Review by RoastGuider

"Unremarkable in every way..."

Welcome to my review of “ArcaniA: Gothic 4” (what a mouthful). This game is both a sequel to the Gothic 1-3 games, and a game meant as a re-boot of the entire series. This game was developed by Spellbound, a firm that hasn't had any previous experience making role-playing games.

Normally I am in the habit of writing a review when I finish the game, or when I am very familiar with previous instalments (with similar gameplay and story). Here are my impressions from when I was about 10 hours in...

Story / setting

In the game you begin as a simple shepherd on the island Feshyr. Your character, it seems, doesn't have a name and is referred to by everyone as “Shepherd”. Get it, Shepherd – Shepard, ha ha ha! Ha? Hm, perhaps that joke isn't that funny. Oh well, after some introductory missions for your future father-in-law, your hometown is destroyed and your future bride to be is found among the dead. Your character then swears vengeance and sets out to destroy the power-mad king who ordered the attack...

Honestly, as soon as I completed the prologue I found the entire setting to be extremely cliche, and I was really indifferent to what happened to any of the characters in this game. Now, I don't blame the king for ordering such an attack. Maybe he thought his kingdom would be better of without such a boring-as-hell town with its boring-as-hell inhabitants or perhaps he thought that that way at least SOMETHING would happen in his kingdom.

Anyway, aside from the main story, there are several optional side-quests. But these usually consist of “get me 5 honeycombs” or “destroy 10 giant spiders”. Hey, I don't mind a “back-to-basics”-approach but these kind of fetch-quests got old like 10 years ago.

And – funny thing – among the first enemies I encountered there were molerats and bloatflies. It would seem some programmer had been playing Fallout for too long...

So, the story is cliche and the side-quests are boring. At least there is a large area to explore, right? WRONG. Yes, the story is set on an island but only a part of that island is available to explore from the start. By doing the main story-quests, you gradually unlock other parts of the island, and thus the entire island becomes explorable. Or that was the intention at least. The explorable areas aren't that large to begin with and once you complete the quests in an area, there is virtually no reason to linger. Loot is pretty much non-existent, side-quests are few (thank God for small favours), and enemies don't respawn.

Gameplay

Just like any RPG, you defeat enemies and you gain XP and when you have enough of it, you level-up. When you level-up, the character's stats are increased (auto level-up, sigh) and you gain three skill-points. Sadly, there aren't that many skill trees to chose from.

The only redeeming factor is that you're able to somewhat mix several skill trees. Just like “Divinity 2: Ego Draconis” (much better game, imo) you aren't restricted to an archer or a warrior or a mage-build. You can easily combine elements from all these classes into one character, without penalties.

Combat is taking the Fable II-approach with one-button-combat (yuk!). But at least in Fable II combat was fluid. In ArcaniA it tends to be really clunky. Or maybe I'm just not accustomed yet to the controls after 10 hours... Hm, I'll think I'll stick with clunky.

And then there is the dialogue system, in which you can choose various responses to interact with NPC's. Or that's what they want you to believe. Usually there is only one response available. And when there are more, you are somewhat forced to go through all of them. So much for choice. In my opinion, it would have been better to just show cut-scenes.

Some quests can be solved in more than one way, usually by taking the good or the bad approach. But unlike some other games out there, Karma is non-existent. You can be a complete jerk out there, killing innocents left and right, and you're not even penalized for it, because the NPC's just don't care.

And finally it would seem that Spellbound doesn't want you exploring before doing the main-story. Early on, the main characters' friend and mentor Diego (very reminiscent of Sean Connery from Highlander) was imprisoned and you needed to go talk with him. Yeah sure, I'll go talk with him, but after I familiarized myself with the new environment. So, while exploring, I walk up to a guard who tells me his name and what he does and the conversation goes on for several minutes. I then go talk to Diego, who instructs me to go talk with the very same guard I just spoke to. So I walk back, and somehow both the main character and the guard had forgotten they ever had a conversation. A glitch? Bad programming? Or didn't it cross their minds that people tend to explore first and hold of the main quests for as long as possible? My money is on the last possibility.

Graphics / sound

Well, finally I have something good to say about this game. Spellbound sure knows how to create landscapes with realistic weather-effects. Unfortunately, that's all that's good about it.

Aside from the main character and a handful of important NPC's, there are like only four character models used throughout the entire game. And then the game is plagued by screen-tearing and popping-effects. I can understand trees and rocks popping in when they are several hundred meters away from where you are standing, but sometimes they appear when you're ten meters away. And vegetation (primarily shrubs and leafs) tends to wither and die when you are approximately 2 meters away.

And then there is the sound. Aside from the opening music, the in-game music is mostly non-existent, and the few times there is some music it is totally unremarkable.

The voice-acting is really terrible. I swear, every character insists on talking on the same monotonous tone or talks with the exact same voice. Then again, with such cringe-worthy dialogue, that was probably the only way the voice-cast could prevent bursting out laughing.

Summary

+ Landscapes are good-looking

- Cliche-story
- Boring side-quests
- Gameplay is too simplistic
- Character models aren't impressive
- Plagued by screen-tearing and popping-effects
- Voice-acting

If you're looking for a deep and refreshing RPG-experience, I doubt this is the game for you. It seems nearly everything in this game is lacking, from the story to the graphics, to the dialogue... In short, this game is as unremarkable as can be. Personally I couldn't recommend this game to anyone, even if my life depended on it.

Verdict: 4/10


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 11/04/10

Game Release: Arcania: Gothic 4 (EU, 10/29/10)


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