PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.


Unattractive and full of drudgery, Risen takes its time revealing its meager charms.


Publisher: Deep Silver
Rated: Teen
Players: 1
Price: $49.99
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Release date: 2010-02-22

The biggest surprise for me when playing Risen was that I didn't end up hating it. If I hadn't been reviewing it, I probably would still hate it, much like I did for the first four or five or maybe seven hours that I played it. For me, this mostly generic fantasy RPG got off to a very rough start. It's not an attractive game. Although many of the settings on this mystic isle look nice, the character models and animations seem primitive and are decidedly ugly. On the Xbox 360, everything has an unfinished jerkiness when in motion, and the controls are overly sensitive in an unpleasant way while the timing of the action seems sluggish. Combined with mediocre storytelling, sub-par voice acting, and mostly uninspired creature design, Risen's look and feel leave almost everything to be desired.

The game begins with you being shipwrecked on an island with nothing but what's washed up on the beach with you. I liked this set-up, and it gives a good reason for your character to be an unseasoned newcomer to the island. It also provides the only real plot motivation for all of the action that follows, which amounts to: “Well, now I need to survive and make my way in the world.” That's a good place to start, but the story doesn't ever give you much more than that. As you explore the island, you can join up with the magic-using warrior monks of The Order or throw in with the outlaws who work for The Don. Both have their fingers in the island's only settlement, Harbor Town. You're free to wander all over the island, although getting in and out of Harbor Town is restricted in various ways. However, all this freedom leads to the game feeling very aimless. There were plenty of quests and tasks to carry out, but it all seemed piecemeal with no larger, grander narrative driving events. As a result, the world never engaged me as a whole, nor did the game.

Moment to moment, there are a lot of things to do. The game has a detailed crafting system for making weapons, magic items, scrolls, potions, and even cooking food, so you're constantly gathering ingredients as you wander around the island. And there are tons of quests, which vary in both intricacy and interest level. Some are simple "fetch quest" style, but there are more involved detective-style quests where you have to solve mysteries or put together the pieces of a puzzle. Unfortunately, the in game maps are hard to read and sometimes are just not helpful at all, and on more then one occasion, I abandoned a quest because I just couldn't find that last person that I needed to talk to. At least there was almost always something else I could go and do instead, especially once I figured out that you could just jump over the wall of Harbor Town to escape.

All that freedom to roam comes at a cost -- you'll end up fighting monsters out in the wilderness. That means using Risen's terrible, boring, and deadly combat system. It's mostly a matter of block and counterstrike, but at a slow pace and with sluggish controls, it's easy to die very fast when you're outmatched by an opponent. Often the only way to find out if you're outmatched is to learn by dying. This game has a lot of that, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of gaming. Learning by dying means you need to save all the time, a process that takes longer than you want. A quick save button would make this game twice as good (but still not very good). As it is, especially early on, I died over and over again, killed by wild boars or giant moths or gnomes. Even at higher levels, a quest would set me up against impossible foes, requiring me to go find something else to do so that I could level up. That made for a lot of dangling quests, which in turn killed much of the games already slow momentum.

Finally, I want to bitch about the leveling up system. Like most RPGs, you kill things and complete quests to earn experience points. When you level up, you get extra hit points and earn Learning Points. You then have to run around and find a trainer in order to spend those points. That trainer will almost always charge you a tidy sum to raise your strength by one point or learn a new level of lock picking, and gold, especially early on, is not easy to come by. I often found myself unable to train because I needed that money for potions or weapons or to pay costs associated with completing quests. As the game proceeded, gold became less of an issue, but having to find a different trainer for each and every thing that I wanted to raise never got less than tiresome. In short, leveling up wasn't fun, which is a cardinal sin when it comes to RPGs of any kind.

Tiresome sums up a lot of my feelings about Risen. There's some genuine, classic RPG fun to be had here, and once you commit the time and energy to get your character going, the Pavlovian need to grind for XP and gold kicks in. But with its clunky combat, endless wandering back and forth, and dull storytelling, I don't think that it's worth the time or effort.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.