Reviews

Arcania: Gothic 4

Release Date: Out now!
Developer: Spellbound
Publisher: JoWood
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: No
PEGI: 16

Though it wears the name you shouldn’t be fooled, this isn’t a Gothic game except in name, instead we have a Western RPG more akin to the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion but without the freedom, instead taking a third-person view, a large world but linear world, far too many fetch quests and bundling it all up into a box.

The tale starts of promisingly enough if predictably, you begin a series of basic yet rather odd quests to please the father of your bride-to-be. After she agree’s to marry you and a few other little things happen your entire village is burned to the ground and its occupants killed, including your beloved. Cue a mission of vengeance against the mad King who ordered the attack and a journey to claim a powerful artifact with a few so-called “twists” along the way. Initially things are simple and rather stale, you simply venture across the world trying to get access to the next bit of world so you can repeat the process with the goal of finding said shiny object. But as you progress the plot becomes more non-sensical at the ending left me feeling rather let-down.

But the bad news is the whole thing is let down by poor voice-acting and peculiar dialogue choices and glitches that leave the world feeling rather less immersive than it should be. Most characters you meet will sound mad and eccentric but mostly not in a good way. Your lead character (who has no name) is one of the very few with half-decent voice-acting yet still often fails to get the inflections and tones for the conversations right.
There is a dialogue tree included, but more often than not it has one choice leading me to wonder why the damn conversation didn’t just play out instead of making me click a button for no reason. At other points the subtitles simply don’t match what the characters are saying, or even dumber, the spelling is wrong. And to top it off the dialogue options quite often don’t make any sense, repeat themselves or quest details can be enquired as to even though you’ve already finished it. Barmy.

It's like being drunk - stand still and everything looks good. Move and the world goes to hell.

And now we hit the engine that powers the game, or rather drags the game. Stand still and the world actually looks quite pretty, but start moving and things come undone. There’s a judder to the frame-rate that irks and while it’s never enough to particularly affect gameplay it’s still annoying. Tree’s, bushes and other objects have a talent for appearing and disappearing right before your eyes on a constant basis. I got used to it after a while and the foliage disappearing was even helpful at times while wandering through dense under-growth, but it’s still a rather large bug to leave in the game. Enter one of the games numerous caves or ruins though, and these two problems almost disappear, the frame-rate holds steady and nothing pops into existence before your eyes, though distant enemies do have a habit of jerking around frame by frame. Other little things also bug throughout the game, it’s clear that on a technical level this game is majorly flawed.

But  underneath the flaws, if you can look past them, is actually quite an enjoyable RPG. It includes the main staples such as levelling up with a choices of magic, melee and ranged abilities being mixed with stealth as well and the ever addictive loot hunting that brings a smile to so many people’s faces. The levelling itself is handled well enough with a bar system that players of Mass Effect 2 will recognize instantly- as you put skill points into the bar you hit certain points along the way which unlock new skills or abilities, all of which can be seen beforehand. It allows for good planning of your characters build, and while you can’t adjust the facial look or anything of your character (you’re male or nothing) you can still make him your own through the skill sets and a mixture of weapons and armors.

Combat is simple yet effective, you have a melee button, magic button and ranged button along with the ability to block and dodge. Early in the game the combat is overly simple, usually just button mashing with the occasional dodge gets you through but later in the game when you have a larger number of attackers who are mixed between ranged and close combat it can become pretty fun as you learn to vary your attacks and when to use certain abilities.
It’s not the most challenging system but it works well enough to keep combat from getting too tedious.

The map and inventory, staples of RPGs, are mixed in terms of quality. The inventory can hold everything you ever pick up with no limit, but while it’s broken into categorys (Ranged, scrolls, consumables etc) the lists that it presents you with can still be fiddly when you have huge amounts of items to scroll through. Another problem that many RPGS have suffered with comes in the form of trading, whilst browsing items you can’t compare them to what you’re actually wearing at the time. The map itself is mostly helpful, but Quests often have rather vague directions to find things and the map won’t show you the location. Cue some random wandering around, a few fights, and you’ll eventually get there. At least it does encourage exploration, it’s just a shame there’s nothing to actually find. That’s not to say there aren’t a good number of side-quests to keep you going as well, it’s just that each and every cave is linked to a side-quest leaving nothing to actually make exploring worthwhile. But still, with those side-quests as well this is a pretty expansive game with around 12-15 hours of main story missions to get through and a grand total of around 20 hours for all the quests. 25 hours if you want to pick up the collectibles along the way.

The argument about the food bill was getting out of hand again.

Finally, Arcania does fail in one major area for any RPG: immersion. Being immersed in a believable, interesting world is what makes RPG’s so interesting and Arcania’s world just has too many bugs. NPC’s don’t seem to lead a life and don’t react to massive creatures with teeth running through their village. Their animations during conversations often just don’t match what’s being said and for some damn reason the game is incapable of making any women look like more than a creature from the black lagoon. And to top it off, every single quest is either “kill that” or “fetch that” or”kill that so you can fetch that”. Variety people, it’s the spice of life. These combined factors drag you back out of Arcania’s world.

It’s a shame then, because while this is a technically very flawed game I did actually enjoy playing through Arcania: Gothic 4. It has that addictive charm  that drags me into RPGs.
At the end of the day Arcania feels like it was made on a tight budget, but if you love RPG’s and see this at a cheap price go ahead and give it a go. Just ignore the bushes appearing at your feet.

The Good:
+ I love my axe….OMG A BIGGER AXE!
+ Stat obsession.
+ That the lead character often comments on the fact that every quest is the same.

The Bad:
– Jesus! where did that tree come from?
– My ears hurt, please just shut up random guard.
– Ok, that juddery frame-rate is bugging me now.

Scores:

Graphics: 6
Stand still and it’s actually pretty. Move around and it falls apart. But go into a dungeon and it looks pretty good.

Sound: 6
Good god the voice acting is bad! The music is generic but suits the game and the sound effects are a little hit and miss.

Story: 6.5
Pretty predictable but interesting enough for the purposes of wandering around an island and hitting things in the face with a mace.

Gameplay: 7
Underneath the grime is an enjoyable RPG. Shame about the grime then.

Lifespan: 8
In todays time of 5 hour campaigns this 20 hour adventure wins in this category. I just wish they’d stop making me fetch things.

Overall: 6.5
Arcania is for those who can overlook graphical flaws (and other flaws) and find the decent game buried underneath. It feels like a game made to a tight budget, which is a shame because if they got rid of the pop-in and got better voice acting this could have been much better. But I can’t deny that I did enjoy my adventure.

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