to explore. Changing up the standard RPG setting is a great start, but how does the rest of the game hold up?
Risen 3: Titan Lords leaves a decent first impression in terms of the graphics. The environments are carefully handcrafted, and there are definitely many breathtaking areas to see in the game. However, computer game technology advances quickly and there are times when the textures, environments, and character animations feel like they are coming from an older game. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, as many classic games are able to overcome the age of their graphics technology with engaging stories and a variety of points of interest, but it certainly is worth noting.
The dated graphics do hurt gameplay in some ways though: from time to time the textures in the environment and the designs of the areas make it difficult to navigate and distinguish passageways and tunnels from sheer walls. There are occasionally small object that the player has to detect and pick up from the ground, but they can be difficult to see when not finely rendered. Finally, the character animations tend to be a little stiff making movement and even combat feel a little sluggish.
Dealing with non-player characters on the islands is a frequent task, and there has been a lot of innovation with dialogue trees and ways to express character in RPGs through interaction. A lot of the dialogue options in Risen 3: Titan Lords feel a little redundant, however. There are times when no matter which of several options are chosen, the NPC just motors on ahead and says the same thing they were going to say without regard for the player’s choice. There are other times when various dialogue options add just a line or two of additional information, but the dialogue ends up in the same place. In a lot of these cases, it seems like it would be better to just make the dialogue a cut scene; otherwise, the options only exist as a way to make sure the player is still awake at the keyboard.
Curiously, the developers saw fit to make prolific use of the “f-bomb” in the dialogue of the game. While prudent use of strong language where appropriate is fine, Risen 3: Titan Lords seems to be going out of its way to demonstrate how “mature” it is like a sixth grader trying to impress grade school comrades. People who are sensitive to strong language may want to avoid the game altogether, but even if you’re not the word’s profound overuse will become remarkable and perhaps even a little annoying.
While the originality of the pirate setting may help distinguish Risen 3: Titan Lords from other computer role-playing games, the mechanics of playing the game itself do not. Everything feels competently executed and done well enough, but it doesn’t feel like there are any really interesting mechanics adapting the standard RPG systems to the updated setting.
Characters are customized and advanced purely through gold and glory, which is Risen 3: Titan Lords’ equivalent of experience points. There are no general levels; players upgrade individual attributes which have a direct effect on how effectively he (there, disappointingly, is no option to choose a woman avatar) can accomplish various tasks such as picking locks or damaging enemies with pistols. Gold can be used to learn new skills and acquire new spells, weapons and equipment which help bolster the attributes.
There is nothing overly remarkable about the combat or other gameplay elements. The game was simultaneously released on the PC and consoles, so the more action-oriented combat feels designed for ease of use whether the player chooses keyboard and mouse or a controller. The keyboard and mouse work well, but the melee combos feel so sluggish until they get levelled up that the early combat encounters can be quite frustrating. Melee kills come more and more frequently as glory points are spent so it is nice to feel the effects of progressing the character.
One of the more interesting throwback features of the game is what the developer cites as a lack of hand holding. It is entirely conceivable for players to turn a corner and find themselves face-to-face with a menacing creature that can end your life in a matter of a few hits. Prudently managing health, ammunition, and provisions for healing is a high priority. This kind of careful survival gameplay was once a staple of RPGs, and it’s nice to see Piranha Bytes catering to players who enjoy that kind of play. It creates a thrilling sense of adventure that is rare, and can be really enjoyable when the mood strikes.
For a game that is avowedly going after an old school, hardcore audience it would seem that there would be little opportunity for innovative ideas. There are a couple, however, that spring to mind. The most immediate being the idea to set the game in a world of pirates. The setting alone should at least catch the attention of role-playing game fans who are feeling a little tired of the standard medieval European high fantasy setting. While the story itself is not amazing, the setting is very well executed and despite the dated appearance of the graphics manages to be immersive and fun to explore.
Removing standard classes as an option during character to creation and making more specialized abilities locked away behind the three factions is also an interesting feature. Developing the character happens a bit more organically than if the player had just chosen an option from a menu. Decisions have to be made about which faction to woo, and depending on those decisions the player can become a guardian, a demon hunter, or a voodoo pirate. The developer has a thoughtful system for making choosing a specialized class more interesting.
As mentioned before, the character animations can come across a bit stiff. It could just be that modern-day motion capture and precise animations set the bar too high, but conveying a sense of character through body motion is important to immersion and can make the game feel off if it isn’t handled very cleverly. The animations aren’t a deal breaker in Risen 3, but it is one of the places where a minor shortage of polish shows. Games like Fable and Grand Theft Auto use physics engines to simulate the time it takes for a human being to get up to speed. In the case of Risen 3 it feels sluggish and sometimes a little frustrating in combat.
The major polish problems show up in the story. There are plenty of quests to complete for a decent variety of NPCs scattered around the islands, but the narrative tying everything together and the motivation for accomplishing all these tasks is muddy and unclear. One issue might just be that the NPCs can be engaged in any order, so trying to make a cohesive story that ties one point to another might be impossible because players will break everything if (when) they stray off the path. Even still, engaging story is one of the staples of role-playing games, and the lack of clarity in the main plotline is disappointing and leads to some confusing moments.
Given the issues with the game, there is still a lot about it to enjoy. Players who are very interested in a high magic pirate setting will find many explorable areas and a constant stream of tasks from NPC interactions. Exploring nooks and crannies of the world yields hidden treasure chests and some of the quests require leaving beaten paths to complete. There is also DLC available so even after playing through all the content available in the game, islands can be added and new quest lines can be purchased.
The value to be had from Risen 3 depends very much on a player’s priorities. Players looking for something with cutting edge, immersive graphics or detailed, intricate plotlines would be better off spending their money on many of the other RPGs on the market. Even some that are a few years old can hold their own against what Risen 3 has to offer, both in terms of graphics and story. However, players who are interested in a solid RPG experience in a new context and world with plenty of rocks to turn over and some cool and interesting faction choices will get their money’s worth out of Risen 3. It’s not an unqualified “must buy”, but for the right audience there is a lot of fun to be had.
Risen 3: Titan Lords sets out to cater to a niche of the RPG market and does so, for the most part, successfully. The pirate setting differentiates it from other, similar, games on the market and the open and explorable world is vast and potentially very dangerous. The game is crippled somewhat by a lack of graphical shine, and the storytelling leans heavily on lazy cliches and trades mystery for clarity and motivation. Despite those problems, players looking to plunk a parrot on their shoulder and slap a patch over their eye then head off in search of buried treasure will find a lot to enjoy.
| Interesting factins & magic abilities
Several large islands to explore
| Dated looking graphics
Dull, cliche story
Still animation & sluggish combat