I played Risen when it was released back in 2009 and had a great time with it. The game was very rough around the edges, and combat at the beginning of the game was absolutely brutal. But, the game shone brightly with its immense draw distances, enjoyable dialog, and rewarding exploration. Risen 2: Dark Waters maintains all of these characteristics.
Story and Setting
This is a pirate-themed RPG. Expect pirate things. I've seen several complaints that Risen 2's take on buccaneering is "generic," such as in Kevin Van Ord's review for Gamespot. This is an absurd criticism. A pirate-theme needs certain aspects, such as excessive cursing, buried treasure, tavern wenches, and unnecessarily agressive swashbucklers. Risen 2 does all of these things, and I think it does them fairly well.
The story rarely references the Unnamed Hero's previous adventure in Risen, though the grandstoryline of warring Titans continues. The main villian is a female Titan named Mara. The storytelling failed big time here, in my opinion. Mara is seen only three
times during the game. Characters constantly talk about how terrible she is, but little is done to make the player feel Mara's impact.
Characters and Voice Acting
I think the voice acting in Risen 2 is consistently excellent. The pirates sound really harsh and gruff. There is one voice actor who did both pirate and Inquisition voices who I absolutely love. I can't recall him voicing any major characters, unfortuantely. Commandant Sebastiano's actor is amazing. He speaks with sophistication and vigor. I recognized his highly distinctive voice on some random NPCs.
There are many, many characters to speak with in Risen 2. I enjoyed the dialog in this game very much.
Combat in this game is pretty bad, overall. It is extremely bad for the first 10 hours, as you have very few moves. Enemies hit extremely hard and have a lot of health. The first Risen game was like this too, though by midgame it evened out, and in the late game you became an unstoppable god. I had the same experience with Risen 2. At least in this game there are companions to help with combat. They can tank enemies very effectively, so don't be ashamed to let them do so. Cheesing fights with terrain exploits shouldn't shame you either. The fights are THAT difficult. If you stick with it, by end game you will be able to destroy entire taverns full of drunk and angry pirates.
I played the voodoo path rather than the musket path, since it seemed far more interesting that firing a gun. Voodoo has some very good stuff going for it, such as scepters to make enemies fight eachother, tremor in fear, or summon a permanent ghost companion. Even so, it seems underdeveloped. The Ritual (potions) talent was completely useless to me, other than creating improved permanent stat-booster elixirs.
I had the pleasure of playing Risen 2 both in 2560x1440 and 1080p stereoscopic 3D. The game runs very well with 3D Vision after disabling water reflections and shadows. The lush jungles were an absolute treat in 3D, where each tree and each leaf helps to give the sense of a rich 3D world. The draw distance is unlimited... there is no fogging whatsoever.
But, the graphics have many technical issues. Level of detail changes cause trees to "grow" and the ground/rocks to change shape as you move through areas. Textures are consistenly low resolution. When a canned execution animation plays, the Unnamed Hero's neck distorts horrifically. Animations are poor across the board, really.
I have seen absolutely ridiculous criticisms of the Risen series as having poor graphics that don't improve across installments. Risen 2 is a major improvement over Risen 1, and Risen 3: Titan Lords obviously looks better than Dark Waters. The graphics are definitely flawed, but the engine pushes DirectX 9 to its limits.
I had a great time with Risen 2. I play video games less and less as the years go on, and Risen 2 was the first in a while to hook me into very long play sessions. I will definitely be picking up Risen 3, but I just spent 43 hours in Risen 2, so I'll take a break before diving in.
I recommend the Risen series to people who can appreciate a hardcore RPG experience. There is a lot of "jankiness" in Risen games, but I really wouldn't have it any other way. There's a charm to NPCs that instantly repeat their lines before finishing if you spam-click them.