I did not know what I was getting myself into when I first started this game.
Not at all actually, as I had no knowledge of what the game even was apart from being an RPG. I hadn't read any sort of reviews, seen movies, or anything of the sort.
This is far less impressive than it might sound, as I had gotten the game through a bundle (humble bundle) with a bunch of other games, and if I'm being honest I only started playing for the trading cards I would get. The original plan I had was just to play for a few minutes to see what it was, and if it was anything worth spending time on. I fully expected just to tab out after a few minutes and let it run in background until I got the card drops, and then proceed to uninstall and never touch it again.
What I found though, was something I could not put down. 37'ish hours later and I've completed the game in just a few short days. It was one helluva experience.
The game started out quirky in that combat was not really that good, but since I was just playing for a few minutes anyway, I decided to roll with it, and slay a few monsters. I barely survived the first few encounters, and had to scour the beach where you start for supplies to munch on in order to regain some health.
After 30 minutes of game time, I was hooked. Not since Gothic had I played such a game that was this punishing yet satisfying. I found I could go anywhere, but quickly learned what monsters to stay away from. In the beginning I could hardly kill the most simple monsters, and I couldn't understand why when I leveled up, nothing happened and I apparently couldn't put points in anywhere. Having played Gothic, I figured I'd stumble upon the solution before long with some sort of trainers, and as it turns out, that was exactly the case. You see, skills have a set number of levels, and you need to put a big amount of points into them to become truly good at something, be it using a bow, casting a spell, using a sword, or sneaking, pickpocketing and so on. The only problem is, there isn't enough points for everything because monsters don't respawn, so what you see is what you get (with a very few exceptions between chapters), so there's no grinding in this game, which is great, but also forces you to choose a few skills and stick with them, because being a jack of all trades in this game just isn't as good as a specialist.
Fast forward 24 hours of gameplay time and I'm still in the first chapter, and had explored most of the island and killed most of the available mobs instead of going to the first town and progressing the story. It was tough, but I learned a lot about combat, and how to fight the various monsters.
Speaking about combat, when you decide upon melee weapon style (staff, axe, sword), you can level it up to level 10, and with each new level you gain faster speed, or more manuerability, and learn to make consecutive swings. This allows you to string together a flurry of combos which makes short work of enemies you had previous thought were neigh impossible to deal with.
I played 26 or so hours with no armor at all, as there was simply none available until a certain point in the story (chapter 2). This meant the game was a lot tougher than it needed to be, but also a lot more rewarding, as I had to master the not so easy to learn intricacies of combat in Risen. However, even with armor, I found the monsters a challenge throughout the game, and at no point did I find I could just rush through any opponent.
Some block, some rush, some dodge your attacks and leap towards you, and some sidestep you in the middle of your attack and come at you from the side. Some still parry your blows and counter them. And of course some just use brute force. The game also likes to throw packs at you, almost never allowing you to fight a single monster at a time, but often up to 6 or even 8. It forces you to plan ahead, and know your terrain and so on, which makes for a great and memorable experience.
The game lasted me around 37 hours, and I am blown away over how great it was. There were hardly any bugs. In fact the only bugs I came across were me getting stuck on terrain after having jumped where I shouldn't jump, or just getting unlucky with landing a couple of times. I could count the number of times it happened on 1 hand though, and with the amount of quicksaving this game forces you to do, it was never a problem. I'm amazed how well polished the game was. You could argue that it's an older game, but that doesn't mean anything in terms of bugs. Most games never fix even the most horrendous bugs if they don't catch it in the first few patches, so this was both surprising, and gratifying.
I could write volumes about the story and the locations you visit, but as I don't want to spoil things, I'll just say that it's one of those stories that starts you off with a blank slate, where you don't know anything about anything to begin with, and you soon have to rescue the world type of scenarios. Don't get me wrong, the story was actually ok, and the game forces you to choose sides rather early in the game. I did not regret my decision, but I do kinda wish I could see the other part. I have read it makes very little difference, and it's just a few quests which all end in chapter 1, but I'm not about to replay the game just to experience an hours worth of quests, so no matter.
All in all it was a really enjoyable experience, and I heartedly recommend it to anyone. Just be warned, it is not one of those mainstream games where you can breeze through. The combat is tough as nails, and nobody is going to hold your hand. If you played Gothic and liked it, chances are you will love this game.