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Opinions differ, but I, for example, believe that today's RPG market is actually quite poor in terms of true roleplaying games. Yes, hack and slash, action RPGs or whatever you call the diabloid subgenre are thriving, and I by no means dislike these games, but I am always more thrilled when I hear about a "pure" or "hardcore" RPG coming out, with more emphasis on story than slaying thousands of monsters and getting the uber loot. Yes, I am one of those freakish nerds that loves digging through lines of dialog and searching for an odd hidden temple or ruins that would contain something more interesting and enigmatic than another set of new mobs to grind.
That said, I have always had a deep respect for the Gothic series. Piranha Bytes never failed to touch the exploring part of my gamer's psychology, and present a world that always left an impression of being alive and quite sufficient without my direct intervention. Also, these games had a certain difficulty level that I found to my liking, as it gave me much bigger sense of accomplishment when I came out victorious from a particularly challenging encounter. The third installment of the series was arguably worse, but still shined through the plethora of bugs as a solid game.
After Gothic 3, publisher and developer parted ways, and the rights to the franchise stayed with the former. So, when I heard that a new Piranha Bytes game called Risen is coming out, I felt like a kid before opening a Christmas present. Finally the CD was pulled in the ever-devouring machine near my desk, and I entered a new world made by developers well known to me.
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Let's start with the most obvious impression - the visuals. While RPG is not another action title where the graphics department is one of the cornerstones of the games, or so we are led to believe, we certainly have some standards as to how a modern-day RPG should look. Risen does not fail these standards, nor it brings anything special to the table. The graphics are pretty average for a 2009 game, and my only beef with them is that I cannot fathom the reasons it is demanding so much from the hardvare. Yes, Risen is quite a resource hog and even managed to make my, in my understanding, quite powerful hardware cough a bit. Be warned, this is not a game for a weak PC.
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Nothing much can be said about the sound of Risen. It doesn't get in the way of gameplay, and doesn't fall out of the gritty, dark mood dictated by the setting. Nature sounds realistic, creatures have distinctive screams, squeaks or whatever manner of voice they are born (or rather, programmed) with, people speak as they should. The soundtrack itself is comprised of quite nice orchestral melodies created by Kai Rosenkranz. Overall, I am quite satisfied with the sound, but not outright stunned or shocked.
On a side note, I didn't play the English version of the game, so I cannot comment on the subject of translated voiceovers (the game itself is German).
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And here we come to the part I find the hardest to judge about Risen: the gameplay itself. To put it simple, Risen... is Gothic. That has both the positive and negative aspects.
From the lighter side, this game delivers oldschool gameplay much like Gothic 1 and 2. Fights are hard and demand preparation and analysis of terrain, exploration is still fun and entertaining, some of the quests are quite interesting, and the world is living and breathing, so the immersion is immediate and deep. The storyline, although predictable, is reasonably well written.
From the other point of view, Risen does not improve upon the Gothic series in any way. The crafting is even more restricted than in Gothic 2, and I was especially saddened that you can only craft swords, although there are axes, hammers and staves present ingame as well. Fights are better because the AI now understands how to fight in packs, but that is the only thing that I recall as an improvement. Oh, there is another one, though - considerably less bugs, especially compared to Gothic 3.
Overall, if you are hungry for more Gothic style RPGs or new to the series and in search for a hardcore RPG, there is no reason to miss Risen. On the other hand, this game doesn't bring anything new to the table, so if you have had enough of Gothic, this may not be a title for you. The choice, as always, is yours.