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Pirates Are Way More Interesting Than Elves

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 22 May 2012 16:00
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I think what stands out the most about Risen 2, looking back, is that there doesn't seem to be any sailing in it. Maybe there's some in there somewhere, I confess I didn't play all the way through because I got kinda depressed after getting to the third or fourth colony town indistinguishable from the last. But there's something inherently wrong about a pirate game that takes place entirely on land. Because half the people you meet aren't pirates in that case, are they? They're just colonists with funny accents. Seems like an opportunity was missed to have maybe a nice little sailing mechanic bridging the RPG bits where you arrange your sails according to the wind and have the odd sea battle. You know. Wind Waker - big world style.

I was psyched to play an RPG set in absolutely bloody anything besides the standard fantasy setting (or the increasingly standard sci-fi setting), not just because the story and visuals would maybe be something different for once but also because it might be encouraged to mess around with gameplay besides the usual routine of stab a bunch of things then sell all their trousers. As much as I keep hearing that game developers these days just don't care about story, one can't get away from the fact that story, setting and context all define the gameplay. Some might say they're the very first thing that do so when one first formulates the idea. Here's a quick experiment. How would you design a game based upon the life of Muhammad Ali? Your first thought was probably that it would have to be a boxing game, wasn't it. Either that or a smack talk simulator. See what I mean? Story first, then gameplay from that. And there'll be no cover-based shooting no matter how much the publisher thinks it'd sell.

You look at the standard fantasy setting and a lot of that immediately dictates the gameplay, too. It's probably going to be a pre-industrial medieval sort of arrangement, so the combat will be sword-based. And the thing about a game set in a fantasy world is that the story is going to be largely about the world as a whole, since unlike real-world games you can't rely on the player's existing knowledge of the world and need to spend most of your time giving out exposition. So that will usually mean that the plot is about the entire world being under threat by something hideous, probably an army of baddies so there'll be plenty of things to kill, and you'll be a wandering adventurer in an appropriate position to explore the shit out of everything.

Bearing all that in mind the gameplay of Risen 2 is to a certain degree informed by its pirate setting. The skills you learn are mostly those of a roguish corsair, like using a cutlass, or fighting dirty, or training a monkey to burgle a house (no, seriously). Just feels like they could have gone a bit deeper with it, is all. A pirate game where you don't spend any time on a ship (at sea, I mean, not parked in a cove somewhere) is like a paper-scissors-stone simulator in which you aren't issued an index finger.

But I'll reiterate one thing from the video: pirates have way more personality than elves. I reflected on this at one point in Risen 2 while two pirate captains were brokering an exchange of rum and gold, exchanging foul-mouthed insults with each other and breaking into raucous laughter when agreement was reached. And it occurred to me that you'd never see two elves talk like that. Possibly as a consequence of fantasy stories being about the world, a lot of those games fall short in giving most of their characters much in the way of personality.

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