Review by simonsteele
It's just not Gothic...
Gothics 1-3 are a trilogy of games that seem fairly divisive. Either you like them or you don't. The thing that turns most people off is the, at time, excessive difficulty. They are games that allow you to run off the beaten path right from the get go, run off to explore the vast, murky woods and most often you will find your exploration ends very quickly at the hands or fangs of some terrible beast. The games don't give you warning, they don't hold your hand, and you start out weak and unable to defend yourself. It can be extremely frustrating to get through the steep learning curve, but most often, if you stick it out, you will find a deep and wonderful set of games. The game worlds are full of life and character, the older Gothic games were doing things with scripted AI that simulated living communities, and it was easy to lose yourself in the games. The games hold a vast array of strange, funny, quirky, and gritty characters, and the world too is gritty. People are mean, they take advantage of each other, and those with kind hearts seem to be left in the mud with a rusty sword in their gut, food for wolves.
Despite the grimness of the Gothic worlds, and the unshakable feeling that the Orcs will overwhelm the island of Khorinis, the games are a blast to play. Even Gothic 3, which offered a much larger game world at the expense of the first two games atmosphere and interactivity, has much to offer the avid RPGer who loves exploring strange worlds.
But Gothic always had an issue with bugs, and Gothic 3 suffered most from this. Because of this, the developers who brought us this wonderful series were finally fired. Though Gothic 3 was fun, it was a critical failure, and almost unpatchable some thought. The game has since been patched, but its potential was never realized. The developers have moved on to create a new series of RPG, but Jowood wanted to continue the Gothic franchise, thus we now have Gothic 4: Arcania.
It does not hold up to the original three. It is not the same game. It is not even a spiritual remake of those games. What we have is something else...completely. But if you forget the other three games, what we have here is a decent and fairly engaging role playing game. Sometimes it is hard to forget this is Gothic when beloved characters from the original trilogy such as Diego and Gorn show up. But these guys don't feel much like the characters from the other games anyhow. Let's break this game down and evaluate it on its own.
I've heard posters on gamefaqs refer to the game as King Theodin's tale from Lord of the Rings. Yep. That's about right. King Rhobar III, (the nameless hero you played in Gothics 1-3) seems to have a "shadow" that has fallen over his mind. He sends his armies to take over other lands, and the hero of this game is thrust into battle against his will. The new hero is a fisherman, or a shepard, or some country bumpkin. He's a far cry from the convict you played in the original Gothic games. He is neither sarcastic nor tough, just kind of annoying, I hate to say.
For example--I come across a man sitting outside of his cabin in the woods. He seems like a weirdo, but he asks me "can you collect some (forget the name) mushrooms?"
Our hero's response? "Mushrooms? What? What is the meaning of this?" And he kind of screams it at the poor guy. More often than not our hero does this, treats certain people with overreaction. We later find out these people might be bad or something, but our hero seems to know it ahead of time. He's just kind of a jerk. I found myself skipping his lines so I wouldn't be compelled to run myself into a pack of wolves and toss the controller aside.
Anyway, our hero grumbles through the world with no true sense of character. He goes to small open areas which might have a village or two, completes a chain of quests, and then another area opens up for him to explore. It is not an open world type of game. Areas open up and you follow the storyline. The storyline is mostly a group of people who need you to grab things for them before you can go on. A lot of fetching goes on in this game, which honestly, isn't so big a deal in RPGs. I know reviewers act like fetch quests are awful, but that's about what 90 percent of RPGs are. There are sidequests you can do in this game to which adds to the time it takes to complete the game.
The graphics aren't amazing. So why am I giving it a 9/10? Well, while the character models leave MUCH to be desired, the environments themselves are really quite impressive. The villages, the weather effects, the look and feel of the world, really allows you the opportunity to lose yourself a bit. I loved trekking through the woods--the world could be beautiful at times. Coming through the trees, seeing a deer standing on the edge of a creek, just upstream a waterfall falling over a rocky ledge, trees and shrubs and grass all rendered very nicely. The world itself is what makes the game worthwhile, I think.
The characters look ugly, but the weapons and armor your hero wears look good. I wish there had been more variety in weapons though, maybe we could have actually seen the rust on the rusty sword our hero wields early on.
The sound, mixed in with the weather effects and environment I talked about above, is the other part of this game that's amazing. The music is fantastic. Soft and soothing as you wander the wilderness, or the cities. In the villages there are sounds that are suitable to that kind of place. If you're close to the blacksmith, you'll hear him/her hammering away. On the beach the sound of the waves is great. Birds singing. And the voice acting isn't so bad either. The sound actually is as good as the previous three Gothic games, and those games had amazing music and sound.
I give the combat a thumbs up, the difficulty of previous Gothics is gone here and the complex combat replaced with fairly straight forward slashing. There isn't much variety here, but the ease of which you can switch between swords, magic, and ranged is awesome. I'm not sure I've played a game that makes the switching of weapons so seamless. Dodging and blocking is easy. I could see people thinking combat was difficult early on, but once you master dodging (which is easy to master), the battles are fun and fast paced.
But you know what isn't fast paced? Your hero. The rate at which he moves is a major hindrance and drops this score down from a near perfect. Traveling in this game quickly becomes a chore. Our hero moves about as fast as a guy in heavy armor with all kinds of weapons strapped to his back should move, but this is the kind of "realism" in a game that is annoying. I have been told if you take all your equipment off while you travel you move faster, but that's just kind of annoying. This aspect of the game really bogs it down. There are fast travel points but they are few and far between. If you have a mission deep in the woods, expect to run, slowly, all the way out there and all the way back. There are plenty of healing herbs and mana plants to collect though...so I guess if you like collecting plants then this might be fun for you.
Another complaint worth noting is the targeting. It is very hard to target things you want to pick up. Facing your hero in the exact right direction to pick something up requires precise aiming, but the game itself doesn't allow for precise movement. Not a huge deal, but annoying.
Another gripe--something I didn't realize I found so important to immersion in RPGs until Two Worlds 1 and 2 came along, and now this: Beds are worthless. You can't use them to pass time, you can't regain health. In fact there is no way to pass time in this game. I always loved letting hero in other games lay down and simulate rest. I can't believe how much small details like this take you out of the game.
This game isn't nearly so bad as reviewers make it out to be. It's not worth 60 bucks. I'd say 30 is a fair price. You can spend a good amount of time exploring the beautiful world, but don't expect anything amazing. I hope future Gothic games are better, but as it stands, this isn't so bad.
(I am watching Resident Evil Afterlife as I write this--jeez that movie sucks)
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Arcania: Gothic 4 (US, 10/19/10)
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