The "Risen" series has always been a midtier franchise, one with the foundation to be great but has fallen short of its promise. Its rich world is unique in gaming, mixing the lore and atmosphere of "Pirates of the Caribbean" with the magic and images of Middle Earth. The role-playing element gives players investment and growth as the epic quests progress.

But despite those advantages, the series' distinct brand of open-world adventure hasn't captured much acclaim. For "Risen," there never was that jump in quality, that next step that a franchise like "The Witcher" took. Although the sequel looked good and had a deep system, "Risen 2: Dark Waters" was flawed and never felt polished or innovative.

With "Risen 3: Titan Lords," Piranha Bytes once again aims for that top tier. The developers combine ideas from the first and second games, so the third is an amalgam of both. Unfortunately, it's a solid but unspectacular effort that doesn't fix some of the past titles' problems.

In this chapter, players step in the shoes of the son of famed pirate Steelbeard. During a trip to the Crab Coast, the nameless protagonist runs into a Shadow Lord, who rips his soul from his body, effectively killing him. A former pirate named Bones resurrects the hero's body, and it's up to him to save the world against a mysterious force from the Underworld.


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Over the course of the four-chapter adventure, players will encounter a world that has almost as much content as "Skyrim." Players will discover dozens of side missions as they build an alliance among the disparate factions of the high seas. They'll need to do a lot of adventuring to earn gold to train for skills and gain glory points to level up their stats. It's a slow process, especially when the cost of gear and training are so high.

That wouldn't be so bad, but sadly, "Risen 3's" combat system is frustrating. Attacking is based on the length of button presses, while defense relies on blocking and dodging. The problem is that the foe's attacks often are too quick to make blocking effective, and it's hard delivering strong enough blows without being open to a counterattack. The only thing making combat tolerable is the abilities players pick up as they choose to join one of three factions.

Those problems could have been mitigated if the visuals were up to snuff, but though it looks nice, it falls short of what fans have been expecting, especially compared with contemporaries such as "Elder Scrolls." Facial animations look robotic. Textures and models lack realistic complexity, failing to grab players.

But the most disappointing issue with "Risen 3" is that the game still has its share of annoying bugs. Some can make finishing quests a burden. Others can take players out of the moment by putting players inside a character's mouth (I'm not joking). It's one of a number of flaws that keep the franchise in the middle of the pack.

Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanews group.com. Read his blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei.

'Risen 3: Titan Lords'

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PLATFORM: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
RATING: Mature