I'm an unabashed fan of the Gothic series. The first two games were masterpieces; the third game was still an awesome experience despite its numerous flaws. Risen, developed by the same team that produced the Gothic series (and quite obviously so; it is impossible to review Risen without comparing it to Gothic), is exactly the sort of game I love to play.
Or is it? On the surface, there is no doubt about it; it has the same open game-world, multiple character classes, and gorgeous graphics of the Gothic series. Despite its developers insistence that Risen is an entirely new property, the gameplay is the same as in their previous games. And I don't mean "the same" as in "an evolution of work they did before"; I mean, it's exactly the same. The combat uses the same mechanics, as does the magic, the questing, the dialogue and the inventory.
Now, as I said, I loved the Gothic games so this poses no problem for me. But it does start to feel very "samey" only a few hours in; there's nothing new in this game that we haven't seen in Gothic 3 (perhaps the "god ray" lighting effects). There's an incredible reuse of materiel from the original series; sounds, textures, models. The story plugs in fairly well with the direction the Gothic series was headed and even the nameless protagonist is a clone of Gothic's hero.
But what is truly disappointing is how short Risen is; the original Gothic 3 occupied me for an entire month as I explored every corner of Myrtana; I completed Risen in a handful of days. Some replayability is ensured by the different career paths but since those quests only occupy the first third of the game that won't add more than a few additional days of entertainment. The main game-world is smaller than introduced to us in the original Gothic (and less than a third of Gothic 3's massive continent) and much of that area is "dead space" broken into narrow canyons. And just as the story starts to pick up, it suddenly ends with the most embarrassingly poor boss-fight seen in years.
This tighter focus is not without its advantages, however; for all its breadth, Gothic 3 felt bare-boned, populated by space-filling NPCs that had nothing to say and quests that had felt artificially lengthened by having you cross vast distances. Risen offers tighter gameplay; most NPCs have at least one -usually two or three- quests to offer you and the mid-game addition of teleport spells mitigates the travails of back-n-forth questing. Furthermore, the smaller game-world allowed the developers to put more effort into quality assurance; Risen's has fewer bugs and performance issues that plagued their previous series.
Risen feels entirely like an expansion pack, which it was probably was intended to be before Jowood and Piranha Bytes had their falling out. As an expansion, Risen would have been a tremendous value for its money; Gothic fans would have been ecstatic. As a stand-alone game, however, Risen doesn't give its fans enough of, well, anything. It's too short and doesn't offer anything innovative; it's hard to justify paying full price. Fans of the previous series should definitely pick it up (after it drops in price a bit, of course); for all its lack of length, it is, ultimately more of a good thing. Just don't expect anything new.