Risen 3: Titan Lords is an action RPG and the third instalment of the Risen series from developer Piranha Bites. (Note: Since I’ve just boarded the franchise’s ship, here I’ll be reviewing it out of context of the rest of the series…)
After a brief battle on a pirate ship and a basic fighting tutorial, Titan Lords begins on the pearly white sands of Crab Island (which is nicer than it sounds). My impressions were pretty optimistic. The island is open to exploration – something that wider world also excels at. Soon I’d encountered a promising variety of different monsters, some interestingly dinosaur-like, and it succeeded in getting me wondering was around the next leafy corner. The graphics and slightly inflexible gameplay made the game feel older than a recent release, but it was nothing that I couldn’t overlook. Done well, it can be stylistic and nostalgic, like revisiting Donkey Kong or an early Tomb Raider.
Unfortunately, the potential for an early sense of adventure to blossom in Titan Lords is restricted by Patty. Your disappointingly busty sister follows you around dressed as a Christmas candy stick strippogram and has the rapidly irritating habit of pointing out the obvious (“Unfortunately the bridge to the temple is withdrawn”). The voice acting and droid-like dialogue was the first thing to sour the Titan Lords experience for me. Both characters sound flat and lifeless – your character doesn’t even seem remotely curious in the ghostly pirate captain that sporadically haunts him, and I couldn’t muster much interest either. He couldn’t even swear with enthusiasm or emotion. I couldn’t even remember what my character’s name was.
However my adventure with Patty on Crab Island wasn’t to last, and mercifully I was soon dead. The death cinematic wasn’t quite as touching as you might expect, and strongly demonstrated a lazy approach to the little details which were already distinctly lacking. Our relationship was based mostly on bridges, but c’mon, Patty… nothing? A frown. The glimmer of a tear? A lip wobble? Something? Nope. Without any such drama, there was no immersion. Mid-scene, I gave up expecting personality and found the scene entertaining… but not for the right reasons. For people looking to be sucked in to a story, Titan Lords is missing a lot.
After rising from the dead, we meet Bones who turns out to be a character with enough quirks to have personality as he tells you that though you’re alive, your soul was taken by the demon that killed you and now you have become a spiritless empty shell. I can’t say I noticed any difference. But so begins the main plot: Darkness is taking over the world. A predictable premise, yes, but a classic of fantasy, always used and often still done well enough to be awesome… However, despite Bones’s best efforts, even he couldn’t conjure a sense of peril. Never mind the soul, my sudden lack of equipment and stuff was more worrying.
At this point, gifted with the game’s vague overall goal, the world of Titan Lords opens up to exploration. You’re given the choice of islands to sail between, and some basic objectives to get you started on defeating evil. To do so, you have to find and recruit allies. There’s the suggestion to find your grave-robbing sister… but I was leaving that one until last. Titan Lords succeeds by letting you plot your own course, and giving you the choice of what to do. Each island has a variety of well-crafted settings, a diverse selection of enemies, and enough quests and to-do’s to keep you occupied. Some are menial filler, seemingly added in for the sake of extra ‘stuff to do’, like finding some guy’s notes around the harbour which is a baffling waste of time when they’re all within twenty steps and lying in plain view. At times like this, I wished they’d instead invested the time in the writing. However many of the other quests, like the gnome drama in the mine, are redeeming. The gnomes were some of my favourite characters – thought went into their dialogue, I liked it because it didn’t sound like it was written by a Terminator. It had personality.
As an adventure RPG, I expected Titan Lords to be a time investment. However, even after hours of game play I could only see a bare improvement in my character’s skills and ability. Titan Lords’ combat system is tactical – by timing your block, attacking and dodging, it’s a realistic and in theory, rewarding way to overcome your enemies. However, fighting was as predictable and repetitive as chopping long grass in slow motion, exaggerated sword swinging and missing a target stood right in front of you. However, I wasn’t levelling up and soon the only tactic I was motivated to use was to take Bones along, then speedroll through the combat zone, miraculously evading the crocodiles, skeletons, hell hounds, etc. while taking the glory. Literally – I got the Glory XP from Bones’ victories, anyway. To improve skills, you rely on paying NPC trainers to teach you skills. Frustratingly, in the beginning your character proves ‘not good enough’ to learn the skills you need to get further. Improved armour and weapons also prove hard to come by, and there isn’t much of an incentive to fight your own battles while questing.
Modern adventure RPGs come with increasingly high expectations, and I found Titan Lords frustrating because it glimmered so often. No, not in Skyrim’s league, but it had moments of potential to be really good in a different way. It has pirates, adventure, magic, and a decent fantasy setting. Like pointillism, Titan Lords seems good from a distance, but when you squint at it, you can see all the gaps between the dots, the spaces where there should be colour. It disappointed me because of the flawed fundamentals like the clunky combat system, awkward skill development, and the lack of details – the most unforgivable of these for me was the lack of character. The world exploration rescued it to a degree, and the plot isn’t awful, but a lot of it was lost when you’re tempted to skip through the dialogue because the character you have to spend time with is duller than watching paint dry. Titan Lords left me wandering; vaguely interested, but without much purpose.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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