The walk back to the swamp looks far more daunting on my map than it turns out to be. I haven’t been in the wild for a while now, but during my time in the city I invested good money and points into my skills and stats. For the first time I feel like I can survive out there on my own, without a tour guide or a mercenary mob by my side.
This feeling of security turns out to be true but only thanks to the fantasy-game miracles of health potions and healing scrolls. I’m killing the vultures much more easily now but a small swarm of “talon moths” prove to be frustrating foes. But they’re nothing compared to the gnomes. Those damn gnomes.
Why does every game need its requisite small, obnoxious, swarming enemy type? Gnomes are less than half my height, they attack faster than I do, able to hit me while I’m readying my own attacks, and as I engage one or two in melee combat there are about seven others in the wings, throwing junk at me. No, literally, junk: old boots, dead fish, forks, cans…I feel like I might be able to appreciate the humor if they weren’t so damn annoying.
They also don’t at all resemble the gnomes that we’re used to. If you’re looking for cute, quirky, inventive, clever little people, go check out the WarCraft universe. Risen’s gnomes are deformed, dirty, mean little urchins who hack away at your knees with sickles. I don’t like them.
The extremely imprecise, uncontrollable auto-targeting isn’t helping me one bit. I didn’t mention this before because it largely wasn’t an issue…until now. In combat, enemies are targeted automatically, allowing for movement circling the targeted foe. This works much like picking up items: get close to an enemy, get it mostly centered in the camera, and you’re locked on. But (and this is a big, brightly lit “but” framed in cascading fireworks), when fighting multiple enemies, Risen will select which enemy to target. It will also decide when to switch targets and will do so often and (seemingly) without any criteria. There’s no way for me to stay focused on the gnome that’s right in front of me and turning the camera to disengage a lock makes it sweep wildly, spinning me around.
The tiny gnomes, who I can’t adequately place in my line of sight to begin with, present an incredible challenge. I can get one or two strikes in before my target changes to another; the one I’m targeting strafes to my side (the greased feet of my foes are becoming exponentially more irritating), forcing my view away from the one that’s hacking away at what is now my side; every time my angle of view changes, I’m pelted with a boot or a fish thrown by one of the waiting gnomes, unable to aim my shield in the right direction because my target has shifted.
This issue could have been fixed so simply by just making targeting manual. Just let me hit a button to switch or disengage a lock-on. Zelda: The Ocarina of Time did it more than a decade ago. I shouldn’t be wasting potions and scrolls and getting killed because of a poorly designed camera.
I wish I could say this issue ends with the gnomes, due to their stature, as I initially theorized. Later I’ll fight a group of skeletons who present the exact same challenge. Since these are my first experiences fighting larger groups of enemies, this had never been an issue until now, but evidence suggests it will be an issue for the remainder of my time on this island.
After the encounter with the gnomes and a quick detour into an abandoned mine to reap its rich ore deposits with my newly acquired mining skill, I finally head back to the swamp to report to the Don. I inform him that the city is ready for his rebellion and deliver an important package from his top man in the harbour.
For all my troubles and loyalty (and after paying a steep 1000 gold fee), I’m rewarded with some real armor. In terms of stats, the leather is a significant upgrade from the cloth I’m currently wearing, but after a few battles I begin to question how useful armor really is. The huge jump in the numbers seems poorly represented in actual combat, where I still have to suck down potions and scrolls like a crazed addict. At least it looks cool?
I’m also promoted to a for-real hunter. What I was before, I have no idea (Freelancer? Castaway? Worker? Errand boy?). Whatever the case, I’m now a card-carrying member of the gang. I’m also charged with what I imagine is a fairly important assignment as the Don’s emissary to the Inquisition.
My job is to walk right into the Monastery, where all the brainwashing supposedly takes place, and break bread with the main Inquisitor himself in an effort to open negotiations. He doesn’t hide the fact, however, that I’m really just a spy, sent to find out what the Inquisitor knows about the island and what he really wants from it, without giving away any information about our current situation. I wonder why the Inquisitor isn’t also attempting something so under-handed, and once again I doubt that I have chosen the lesser of two evils. I suppose only time will tell.