Piranha Bytes swaps arrows for bullets.
Known for its work with the Gothic franchise, developer Piranha Bytes will soon be known for something else: pirates. In Risen 2: Dark Waters, you take on the role of the protagonist from the first Risen game, which like Gothic was a single-player, open-world role-playing title. In Dark Waters it's several years after the climactic events of Risen, and the protagonist has since moved on from battling crazy creatures in mountains to sessions of heavy drinking in bars. As it turns out, sea monsters are slashing apart ships, and part of your quest in the game at least initially will be to figure out what's going on.

The process of doing this involves winning favor with groups of pirates. Unlike Risen, Dark Waters will feature multiple islands, at least three according to Piranha Bytes. These adventure areas will be smaller in size than Faranga from the first game, but in total will comprise a larger area of land filled with something on the order of 60 to 80 hours of content to play through. Piranha Bytes says that the multiple island setup allows for more exciting exploration, since you can't run around early on and explore all the terrain. Instead, you'll need to board a ship in order to travel to a new space, which allows for greater variety in environment design and presentation.

Risen 2 has more style than its predecessor.

Piranha Bytes says it's been listening to feedback and is building much more detailed character models and landscapes, a statement I'd agree with. I had a chance to see the game running for a short while and it's definitely a step up from Risen, retaining the realistic landscapes and piling on new effects and artistic flair. Even though I sort of liked the bleakness of Faranga from the first game, I'm not going to be the one to complain about better visuals and, perhaps more importantly, pirates. It also appears as though the enemy models will have a lot more style to them. The dinosaur-snake beast and hulking spider I saw were ugly, but ugly in a fearsome kind of way like a good enemy should be, not ugly in a silly kind of way like the ostrich-like monsters from the beginning of Risen.

The combat's changing around too. Gone are bows and arrows, replaced by firearms. Throughout the journey you'll get access to pistols, rifles, shotguns and even cannon. Melee combat will be an option as well if the idea of firing bullets in a game like this doesn't sit well with you, and a magic system will exist too, though will likely wind up being different than what was present in Risen. Piranha Bytes showed off a few very limited combat sequences and Dark Waters definitely has the look of a Piranha Bytes game, though the protagonist's arcing sword swings weren't quite as awkward-looking as they were in Risen.

It seems as though skill progression and faction loyalty will still play a big role in the game. If you want to learn thief skills, you'll need to find a trainer and build a relationship in order to unlock the ability to purchase upgrades. In the same way, if you act like a jerk to a trainer, there's a chance you'll be locked out from ever learning what they have to teach. This is an open-world game, after all, so you have a lot of freedom regarding building and customizing the protagonist into your ideal version of a swashbuckling fantasy hero.

It also has guns.

As most Piranha Bytes fans know and many others don't, armor sets are always a big deal in the studio's games. Generally there aren't a lot of armor pieces to swap in and out every five minutes for minimal statistical upgrades. Instead, armor pieces are spread out. They serve not only as a means up upgrading defensive parameters, but as a status symbol and mark of achievement. Because of that, acquiring a new armor set is a much more rewarding experience than, say, tossing aside a +3 stamina chest piece for a +5 version. Piranha Bytes does not want to abandon the prestige associated with armor acquisition in Dark Waters, though it sounds as though the studio is going to add in more lower level gear to allow you to customize the protagonist's appearance a little earlier on.

Generally these types of games are not very friendly to new players. They don't hold your hand through objectives, but require you explore, learn about the NPCs and the game world, and practice combat skills to excel. Past Piranha Bytes games have not been pick up and play experiences, and from the sounds of things Dark Waters won't be either, which I'm totally fine with. The studio is really good at what it does, as long as the game it winds up shipping isn't totally broken like Gothic 3.

Risen 2: Dark Waters has day night cycles, NPCs that follow sleep and work routines, and more of the kind of open-world role-playing game features that tend to be expected these days. Considering the developer, if you consider yourself to be a role-playing game fan, you should definitely keep an eye on this one. That includes console players too – Piranha Bytes says it's putting a lot more focus on getting all versions of the game up to the same bar of quality this time around.