Platforms: PC (version tested), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Spellbound Entertainment
First of all, I'm not bothering with the stupid big A at the end of Arcania: Gothic 4 any more. It's just ridiculous, but not quite as ridiculous as the voice acting in the game. While the dialogue itself isn't heading into “All your base” territory, the vocals certainly are. There's one particular character, a witch on the first island called Lyrca, that makes you want to pour molten lead into your ears just to block out the horrible, horrible screeching noise. Permanently going deaf might not be so bad if the alternative was listening to Gothic 4's cast.
Disappointingly, it seems Spellbound have taken all the stuff people really dislike about Germanic RPGs and failed to remove it, instead accidentally pruning everything that actually makes them worth playing. Gone is meaningful in-depth crafting and role-playing, replaced by simplistic and repetitive hack-and-slash clicking. Terrible acting and questionable dialogue, they're both there, but depth and complexity? Both cut.
Gothic 3, for all its flaws and its insane difficulty level, was an interesting, challenging and, most importantly, absorbing romp through a pretty generic world. It had depth, with plenty to see and do outside of the main storyline. Arcania doesn't have anything like the freedom of its predecessor, and anything that is there is massively dumbed down and, as we'll discuss now, irrelevant in the most part.
Even if you were to go to town on mixing up batches of alchemical potions, you'd probably never end up using them. Maybe if you were playing on Gothic (the hardest) difficulty level, but anything below that and you'll just be wasting your time. See, the game is so, so easy, it's almost unbelievable. Use this anecdote as an example: a forum poster on the official Gothic site claims to have got almost to the end of the game without once spending a single one of his skill points gained when levelling up. An RPG where levelling up isn't necessary? It's enough to boggle what's left of this writer's mind.
It's not all doom and gloom though. Visually, the game (on the PC, anyway) is often stunning to look at, especially when the weather is fine and sunny, letting the light shine through the tree canopy and cast real-time shadows on the ground. Get up to high places and the scenery spreads out below you far into the distance, and sometimes it's enough to make you stop and just take it in for a while. Wonderful stuff, although it takes a reasonably hefty machine to get it running at a decent lick at the highest settings.
Plot-wise, your an unnamed shepherd enjoying a comfortable existence on a distant island, far away from the troubles of the war that is engulfing other areas of the world. These are just rumours, with you more concerned with winning the hand of your sweetheart and proving to her father than you aren't just some good-for-nothing layabout. One of the best parts of the game comes in these very early moments, as you realise that you can kill your entire flock with your crook. Your mother even comments on your blood-stained clothing. Turns out it wasn't the first time you'd been found slaughtering your flock.
Things naturally go wrong and you find yourself on an epic quest to save the kingdom and so on. It's all traditional fare, but this time presented in an almost entirely linear fashion. Each area seems to present exactly the same sequence of events to you. Enter, talk to a guy who informs you the path to the next area is blocked or that you need permission to go forth. Do some quests for him, which involve quests for other people and so on. All standard fare, except this time, because of the terrible acting and such, it's all just too much of a chore, like soloing in an MMO. Kill 6 field raiders for the farmer, who'll give you a potion you'll never use. Find evidence to dethrone the local lord, solved simply by traipsing about the place for 20 minutes. Not thrilling at all, and it doesn't help that the combat is so simplistic either.
It consists almost exclusively of hammering the left mouse button until your enemy dies. If you level up in the right way, you can simply hit your enemy forever until it dies. If they do attempt get a hit in, they glow and take ages to strike, giving you ample time to dodge out of the way and start the process of whittling their health down once more. The only time you'll ever be in danger, as this tactic works for every single beast or enemy in the game, is when a big swarm of them attack. That'll be the only time you use your vast collection of healing potions and bandages.
You can manually liven up the battles a bit by using magic or deliberately not using the constant attack method, but it won't help. Combat is always a means to an end, rather than an exciting game element. It's something that you grind through just to get to the next inevitable fetch quest.
Having said all this, there's still something curiously compelling about Arcania that stops it from descending into a complete mess. While repetitive and boring, you'll still want to get to the next area, even if it's just to see what wonderful visuals are on display next. Plus, soloing in MMOs can be reasonably compelling, so is Arcania when you're out exploring the landscape and hunting through caves for goblins. It's just not the package Gothic fans will have wanted to see, and it also isn't glitzy enough to attract hack-and-slash fans weaned on Bayonetta and such. It's difficult to see who this is appealing to, really.
- Wonderful visuals
- Reasonably compelling in a mindless way
- Some great moments early on
- Far too easy to complete
- Ultra-repetitive and far too simplistic for a Gothic title
- Utterly awful voice acting
The Short Version: Gothic 4 discards most of what made the series famous in RPG circles in favour of mindless hack-and-slash gameplay. Too easy, too repetitive, too simplistic.