A few funnies out of the enormous ocean of screenshots I’ve taken so far. It should be somewhat light on spoilers. A few characters are revealed that you probably knew you were going to see anyway.
Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person
This may very well be the prettiest game I’ve ever played so far. The texture detail is really out of this world. The faces of the 3D models are extremely detailed, with stubble, pimples and birthmarks accompanied by realistic facial animation that fits the lines of dialog well. The clothes really look like clothes, whether it’s dry or wet from rain – it’s almost like I can feel its volume at times.
Graphically, this game sure is a feast for your eyes.
But as is typically me with big and complicated RPG these years, it didn’t actually grab me until the third session or so. It felt too overwhelming to begin with. Tons of screens, skills, inventory tabs, a tutorial that frequently paused the action, and words on the internet about enormous maps with a never-ending amount of question marks to find and reveal. I persevered because I knew it would be like this for me in the beginning and it turned out to be the wise thing to do.
Eventually it finally managed to grab me because of how meticulously it was designed. Although I didn’t agree with all of the gameplay mechanics, it was clear that the developers really tried to do their very best in many areas. If one part of the gameplay made me frown a bit, five other things made me grin like a child being offered an ice cream that needs to be held with two hands.
Especially the side quests have been really impressive so far. So many RPG pile this up with quests about acquiring ten bear asses, but in The Witcher 3 they are almost all interesting and varied, with lots of dialog and often a bit of detective work. Borrowing from games such as Rocksteady’s Batman series, I can turn on my Witcher senses (a fish eye effect then occurs) to spot evidence in red, examine it with comments, then perhaps following a red trail of footprints or a thread of smell meandering through the air. Surprisingly many side quests have this part built into them and it’s a nice digression from smacking monsters.
While playing through the three Risen games, back to back, I took about 700 screenshots for each of the first two games and more than 1200 for the third. I thought it would be interesting to gather this together and compare similar things across all three of the games, to see how things evolved or changed.
I’ve wrapped the screenshots inside spoiler tags that you have to open up (unless you’re using an RSS reader). I’ve indicated in the spoiler title how severe the spoiler is. Open a section and click a thumbnail to open the media carousel. Game titles are shown in the bottom of it.
You can also just hover the mouse pointer on a thumbnail to see the game title.
Captain Crow was introduced in Risen 2 as an antagonist the hero has to face in a boss fight where a Titan Lord is also summoned. The hero kills Crow in this fight. In Risen 3, Crow appears as a ghost captain in control of a fleet of enemy ships. Apparently his model wasn’t changed.
In Risen 3, the ghost Crow appears both in the very beginning of the game (before the tutorial) as well as in a short battle that is repeated almost verbatim much later in the game. But for some odd reason, he has a blue tint in the beginning and a green tint in the actual battle.
You can see these before and after colors in the gallery too.
Another captain introduced in Risen 2. The hero meets him for the first time together with Admiral Alvarez on the island of Antigua. Slayne betrays the hero who later kills him in a duel to the death. In Risen 3, he appears as a ghost in one of many dream sequences.
It doesn’t look like his model was changed in Risen 3.
The mighty Captain Steelbeard, father of both Patty and of the new nameless hero in Risen 3, is actually only referred to in the first Risen. His first appearance is in Risen 2, where he accompanies Patty and the first nameless hero (with the eye patch) on the island of Tacarigua.
After defeating Captain Crow and obtaining his legendary weapon, Steelbeard is killed by the Titan Lord Mara at the beach. Much later in Risen 2 our hero meets the ghost of Steelbeard in the Underworld. In Risen 3, he only appears as a ghost in various dream sequences.
Apparently his model wasn’t changed in Risen 3, apart from now sporting a blue ghost tint.
Character Screen and Inventory
In the first Risen, the character screen and inventory was mixed together in one encompassing window, although the inventory itself could also be opened in a small window when e.g. looting.
Risen 2 introduced segregated screens with tabs for attributes, inventory, skills, and more. Risen 3 was based on the same style and set of screens, merely tweaking the graphics and attributes available.
The first Risen was also the only game in the series that used levels. The pirate theme of Risen 2 and 3 replaced this with a stream of undivided glory (XP) which could be spent on increasing attributes.
All three games start with almost solely close combat using blades or similar melee weapons. The first Risen had a more traditional fantasy system with blades, shield, and magic based on mana.
Firearms were introduced in Risen 2, either as a pistol in one hand activated with a special hotkey or as shotguns or muskets that has to be aimed with an orange ring that fills up to indicate precision.
This section only shows screenshots from close combat.
Commandant Carlos is one of the good guys of the Inquisition and can be found in all three games. In the first game he’s in the generic harbour town, in Risen 2 he’s in the Crystal Fortress in Caldera right at the start, and in Risen 3 he can be found on the small Fog Island.
It looks like the model is the same again across Risen 2 and 3.
Crouse pops up in both Risen 2 and 3 as a parody of the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe. They changed his head in Risen 3 (clearly an improvement) but he’s still wearing the same trousers.
Eldric the Druid
Eldric is an interesting NPC that has an important role to play in all three games. In the first and third Risen he’s only a quest giver but he actually joins your crew as a companion in Risen 2.
The model for Eldric has changed considerably across all three games. It actually looks like a completely different person in each of them. Personally I really liked the way he looked in Risen 2.
See page 2 for F to N.
While I was playing through Risen 3: Titan Lords, and also later while writing the blog post about it, it repeatedly hit me how much the characters were cursing and swearing all over the place. I don’t consider myself a sissy regarding this – in fact, I often decry the lack of profanity in American TV shows.
Nevertheless, the writers certainly didn’t hold back regarding profanity, mocking and negging in this game, and there were places where I thought they really overdid it. I know this is a pirate game and it is supposed to fit the theme, but just a tiny bit more moderation might still have been for the better.
For example, have you ever had this dialog option before upon meeting the bad guy for the first time?
He deserved it, no doubt, yet it still seemed out of place. And Nekroloth didn’t really react to it anyway.
Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2014 | Genre: RPG, Third Person
I decided to round off with the third game in the series now that I was on a roll anyway. Again, it was from Steam and included all DLC. This played like the quite the best game of the three. Yes, it reused a lot of assets and ideas from the second game (which probably also explains the development gap of only two years) but it felt more refined and it also grabbed me a lot better in the beginning, especially because I visited Fog Island first where plain old exploration was in the lead.
The game was more colorful and overgrown than ever. Truly Caribbean “Bounty”-land and lots of weird plants. For some strange reason the guy in my control was now Patty’s brother, without any explanation about what happened to the previous nameless hero with the eye patch. Maybe they simply didn’t want gamers to see that eye patch anymore? Alas, the siblings really left a skewed first impression. Patty now looked like a porn star with tits right in your face. I love tits as much as any man, but her outfit was really ludicrous. Similarly, the new nameless hero had a deep and dry voice that was just contrived.
I was already missing “John” and his normal voice. Two games and he was out.
The human models were much better now and added a lot to the overall impression. Eyes now moved properly to the sides, lip sync was slightly better, and although gesticulations were still a bit exaggerated, they seemed more focused now. Dialog was the same old. It still had that feeling of superfluous information that I often had to skip to get to the point, or maybe the interlocutor passed that point long ago and just kept on blathering anyway.
I’m in the middle of playing through Risen 3: Titan Lords and have just acquired some offensive magic spells by joining one of three factions in the game. I’ll try to keep spoilers at a low level here, so I won’t go too much into specifics. (A minutia blog post about the game will be uploaded when I’ve completed it.)
After joining up with the faction, I was given a trial of killing a golem with an offensive spell. The trainer recommended using a fire spell that i could buy from him now, but then my experience with a ton of RPG immediately begged to differ. In most of these games a common denominator often say that creatures are probably immune to elemental spell damage that matches their own affinity. Fire demons ignore fire damage, ice golems ignore frost damage, that kind of thing.
But the trick is that in most RPG, beings immune to lightning are actually quite rare – most of the time even nonexistent. Lightning often works well against all elemental creatures, including fire and ice. And for that reason, I’ve favored this type of magic for quite a while.
So I ignored his recommendations, went to another trainer, and bought a lightning spell!
Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2012 | Genre: RPG, Third Person
I decided to start Risen 2: Dark Waters right after the first game in the series, while I still had fresh memories about it. I bought it on Steam including all DLC, so there will also be something about those. One contains pirate clothes and two are actual adventures lasting about one hour each.
The title screen music was quite nice but also revealed that it wasn’t the same composer as in the previous game. In fact, a lot of things had changed. The nameless hero, now drunk in the beginning and without access to magic, had a big mullet and no longer resembled Wentworth Miller. His voice actor was also different. From a tower in the very tiny harbour town, Caldera, Commandant Carlos and our hero watched a medieval ship being trashed by a Kraken. The only survivor swimming ashore was Patty, the pirate daughter from the first game, and she also looked and sounded totally different.
Typical Piranha Bytes – no regard for continuity there. The Gothic series also had the same problems.
The interface was also handled quite differently in the sequel. There were absolutely no window panes anymore. All looting, inventory, attributes, logs and whathaveyou were shown in dark, separate screens. How very 2010’ish. Even looting a chest showed a separate screen, and looting corpses just grabbed whatever. Along with the vastly improved textures, sharp lighting and the larger font for dialogs, all the improvements made me think of a similar jump between the Two Worlds games. The first one was also crude in many areas that the second game improved upon in much the same way.
And this time they even allowed me to rebind the quicksave key.
Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2009 | Genre: RPG, Third Person
This was a third person open world RPG in control of a predefined male human – no character customization in this one. It had ruthless beginnings, unforgiving combat, expensive training, no loading in and out of most houses and dungeons, a great sense of verticality in the form of steep cliffs and meandering paths, and NPC that sometimes wouldn’t restrain themselves from calling you a moron and optionally kick your ass if need be.
In other words, a typical Piranha Bytes RPG.
In fact, it felt so much like the first Gothic games that it could almost have been called Gothic 2½. I’ve completed the first three Gothic games a long time ago. (Well, actually I’ve completed all four if you also count Arcania, but it wasn’t made by Piranha Bytes and had a different feel.) The first games in the Gothic series had very ruthless beginnings. I actually never quite enjoyed starting that far down the ladder and it taking so long to get the upper hand, but there is something to be said for finally getting powerful enough to stand toe to toe with the tougher enemies of the game. It gives a very palpable sense of progression in the later parts of their games.
The Piranha Bytes RPG have always felt crude to me in a strangely charming way – kind of like the Paul Norman games on the Commodore 64, such as Forbidden Forest and Aztec Challenge. Lots of cut corners everywhere. Roasting a stew without meat in the pan. Animations where items are just conjured out of thin air. Sound effects that sometimes feel like they don’t belong. That sort of thing. Even though Risen was a reboot with a new publisher in 2009, it still felt totally like a late part of the exact same series. It also still had all the strong trademarks too, like a solid AI for NPC going about their own business.
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, First Person
After some random exploration, various side quests and most of the quest line for the Minutemen, I have finally decided that I’ve seen what I want to see of the vanilla version of Fallout 4. Maybe I’ll be back for some DLC later. I got to level 55, with 264 locations discovered and 108 quests completed. I maximized hacking and lockpicking relatively early and kept to mostly using single shot rifles, sometimes assisted by an automatic rifle with explosive bullets whenever I had ammunition for it.
The game generally had a bit too much street fighting for my liking. There were hardly any place I could go in the world where a gun fight wasn’t taking place somewhere in the distance. It often sounded like New Year’s Eve. Brotherhood of Steel was also quite aggressive and often had a Vertibird or two flying around. Hey, we have a skirmish over here, come on over and help us out! Sometimes it spiced up the action and was fun to take part of, but as said before, I still think they overdid it. There were situations where I just wanted to do a quest and was constantly pestered with skirmishes on the way.
By the way, I have a weird tip for you in case you’re bored watching loading screens. You can rotate the model by holding down the left mouse button and then move the mouse around. You can also toggle the green soda filter by hitting the V.A.T.S. button. I wonder if there’s more that can be controlled like this on the loading screen? It’s important.
With more than 400 completed games notched into my belt – 50+ alone being CRPG – it’s inevitable that some parts of this particular genre has started feeling worn out. It’s like having heard the same kind of joke thousands of times before. Even with a different wording, you can predict every beat of the joke as it’s being told, and the final twist will leave you numb. Know that feeling? For an old geezer like me, this sensation can come with everything these days. Movies, games, books – you name it.
Luckily CRPG tend to be so detailed and multifaceted that there’s stuff to like and admire, even when they tend to trigger the most tired tropes of all time. Maybe the tropes they’ve reused may even have a different approach to still make it fresh. Nevertheless these kinds of tropes are often so hackneyed that it’s almost impossible to impress me with variations on their theme anymore, unless the interpretation acknowledges the danger and really tries to consciously adapt and surprise.
Let me list what I personally find to be the worst contenders among these tired CRPG tropes.