Risen (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Released: October 2, 2009 (PC), February 23, 2010 (360), January 24, 2023 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
ESRB: M – Mature
Risen first released on PC back in October 2009, and came to Xbox 360 in North America in February 2010. The 360 version was plagued with issues and was all around a vastly inferior version of the game.
Now, as of January 24, 2023, Risen has arrived on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
We’re not looking at a remastered or remade version here, this is simply a port of the PC version with some polishing. So, it’s important to judge it for what it is, and not what it isn’t.
While it’s just a port, it’s the first time Risen has been actually (well mostly) playable on console and the first time on a PlayStation or Nintendo system. If you’re a fan of this kind of European RPG as a console gamer, then that’s certainly good enough.
I said mostly above because within my first five hours of playing, I had to close the game and open it back up again due it freezing at least five times. And it’s been a continuing thing. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it; sometimes it freezes after saving, sometimes when just walking, or after combat.
It’s annoying, but not game breaking. I do recommend saving every couple of minutes or so.
We’ll keep this short, sweet and spoiler free even though it’s over a decade old at this point.
The game begins with you, a nameless stowaway on an Inquisition ship, awakening on an island beach after the ship crashes.
You are then tasked with exploring this island that you know nothing about and the politics of it. And surviving in a brutal land.
Two factions exist on this island, each out to loot the ruins that have risen. There’s the Bandits, led by Don Esteban. Before the Inquisition began, the island, Faranga, was ran by the Don out of Harbor Town. While the Don has some men still in Harbor Town, his main camp is out in the swamps now.
The other faction is the Inquisition, which is a hybrid military-religious order led by the High Council under the direction of Inquisitor Mendoza.
You can join either of these factions, which offers up some replayability. However, even if you wish to join the Bandits, if you’re not careful in the beginning you could find yourself captured by one of the Inquisitions Warrior of the Order. They’ll take you to the Monastery and force you to become a Warrior of the Order recruit.
The story unfolds over four chapters where you’ll learn more about the factions, Faranga, and ultimately the real threat which puts you on a path to save the world.
It’s an RPG, one with a big emphasis on exploration, and the story unfolds slowly. The slow start to it helps build the world as you get to know various characters, which helps to create a connection to them and thus a reason why you might want to save this land and help these people.
The story that unfolds certainly isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but its serviceable enough to keep you interested in seeing it to its conclusion.
Unlike a lot of modern games, Risen doesn’t hold your hand any. There’s no constant on-screen map or compass with a waypoint telling you where to go next and what to do.
A large chunk of the gameplay here is you being the character and putting in the work. You’re going to have to explore the island, the town, and so-on.
NPC’s aren’t standing around with exclamation points over their heads letting you know you need to talk to them. So you talk to everyone. Some will give you quests, some won’t. Unless you’re using a guide, a large part of the game is figuring out what to do next.
Side quests are typical side quests in a lot of cases. Sometimes, doing enough of certain side quests are going to help you advance the main story. You don’t know, so you just have to do them.
There’s a definite charm to that style, and sadly it’s one we don’t see much of anymore. Nowadays, a lot of games tend to like to dumb things down too much and beat you over the head with here’s what you should be doing and where to find it at.
If you don’t like exploring and figuring things out for yourself, you’re not going to like Risen at all.
There’s no beating around the bush; the weakest aspect of Risen is the combat. It’s pretty bad.
If you get to exploring a little too much early on, before you even get to Harbor Town for example, you will easily get wrecked. The game is brutal and tells you practically nothing. Is that wolf up ahead going to be easy to kill like the last one you faced? No, he’s got three friends with him and they’re about to feast on you.
Your first several hours are rough. You aren’t a great warrior that’s going to slay everything in sight. You’re a nobody stowaway with equipment you’ve found facing enemies the game doesn’t tell you anything about. There’s no level beside their name, no skull or anything. Save often.
When you get wrecked, you know to avoid that path next time.
The difficulty isn’t the bad part though. The actual difficulty of the game is good, it’s just made all the more difficult by the terrible combat and controls.
You’re going to need to learn block/parry and dodge, of course, but a single enemy isn’t difficult to fight within the combat system. But good luck when you’re facing multiple enemies. The targeting is bad and there’s no manual lock, but the games quasi auto-target can and will screw you.
Groups of enemies tend to spread out and move faster than you, so it isn’t uncommon for them to get behind you while you’re still facing one in front of you.
The combat will never be good, but as you learn the game, you’ll get better at it. As you acquire better gear and get stronger, it’ll also not be quite as brutal. You’ll still be fragile and not feel like a superhero, but it does get easier the more of you play.
But your first several hours are going to be rough. Push through it.
Graphics & Sound
The island of Faranga is great considering its a port of the 2009 game. Granted its a port of the PC version, which wasn’t limited on the resolution like the 360 version was.
During the day, the vibrant colors of the island pop. The coast looks good as well. Even the rain and lightning during the storms look good (and better than some modern AAA games, looking at you Valhalla).
The textures are mostly good and I only noticed a little pop in occasionally, but then I wasn’t looking for it so it might be more noticeable if you’re actively looking for it.
Character models are the only bad spot here graphically. When talking to an NPC, the game does the traditional close up of the person talking. Character faces look bad and often times the lips are in sync with the audio.
Speaking of the audio, Risen sounds good. The soundtrack is good and sets the mood. The voice acting is largely top notch, with the exception of the nameless character you play as who is a little bland.
Environmental sounds are also good, but the same can’t be said for combat sounds. As if the combat wasn’t already sluggish and rough, the sounds of combat certainly doesn’t do anything to add to it.
All that said, Risen still holds up very well. If you played the 360 version, then this might as well be a remaster for you in terms of both looks and actual playability.
As a port, the game definitely shows its age. But, for me, there’s a certain charm in that. Modern game design has largely gone a different direction, so it’s been fun to sit down and experience this for the first time.
Developed by German based Piranha Bytes, Risen has that unmistakable jankiness that seemingly all European RPG’s have. It’s present in all of their games; the Gothic trilogy, the Risen trilogy, and the two Elex games. The same jankiness found in the RPG’s made by French developer, Spiders. I love it.
Is it worth $30? If you enjoy this type of game, and didn’t play it on PC, absolutely. It’s nice to have it playable on modern systems.
It’s not without its issues; as I said, it has hard locked/frozen multiple times and that can certainly be frustrating. The combat is again atrocious, especially in the first several hours when you have no skills and are having to rely on melee combat.
Look past the issues though and you’ll find a fairly deep RPG with a world that’s satisfying to explore and conquer.
Risen gets a three out of five: SATISFYING.
* A digital code was provided by the publisher for review.