It’s all the rage these days to bring back games from years long past, and THQ Nordic is now on that train with their recent release of Risen. Risen is an action RPG from 2009 that was developed by Piranha Bytes and has developed a reputation for being something of a cult classic in the years since its release. But sometimes, things we loved before are better left in our memories.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
This 2023 port of Risen is notably not a remaster. In a time where games from that era are getting full-blown, ground-up remakes (like the recently released Dead Space), THQ Nordic has decided instead to essentially re-release Risen in its original state with only a few slight changes to enhance that original experience. This includes things such as a reworked UI, full gamepad controls, and “fully seamless world streaming support”, which allows you to traverse the vast island of Faranga without ever facing a loading screen.
"The opening hours of the game are a little bit of a slog, mostly due to the game’s combat."
So then, this version of Risen is essentially the same as what players received on PC and Xbox 360 back in 2009. It’s a very old game, and this release is clearly aimed at those who enjoyed it in its time and are looking for that hit of nostalgia with just a few modern conveniences to sweeten the pot. But, for players who have no prior experience with the original Risen or any of its sequels, is this re-release worth picking up?
In Risen, players will take control of an unnamed hero who falls into the “generic male protagonist” category that was so popular in the late 2000s. The fact that the character is also devoid of any kind of personality doesn’t bode well for the game’s 60+ hours of content it advertises, though the game is fully voice-acted, and quite well at that. A self-insert character is nothing new for an RPG, even one from this era, so Risen can be forgiven in this regard. Especially when you consider the places its story goes and how strong the voice-acting performances are.
The opening hours of the game are a little bit of a slog, mostly due to the game’s combat. The addition of magic after a certain point opens up your combat options significantly, which is great! Conjuring undead minions and blasting away enemies with magic beams is awesome, but it takes some time to gain access to these powers. While you grind and level up to reach those skills, you’ll be relying on melee combat, which… doesn’t fare as well.
You have the standard array of sharp, blunt, and ranged weapons you would expect in a fantasy RPG, but using them just doesn’t feel good. The combat animations are jerky, and it takes quite some time to get used to the game’s flow during fights, where positioning is key but finding and getting into the right position is difficult. There are unlockable skills that help the combat feel better, but you’re looking down the barrel of many hours before melee fighting is fun. And again, Risen is an action RPG, so you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in the game fighting. It’s just a shame that combat in the game feels like work the majority of the time.
"The combat animations are jerky, and it takes quite some time to get used to the game’s flow during fights, where positioning is key but finding and getting into the right position is difficult."
But at least there’s plenty of enemy variety. Don’t let the first few hours of the game fool you, there are far worse things to fight besides the ostrich-sized vultures, “stingrats”, and wolves of the opening areas. Later you’ll be faced with all kinds of undead monsters, giant bugs and lizard people. Each of these enemies is visually and mechanically interesting, to the game’s credit.
In terms of visuals though, Risen is a mixed bag. The game’s opening area, a shipwrecked beach that is being battered by rain and lightning, looks quite impressive. Flashes of lightning illuminate the debris of the wreck that is scattered along the beach, all impressively detailed, and that area leads into a linear path that is surrounded by dense foliage and greenery.
It’s a great start despite the linearity (which goes away pretty soon after that), and most of the environments you explore around Faranga are equally high quality. When it comes to character models and facial animations though, oof. You get the RPG standard camera zoom into an NPC’s face when you are engaged in conversation, and most of the time, what you are presented with is a less-than-pleasant, low-quality face model with flapping lips that are mostly out of sync with the dialogue. It’s a fault you can forgive an older game, but it definitely takes you out of the experience when it happens.
Speaking of taking you out of the game, let’s talk about bugs. No, not the giant flying or crawling enemies from the game, but issues that arise when a game is ported to another platform. More than once, Risen completely locked up, and required a restart in order to get going again. It thankfully has a pretty generous autosave system, so a few of those times it wasn’t too big of a deal. However, I did experience quite a bit of progress loss on other occasions, which is frustrating no matter how you slice it.
"Risen was influential and beloved in its time, but that time was long ago, and many other great games have taken its place since. So, unless you’re a die-hard Risen fan, your money is likely better spent elsewhere."
Outside of those occasional freezes, the game performs well, as it should on a system as powerful as a PS5 (we reviewed the PS4 version through backwards compatibility). There weren’t any noticeable hitches in the framerate, even when there was overzealous use of magic and effects filled the screen. This release of the game also has a “performance” option that can be turned on or off, but it’s not really clear what that option does. The game seems to run just as well with it on or off, and there didn’t seem to be any visual changes either way.
Overall, Risen is… fine. It’s a game that was influential and beloved in its time, but that time was long ago, and many other great games have taken its place since. So, unless you’re a die-hard Risen fan, your money is likely better spent elsewhere, though that’s no fault of the game itself. It just belongs to a genre that has been iterated and improved upon so much that going back doesn’t seem worth it, especially for new players.
The PlayStation 4 version of this game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility.
Faranga is large and detailed; No loading screens; Great voice acting; Smooth framerate.
Feels its age; No updates to graphics or gameplay; Freezing issues; Subpar combat.
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