‘Risen 3: Titan Lords’ Review

Platforms PS3/360/PC
Developer Piranha Bytes   Publisher Deep Silver
Genre Action-RPG   Platform Played On PC

Ah, yes, role-playing games created by European developers; I wouldn’t necessarily classify them as niche, but the majority of said titles (e.g. the first three Gothic games, the first two Witcher games etc.) are certainly not for everybody, simply because they’re not as “handhold-y” as most western-developed titles (e.g. Dragon Age IISkyrim etc.). The first entry in the Risen franchise is no exception.

Over the years, Piranha Bytes had managed to reach a broader audience by implementing more traditional features into the series, all while maintaining its usual hardcore RPG pedigree. The first result was Risen 2: Dark Waters, which combines the German developer’s usual gameplay and storytelling with a more popular theme: pirates.

Fast-forward to 2014, and a new entry in the series is born: Risen 3: Titan Lords. If you felt like Dark Waters‘ pirates theme was a bit out-of-place for an RPG franchise like Risen, you’ll be glad to hear that Titan Lords is a combination of the first two games: 80% Risen, and 20% Risen 2. That said, this latest entry is much more than that; it’s the perfect example of Piranha Bytes combining the best of both worlds. Risen 3 is easily the best and most accessible game in the franchise yet. Here’s why…

Every protagonist in a Piranha Bytes game is nameless and without a past. In Titan Lords, this is only half-true. While our hero is indeed without a “label,” we do know something about his family: he is the son of the infamous pirate Steelbeard, and brother to Patty. While both Steelbeard and Patty are present in past Risen games, you are not required to experience them in order to fully understand the story here (although I would highly recommend that; they’re great). Veterans of Dark Waters will also be familiar with some returning-characters and places presented in Risen 3.

In the beginning, our favourite pirate and his sister are in search of a hidden treasure (naturally) on a remote island. As it is custom for things to “go south,” said island turns out to contain no treasure, and our protagonist ends up dead. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the nameless hero is resurrected, only to find out that half of his soul is now trapped in the Underworld. To make matters worse, the demons of the Underworld are slowly taking over the world, so it falls on his shoulders to gather up a whole fleet and a trusty crew, in order to push back the demonic invasion and save his soul.

The story here is decent: it has its fair-share of twists and turns, and compared to its prequels, Titan Lords‘ companions are more engaging and overall more likeable. On the other hand, the voice-acting is decent at best. Even though some might downright hate it, I somehow enjoyed the nameless hero’s voice, only because it actually reminds me of actor Zach McGowan, who (surprise!) plays Captain Charles Vane in the TV series Black Sails (amazing show, by the way; I strongly recommend it). It also has a satisfying ending, though it’s clear that the overarching story of the franchise is not done. Is this a sign of more games to come? Probably…

As I said in the beginning, Risen 3 is about 20% Risen 2. That mostly translates in the ability to travel from island to island, right after the prologue ends. This is another staple from Piranha Bytes making a comeback: the game features virtually no restrictions. You can go everywhere you like, do anything you want. Do you want to kill this main character? Okay, go ahead; you won’t be able to progress further into the story, but there you go. There’s also one surprise in the gameplay department waiting for you down the road, but I won’t spoil it, as it only happens a few times during the story.

The structure of each island is expertly done. Each said piece of land features several quests which serve as an introduction into the world, so, whichever you sail to after the prologue will always put you on the right path; there’s no such thing as a wrong choice. The environments are mostly composed of lush jungles and exotic beaches, but there are also islands filled with bleak hills where the vegetation is completely gone, either from lava, or the coming of the Shadow creatures. And let’s not forget about the all-too-common caves.

Risen 3 certainly encourages exploration. For example, whenever you see a teleporting shrine, a teleporter stone which activates it is never too far, but you’ll have to search for it. More than that, you can even stumble over new quests by simply searching uncharted places like caves or remote islands, reading books, or acquiring treasure maps. More peaceful activities include solving puzzles to get into undiscovered temples, throwing knives, drinking contests, or arm-wrestling.

What’s great about Piranha Bytes’ games is that their worlds always feel like living, breathing environments; Titan Lords makes no exception. Everyone goes about their daily business, and certain activities can only be started during certain times of the day (e.g. throwing-knives competitions usually happen during the night, drinking contests during the evening etc.). Even the creatures are asleep during night-time.

Risen 3 features three factions to join. One of them consists of natives specialised in voodoo magic, which are usually found in jungles. Said magic ranges from the usual healing, to raining down fire, summoning the undead, morphing into a parrot in order to access previously-inaccessible areas, and many more. Additionally, magic no longer requires mana; each spell now has its own cool-down timer, with some exceptions. The other two parties represent the a cult specialised in killing the Underworld demons (which combine magic with brute force), and the well-known mages.

After many hours of questing, you are tasked with joining one of these three cults. This is the only way of advancing further into the story, and while the game doesn’t change depending on your choice, certain bonuses will only be granted to certain clans. It’s not really an incentive to restart the whole title, as the majority of missions can be completed before aligning with one side or another.

Titan Lords follows the usual RPG formula: every major settlement/island will help you fulfil a small part of your main quests, but not before completing everyone’s crises. These range from demons attacking the surroundings, a crew’s mutiny and its consequences, unresolved murder scenes, and more. Eventually, the game’s pace takes it up a few notches, as the story comes to an end.

Naturally, earning enough experience points from kills/completing quests allows you to upgrade the usual statistics like melee/ranged/magic damage, the ability to influence others, pickpocketing, and more. Having enough points into these attributes and finding the right instructors (and the right amount of gold) gives you access to new, separate skills, like being better at fighting the undead, improving your blacksmith skills, training monkeys into stealing for you, sneaking, pulling out teeth, horns, claws etc. from animals, brewing potions, and many more other skills.

Provided you have the recipe and the right ingredients, you can also brew potions. Additionally, with the right skills, one can also forge weapons like swords, pistols, crystals which can be imbued into weapons, armour etc., and more.

The swordplay in Risen 3 is more or less as challenging as it is in Dark Waters. In the beginning, I found it to be quite difficult; almost infuriating, even. But, as time passed, I realised that timing is the key to defeating all that stands in your way. Don’t just spam your attacks; time them one after another, while also constantly dodging and defending yourself. Investing more experience points actually makes for an exciting combat system (by the way, the finishing moves are sick!). Of course, you can also make use and upgrade firing weapons like pistols, muskets, or shotguns, as well as using throwing knives, pistols, or crossbows as secondary attacks.

Even though your enemies are fairly standard for an RPG, their variety more than makes up for that. Along his adventures, the nameless hero encounters animals like monkeys, giant rats/spiders, boars, tigers, gorillas etc.; pirates; demons in forms of hounds, skeletons, or zombies; giant creatures akin to trolls, and so forth.

New to the Risen franchise are the hero’s dream sequences, and the fairly-simple morality system. Sometimes, when going to sleep, you will not be presented with the choice of waking up at a specific time during the day/night. Instead, you will get to wander the Underworld, as your lost half-soul. Unfortunately, this is a rather missed-opportunity, as the only thing you’ll be doing it talking to a few ghosts, and occasionally finding out about a hidden treasure. The exact same thing can be said about the morality system, as being a good guy/bad guy hardly makes a difference.

Also new is the Astral vision, which, investing in the right amount of skills, allows you to spot different items and creatures around you. Think of Assassin’s Creed‘s Eagle vision: interesting, but ultimately pointless.

While everything I’ve mentioned up until now goes from harmless to great, there are a few small quirks which bothered me. First of all, was it that hard to animate climbing a ladder or a vine, instead of the screen flashing and suddenly being on top? Additionally, going into a camp-fire has no effect on your well-being. Finally, I’ve noticed that creatures sometimes get stuck into the environment.

On the presentation side, Titan Lords shines on every department except the lip-synching, which is less-than-ideal. The lightning is fantastic, textures are sharp, the creatures are a treat to look at, and the soundtrack knows when to soothe you (e.g. while you’re strolling through a jungle, taking in the view) and when to take it up a notch (e.g. while you’re being attacked by four zombies and four hell-hounds into a cramped corridor).

Fans of the Risen franchise will absolutely love Risen 3: Titan Lords, while newcomers will definitely enjoy it, and maybe even get interested in the other two entries. The game features a huge, beautiful world to freely explore, lots of quests to complete, a tough-but-fair combat system, and side-activities in case you get bored of the bigger picture. While the new additions are more or less pointless, the only downsides to Titan Lords would be the voice-acting coupled with bad lip-synching, and a few issues here and there on the technical side. All in all, if you’re an RPG fan, Risen 3 is an absolute treat, one that should not be overlooked. Here’s to its future on the current-generation!

The Good

  • No Boundaries – Go Anywhere, Do Anything
  • Expertly-Structured
  • Encourages Exploration
  • Living, Breathing World
  • Tough-but-Fair Combat System
  • Gorgeous

The Bad

  • Weak Voice-Acting
  • Pointless New Additions
  • A Few Quirks and Technical Issues

The Score 9