Another Impossible Preview

The people who showed me the upcoming Xbox 360 port of role-playing game Risen this week told me their game could be sped through in 30 hours, savored in 90. But to check it out early, I only had one.

One can assess the potential of a game you have just an hour to see if the game's an average size. Give me an hour to figure out if a 15-hour game has a shot at being good? Sure. It's like making a snap judgment about a one-night stand, I guess. But assessing the quality of a role-playing game that could last 90 hours? That's a little too close to needing to find a life partner for me to have faith in whatever judgment I can make in 60 minutes. I'd want to get to know the game a little better.

Another Impossible Preview

This is all, of course, a roundabout way of saying that when three people representing Risen brought the game to the Kotaku New York City offices this week, I was not immediately impressed. Yet I hesitate to assume I know the game's potential.

What I have is the boilerplate description, some experience with the game under my control and some answers from the Risen folks.

The boilerplate, from the official fact sheet for this game:

Risen is a massive, open-world RPG where every decision counts and every action continuously shapes a player's reputation. Players will battle dangerous creatures and the promise of ancient treasures will lead them on an adventure where they must choose to align with either the native Rebel faction led by The Don, or the mysterious Order and its Inquisition, led by the Inquisitor. Only then will they determine just what is truly happening on the "forbidden isle."

It's also worth knowing that the game is developed by German studio Piranha Bytes, published by Deep Silver, set for release on the Xbox 360 and is very close to coming out. The official date is February 25. The PC version was already released last October and got okay but not amazing reviews. The 360 version, which was ported by French studio Wizardbox, has, I'm told, all the same content but brightness options, some improved textures and new lighting.

You can read that boilerplate and see the screenshots. The game is dark and graphically crude, but its gameplay is supposedly broad in scope. That's easy to hear and hard to tell.

I started the game with my hero awakening on a beach. The gods had left Earth. The rising ancient artifacts and temples of the Titans had left humanity in upheaval and our hero shipwrecked on an island. The Risen folks showing me the game said I could go anywhere right away. I walked along the beach some, then found a club to beat enemies with and ambled along a path. I picked at some plants and was told that my inventory pouches were bottomless, that every little thing, even onions, will have a use in the game. I found a house and in it a trunk. I found a pan.

I was told of the game's two factions, the Inquisitors and the rebel bandits. I learned that I''d never have to align with just one faction, though I could and then replay the game with the other, experiencing a very different adventure.

I was told that side-quests would feel closely integrated into the game's main quests. I was told I could tackle missions differently, with combat, or maybe with stealth by turning myself into a snail.

I was told I would be able to judge the skill level of my enemy by how he stands and how he wields his weapon. The character-improvement system in this game would require me to take my character and any experience points he gains to specific in-game characters who could train my guy to learn the abilities I want. Different characters train different skills, be they blacksmithing, spell-making or whatever else. This would feel more realistic, I was told, to have the trainer teach you, rather than just being able to click on a button and suddenly be a mage. We saw a cook cooking, and I was told that anything I see a non-playable character in the game world doing, my character can do. And, yes, that includes picking up a broom and sweeping the floor.

Another Impossible Preview

As I listened, I also looked. I saw my character and a woman he was talking to swaying their hands as if directing slow traffic, again and again. I saw early-game combat decided by the hammering of the same attack button, again and again. I saw that the way to avoid some conflict is to conjure the phantasm of an exotic dancer in front of your would-be attackers. I saw that the characters in this game are smart enough to mind when you walk into their kitchen and raid their wares, but that our hero is crafty enough to "tell joke" and turn a belligerent cook into a chortling one.

Why would an Xbox 360 owner go for this game instead of, say, the lengthy and open role-playing game Fallout 3? It's the sense of variety in the adventure, I was told, the opportunity to shape one's fate. It's the quality of the quests and the allure of its nooks and crannies that makes Risen worthwhile. That's the message my ears got, but with only an hour's time, the rest of me would just have to believe.

How do you size up a 90-hour game in one hour? I don't think you can.