Risen is a cult-classic RPG developed by Piranha Bytes and released in 2009. While it was originally published by Deep Silver, THQ Nordic has stepped in to see the game released on the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. However, it is important to note that the newest release of the game is not a remaster but is instead a straight port. It is the original Risen ported to newer consoles, blemishes and all, positioning it as a blast back to a different age of western RPGs.
The game begins with the player’s stowaway character washing up on the shores of a small island after their ship is destroyed by a massive being. After punching their way through wild beasts, they eventually find civilization, where the game really begins. On the island, players can explore a microcosm of the factions and subsequent politics of the larger world. There is a brutal inquisition known for enslaving people, a mysterious and magical monastery, and a camp of outlaws struggling to survive in the swamps.
These factions lay the groundwork for the player to make a decision regarding which side they wish to help investigate the mysterious ruins of a temple that appeared on the island. Each side has its own benefits and morally questionable aspects that make aligning yourself with one of them a real conundrum. This also helps the world of Risen to feel more interesting and realistic because of how it helps no issue that players deal with seem clear cut. This, along with the possibilities of different character builds, helps make repeat playthroughs of Risen seem especially appealing.
This is done particularly through how limited players are when developing their characters. Risen forces players to improve their characters by purchasing training from characters throughout the world. In addition to gold, players also need to spend learning points to do so, which are gained by leveling up through completing quests and killing a range of enemies. Players can do so not only to raise their basic attributes Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom but also their skills for specific weapon types and skills like Swords, Sneaking, and two forms of magic.
This system works excellently to restrict players, forcing them to consider what skills they need for their desired playstyle before sticking to those decisions. It also helps make thoroughly exploring the game’s world and speaking to as many NPCs as possible to find new trainers feel very rewarding. The reliance on gold to improve your character also helps balance the benefits of buying new items like two-handed swords or stronger bows which have high attribute requirements that players also have to pay for before wielding them.
Risen also excels at how well it encourages players to explore solutions to its quests thanks to their interactive solutions. Most quests throughout the game can be solved in numerous ways while not devolving to the dichotomy of one benevolent and one malevolent solution each, like the Fable games released around the same time.
Leveling up weapon skills also allows players to gain access to new skills and moves for combat, such as parrying attacks or attacks with large areas of effect to help deal with hordes of enemies. Combat in Risen starts off feeling rather clunky and barebones, and there is a definite learning curve that will see newcomers having to attempt fights early on in the game a few times to get them right. This can get frustrating early on in one’s playthrough, but as players develop their skills and get access to new abilities it grows in scope and steadily becomes easier. This likely won’t appeal to all players, but for those that are willing to stick around it provides a fantastic sense of character growth and power development.
However, the process of getting there also isn’t helped by Risen’s poor tutorials and onboarding for new players. It’s been more than a decade since I had to search through pre-2010 forums to figure out how a game’s leveling system worked, but Risen saw me doing just that. This issue also extends to certain systems and strange UI elements that make it feel like you don’t fully understand the game until doing research or sinking a few hours into experimenting before loading an old save to regain the precious resources used to do so.
Risen is far from an RPG for everybody, but for the right player, it is a member of a rare breed that doesn’t see many new releases anymore. For fans of games like Gothic, Risen is a solid experience that balances out its impenetrability with being exceptionally rewarding. So, whether you want to visit an older style of western RPG or replay a fondly remembered cult classic, Risen is a solid port to do so with.
Risen is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One.
- Rating - 7/107/10
Risen is far from an RPG for everybody, but for the right player it is a member of a rare breed that doesn’t see many new releases anymore. For fans of games like Gothic, Risen is a solid experience that balances out its impenetrability with being exceptionally rewarding. So, whether you are looking to visit an older style of western RPG or replay a fondly remembered cult classic, Risen is a solid port to do so with.
Arron is a writer and video editor for But Why Tho? that is passionate about all things gaming, whether it be on a screen or table. When he isn’t writing for the site he’s either playing Dungeons & Dragons, watching arthouse movies, or trying to find someone to convince that the shooter Brink was ahead of its time.
March 20, 2023