Several years ago, I bought a PC RPG for my wife to go along with her obsession with the Elder Scrolls titles. It was a buggy mess on any laptop we tried it on, but on an actual desktop it ran reasonably well, was open-ended, and played relatively well. The story was a bit generic, but my wife and I both ended up enjoying it once we stopped trying to run it on her laptop. That was Gothic 3. This year, another title in the series has been released that promised to get passed the game issues and deliver another thrilling title in the Gothic RPG series, but that promise may have been squandered. We’ve posted a review for the 360 version of Arcania: Gothic 4, now let’s take a look at how the PC version translates.
In an RPG, a game relies on two things, a decent combat system, and a damned good story. Arcania has one of those, and the story part isn’t it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: an unknown farmer’s whole family is slaughtered and he goes out to learn how to fight and get the magic item/weapon he’ll need to take out the man who did it. It’s the basic plot to Star Wars, The Black Cauldron, The Dark Crystal, and many other fantasy titles. Only difference is that the stories I just listed put a spin on things to make it interesting, Gothic 4 does not. The plot is very generic, the characters dull and uninteresting, and the ending, while I won’t spoil it, is beyond confusing and is completely unsatisfying.
While the developers set this game much later from the previous game in the series and put us behind a new and again, unnamed hero, more effort could have been done to flesh this world out. Arcania is set on an island, which would limit it except that it’s huge. But it never draws you in. It’s pretty to look at, but there’s nothing here that really makes the world come alive. It’s all flash and no substance with that. Morrowind was another game set on an island, and it not only managed to suck you in, but built on what they’d done with the Elder Scrolls before all the while giving us something new to sink into with the history of the island. We never really seem to scratch the surface or get that involved even with the side quests.
This is more of an action RPG, and definitely more linear than past Gothic titles, but even in the other Gothic titles there was more to it than is presented here. I think while people unfamiliar with the series might see this as a good starting point, older fans might be more than disappointed with how they’ve really seemed to distance themselves from the other games in the series. I know I am.
Story/Modes Rating: Pretty Poor
One of the strong points of the game is the look. At first. It has a very nice feel and lighting and level design is superb, but later in the game when you’ve encountered yet another NPC with the same face or fought a mob that looks just like something you’ve been fighting the whole game, it gets old. RPGs need variety, and well, this title lacks some of that visually. So while everything looks amazing and well done, they could have added just a bit more variety. And I’m not talking just throwing another coat of paint over the mobs, I get enough of that in MMOs, I’m talking a new model of a new creature to kill and maybe a few more NPCs to look at. I do have to say though it has one of the most striking environments I’ve seen to date with huge open areas and some well constructed and thought out towns as well. You can tell their level and area design team is awesome. Now they just need to catch the other team up.
Graphics Rating: Good
This is not one of the game’s strong points. While combat sounds are OK and do the job, the voice actors are terrible, the lips don’t sync up at all with the dialogue, and the music is like the rest of the game, generic. The music does help quite a bit in a few areas, but I can’t honestly remember a single theme from the game I spent so much time in but I can remember a theme I heard in a TV show a number of days ago. I blame being in band for so many years. Back to the voices and the lip-syncing though. I can kind of understand seeing that the game is made for multiple language audiences, but when I can pop in another game that’s over 4 years old and it can do lip-syncing just by dragging and dropping a wav file onto a character, there’s no reason they couldn’t get the mouths to sync up in a title now. Of course, the lips not moving with the voices might be even less jarring if the voice actors weren’t so bad. The only one I even remotely liked was the unnamed character you play. I think it’s great they found someone good for him, but they needed to avoid the amateur pool for the others. There were several characters I thought were bipolar because of the delivery of lines when really it was a bit more serious than that.
Sound Rating: Below Average
Control and Gameplay
One of the things I said a game needed is a decent combat system, and here is where this game does well. The controls are responsive and do what you want them to and the control scheme works pretty well with the mouse and keyboard, but the mouse doing most of your work. The combat overall runs great and you can really get into a fight, especially with the ease you can change tactics and go melee or ranged or even cast spells depending on your need.
The Inventory system has been given a bit of a change. You can carry everything you pick up. Ever. Not very realistic, but for an in-game hoarder like me it’s a bit of a dream, and I will say it’s fairly easy to navigate around the inventory. They might have put a limit on it or at least given things some weight.
One of the things I like having control over in an RPG is leveling up. Back in the 90’s it was fine to have the game level you up and only be able to swap out equipment to boost stats, but now I want some input on how my character grows, especially with so many years of table-top gaming and being able to do just that. You’re a bit limited here. You do have some control over stats, but there aren’t many to choose from and even though there are classes it’s very easy to blur the boundaries, which can be good and bad. Sure it’s great I can make an armor wearing and shield using max caster, but traditionally casters don’t use much armor, if at all. To me it feels like the classes listed are just a staple and really there isn’t much definition between any of them and you can select any class and really play how you want regardless. This makes it a breeze to move through the game if you’ve figured out how to min-max everything.
The other thing with the gameplay is there are no consequences to your actions. You can take anything you want and not be branded a thief, kill anyone you want, be as much of a jerk as you want and things will still play out the same. It feels very, well retro, in those terms. I don’t mind that they seemed to have a story to tell and focused on that, but the story isn’t fleshed out enough not to put in some kind of system to track how much of a jerk you are. RPGs have developed a bit and this one just feels far too simple. Sure it’s more like a reboot of the series, but at this rate it’ll be another game or two before we see the level of complexity that shows up in other RPGs of the same caliber on the market. In an effort to make this appeal more they may have overdone it a bit with the simplification.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
Unlike the open-ended RPGs on the market and even the previous title in the series, this one is very linear. Sure if you don’t collect everything on your first play-through you may want to go through again, but with the bizarre ending, the lack of any coherent voice overs, and a generic plot, there’s not a lot to bring you back. Granted, the customization of your character can build some interesting combos, but with the stream-lining, it limits you as well. This really screams that it’s a one and done title, at the very least one you only pick up to play again after letting it sit for a few years.
Replayability Rating: Bad
If you’re playing on any setting other than Gothic and you’re competent with your own character, this game is a breeze. Even on Gothic, I was having little trouble playing through and bear in mind I don’t consider myself a hardcore player. If there’s an easy setting I usually take it my first time through. I didn’t need it here. There is plenty of content here, though if you’re focused on getting to the task at hand you can get through in about 20 hours, I’d say 30 with all the side quests, which seems to be becoming the standard, the shorter RPG. For the price on PC it’s not bad, but if you’re looking for something with more of a challenge and just a tad longer, there are other better titles out there for that, and many of them have package bundles that are cheaper.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
With a whole new area and a new character set well after the last game, you think this would be up there, but alas, no. While the game is a bit more stream-lined there really isn’t anything new or innovative in this. In fact it feels just like any other customizable action RPG, only less involved. The last few action RPGs I played were the top down variety, like Greed and Torchlight, which were both much better than Arcania but there was this other one at the beginning of the year, maybe you’ve heard of it, little title called Mass Effect 2, that blew this one out of the water in terms of not only story and options, but even when they stream-lined the system from Mass Effect they did something new with it. This game doesn’t feel new or fresh, it feels like it is, a toned down version of what Gothic used to be.
Originality Rating: Very Bad
Sadly, even with the better gameplay, the lack of anything open in this title, a lack of more creative options, and the abysmally generic story just didn’t capture my attention with this one. The characters lack any kind of depth and working through the game, while not feeling like a grindfest, just felt like I was doing the same things over and over again. There was hardly any challenge and I felt like I could be playing any number of other RPGs that engaged me. I did finally manage to muddle through it but every time I played it I kept thinking I could be playing something much more fun with my free time home from work.
Addictiveness Rating: Poor
The game does have a much better control scheme and set up than the last and it will run on a laptop this time around without much tinkering, but the game itself is a power hog on the PC. Honestly, for all the pretty I couldn’t’ figure out where it all went. I can run Fallout New Vegas, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, and a slew of other high end PC RPGs on my laptop on the highest settings, but Gothic 4 was the first that I couldn’t actually use my gaming rig for. The requirements weren’t met. Playing it on my wife’s newer laptop, with everything turned up, I couldn’t see where all the extra processor speed was spent. I think many people are going to balk at a title that requires so much out of a rig for an RPG when its wow factor isn’t that much more over other quality titles that are more involved. Add to that the extremely generic story, the bizarre lip-syncing and sub-par voice acting, and really, you’ve got a flash in the pan title that might carry it over until Gothic 5 comes out, but really, when it comes out how many RPG players are going to care? Honestly, there are better titles set on islands out there, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind comes to mind, and in gaming terms, it’s ancient, but it’s a better constructed RPG than this.
Appeal Factor Rating: Below Average
While I really wanted to like this and in the same vein have another RPG my wife and I can gush over as she prefers fantasy RPGs to sci-fi, I think this one isn’t going to hold either of our interests. I personally didn’t have a problem with any bugs or bizarre effects, but there was quite a list out there on the forums and they had to throw a patch out for it already, but for a PC title, that’s not entirely unreasonable either. It happens. But really this feels like several steps back from what we had before with Gothic 3, even with all the glitches and the fact it wouldn’t run on pretty much any kind of laptop in existence due to its coding. I’ve played lots of different titles not developed in the states, but this one seems to have lost a lot in its translation as well. Too many factors against this one to really give it a recommendation to anyone and too many other good RPGs came out this year on PC. This one just falls short.
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
Story/Modes: Pretty Poor
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Originality: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Arcania: Gothic 4 tries to recapture gamers with the Gothic series with what at first appears more stream-lined play, pretty graphics, and an enhanced story. What we get is incredibly generic across all platforms, a leveling system that feels gutted even with the customizations, and something that could have been streamlined a bit to run on more PC rigs. Most of the glitches form previous games are gone, but there are new ones in their place and the game itself feels shallow and the ending completely derails where you thought the game was going and is highly unsatisfying. While pushing the series to be more mainstream, Gothic 4 has lost what attracted me to the series in the first place and replaced it with a linear mess of gameplay and storytelling that feels short and incomplete.