When Risen 3: Titan Lords released their first trailer at E3 2014 I was immediately interested. A dark, shadowy setting, filled with Stonehenge-like pillars and hellhound-looking beast was broken up by a fully armored hero walking out into the open, hands aglow with mystical energies as he hurls magic about. The only other games I have played in recent memory that allowed you to wander around in full armor while tossing fireballs or lord knows what else around, are Dark Souls II and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (I personally refuse to consider "The Elder Scrolls Online" an Elder Scrolls game, or really even a game at all). Then came along E3 2014 and there it was, a fancy looking knight rolling about as hellhounds were chomping at the bit and he tosses some sort of magical explode-y goodness; I was hooked. Over the coming months I spent a little more time paying attention to the press releases, page updates, screenshots and the plethora of videos that were provided on both the Steam page as well as the various news outlets. Even with all of the excitement around some of the titles this year (Rainbow Six: Siege!), Risen 3: Titan Lords was high on my list of games to watch out for. Now that Risen 3: Titan Lords is here, was the wait and anticipation worth it?
Pirates. Well-endowed female pirates. Fireballs. "Matey." That sort of sums up the first few minutes of Risen 3: Titan Lords, and you know what? That's okay. Pirates are, well, almost as cool as ninjas, Chuck Norris, and any JRPG game ever, so that is a definite win. Especially when there is rum involved, and you will be seeing a lot of rum in Risen 3. The first well-endowed pirate you come across happens to be your sister, but still, she is quite the looker, and knows how to handle herself in a fight, so that is useful. I think though, that she is an excellent point to center on for Risen 3's character models; yes, she is well-endowed, but it is not hilariously so. Tasteful, I would say, but period-specific clothing make it a little more pronounced, but outside of that she is actually modeled like a real women. While she is modeled well, her animations are top notch, as are the animations for most, if not all of the characters, beasts, or enemies that you are going to be meeting in your long hours as a pirate searching for his soul. Swarthy, swanky pirates, stocky soldiers, frail magicians, and squat merchants and peddlers are all animated well, bringing a bit more life to a genre that has been pretty stale about model shapes for different characters (generally it is a one-size-fits-all). While some models were recycled (it is bound to happen) it was nice to see a bit of a variety there.
Outside of the well modeled and well animated characters, the different scenes and environments were suitably lush for a handful of islands based in the tropics. The caves and the darker areas are suitably creepy and just feel moist and close, which is good because rounding a bend, seeing this slimy, hulking spider, and not-so-happily catching a spit-wad of poisonous goop in the face lends itself to some tense in-door combat. Shading and lighting is good, shadows crisp, and I did not see much in the way of clipping, however in the opening scene there is a salvo of pirate-y cannonballs being fired and oh boy, my poor computer dropped from 60 FPS to 15 FPS, mind you I have a nice and solid rig, there is just so much going on that my poor baby was dragging itself across the the gunpowder filled air as it dodged these evil demon-y pirates and all that swashbuckling.
Fortunately with all that craziness I saw graphic pop-in only once, and that was at the absolute beginning of the scene; the camera pans the boats as they begin to grapple and as it passes through mid-ship to focus on your seedy, yet ruggedly handsome pirate self at the stern. But (in my case), you are not the stud-muffin pirate you think you are, instead you just look like lumpy muffin mix left in the sun too long. After about 8 seconds everything suddenly sharpens up and springs into focus. I did notice that on my well-powered gaming rig that the black smoke seems to be what is getting in the way, and that could be because there was just so much of it. After those first few scenes, there were no issues beyond that. There are a number of stunning scenes though, as you are up in the cliffs or in the valleys, the sweeping vistas before you are absolutely gorgeous with brilliant draw distances; more often than not I felt like I was right along side them on these hard sandy beaches with their parrots, coconuts and palm trees.
While we are on pop-in and clipping, I have noticed through a number of different scenes that some of the lows are actually two high, while that sounds a bit odd but let me put it this way. A cannon being fired (and yes, I have been very close to cannons being fired) shake you to your core, down to that odd hollow between your solar plexus and your spine; you can feel it grab you like a primal tiger and trash you about. The Battlefield franchise knows how to make thinks go boom and sound so creepy real you will look out the window; but Risen 3's almost sound like the are a little too high, if they were intentionally trying to compensate for the low quality speakers that you may find in budget televisions or in an supermarket-quality laptop then I could understand the odd mix in the audio. Voice-acting at first is, and I do mean this, abysmal. You are Steelbeard's son, a fearsome fight, lover of women, rum, and all things dastardly ... and you sound bored. Really bored. We are talking the same kind of bored that you experienced as a kid, forlornly swinging on that tire-and-rope swing as you stare at nothing on a bland Sunday night before school.
Then your character's sister arrives on scene and things instantly improve. From the scenery to the voice acting, everything just gets better. As she begins to bring out more conversation throughout the introductory scenes it becomes more evident that her voice actors is a bit more experienced, breathing life into the part and successfully portraying the role of a whimsical pirate. Your main character is a bit more dry, but fortunately supporting characters all make up for it quite a bit. Sound bits are fun and functional, a healthy flintlock explosion hear or just the right scrape of metal there, the sound effects are decent, if not very rich, some popping occurs when cannons are fired which is not all that often. The real sweet stuff though, comes in the title's soundtrack; Risen 3 has a fun, carefree, and rambunctious soundtrack the slides so well in with the feel of open air, parrots, pirates, and rum that more often than not, the experience felt like a small pirate movie on the silver screen. While it is fun and appropriate, the possible lack of experience for some voice actors did break that fleeting feeling of being a pirate on the high seas.
So there are a lot of games that you may play that drag you along the story and after five or six hours you will be telling yourself "oh, just another level" only to be playing for yet another five hours. Generally those games are a bit more focused than a role-playing game. Take Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier as an example; excellent missions, excellent customization capabilities, and some incredibly engaging gameplay just keeps sucking you along. It is a bit more difficult with story driven titles as it has to evenly balance a good narrative with compelling game play. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim it was just the sheer open-worldness of it all, but with Risen 3: Titan Lords, it is so much more. While not as "open" as something like Skyrim, what Risen 3 does is clever and brilliant. It was not until I was about 9 hours in that I realized it, too, so it is craftily hidden. Side quests are so well woven into the overall narrative that I was unconsciously going for a "full clear" or 100% clear rate without even knowing it.
The quests are laid out like bait, being just far enough off the main path that it is distinguishable as a side quest, but it is so close to that path that you are not entirely sure if it is supposed to be done or not, and for fear's sake, you simply do it. The next think you know you are liberating lighthouses, fetching stolen goods, recovering lost objects, searching out people and more and the best part of it all? You do not realize it has happened until well after the fact. The downside is that as the game wears on it becomes more focused and you loose some of that charm, if it could have stayed true right through to the end then it could very well be a masterpiece. Where story and the overall pacing are excellent examples of Piranha Bytes's storytelling capabilities, the action and control that is on screen is also excellent. The very object that drew me to Risen 3, launching fireballs whilst donning full armor, is here in full force, with your pirate as spry as ever you will be leaping about the battlefield, tossing fireballs and swinging swords.
I have two very large issues with Risen 3 though; first there is no gamepad support, or at least, nothing I could do would get Risen 3: Titan Lords to use my Xbox 360 (nor Xbox One) gamepads to work with it. This is a shame really, and a huge missed opportunity, however I am not opposed to the slight possibility that it is an issue with my computer and not an issue with the game; I will be sure to update you more as I continue to tinker with it. The second aspect if simply unforgivable in my book and I literally hope to high heavens that a patch is released to address it, as it is a crushing blow to the ebb and flow of combat. You can not lock onto your targets. While the game does a good job of keeping you focused on an enemy or a character, you cannot lock on to that character. In a title where maneuverability is key, I found myself diving to avoid a bosses attack only to lose focus of him and get clobbered by him on his next attack. It is absolutely and utterly crucial that you have the ability to lock on to your targets in an action game otherwise you will be in for a massive run of frustration. I certainly was.
Where Risen 3: Titan Lords has a number of rough edges when it comes to some voice acting, control schemes (or lack there of), and endgame narrative pacing and discovery, the entire package as a whole is a wildly successful, often thrilling, and quite fun pirate adventure. Slogging through various tropical locales while visiting the realm of the dead brings a lot more to the table than your typical dungeon-fest grindhouse that some action role playing games can be. Breaking up the ever present grind with rum-drinking goodness and some of the most clever quest organization and deployment I have seen in ages, Risen 3: Titan Lords is a gem that any budding corsair would make off with in a heartbeat. Looking beyond a few of the relatively fixable issues, Risen 3 is a well-endowed pirate game with plenty of rum and booty to go around.
Review by Robert