Arcania – The Complete Tale
Developer: Black Forest Games
Publisher: Nordic Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 07/30/2013
I’ll admit. I have a soft spot for Euro RPGs. They tend to be simple but well told linear stories with a large world to explore, but very little to see or do in said world, so the fun is in seeing the sites rather than searching out every nook and cranny for things to kill. NPCs are populous, but you can only interact with the ones that are quest related so they are there for scenery. The graphics tend to be a bit outdated – usually a generation or two behind. So why do I like them? Because they’re generally fun action RPGs at a budget price and they’re good for mindless entertainment, although nothing I’d play more than once. Sometimes we see a really good experience come from these like Russia’s Pathologic or Deck 13’s Venetica, but often times they’re so similar and yet so different to Western RPGs that North American gamers (and reviewers) don’t get the genre because it rarely makes it stateside, and when it does it’s almost always exclusively for the PC.
Well, not Arcania. It originally came out a few years ago for the PC and 360…and didn’t do all that well stateside. Dreamcatcher Games, the publisher of Arcania has since been folded in to another gaming conglomerate and so Nordic Games (usually a Euro only publisher) has taken up the reigns to bring The Complete Tale stateside so that players can get the core game and the full length expansion all at once for an extremely low price ($29.99 for the PS3, $19.99 for the 360). That price tag is pretty tempting, especially if you’re a fan of the Gothic series, but Arcania is far less a Gothic game than it is a second rate third person Diablo clone. It’s not very well done in any respect save for voice acting and the soundtrack, and ranged combat (especially magic) is so overpowered that even on the highest difficulty you won’t have a challenge (I never died from combat. Having the ground disappear under me due to coding problems however…). However there is something inherently enjoyable about exploring the world and seeing what little there is to do in such a large setting that you’ll manage to have fun with the game for a while before you really the game is eighty percent walking and twenty percent content. In the end, it took me twenty-five hours to beat the core game and explore every nook and cranny of the world and while there was something that kept me playing, I honestly can’t say what it was or even why as the game, while not the worst title I’ve played this year, is a far cry from being an enjoyable experience. Let’s see why.
First up, there is the story or in fact, the lack of any real one being told. You have the typical Euro RPG storyline where a small rural everyperson has their entire village wiped out by a ruthless monarch and the main character sets out on a quest of revenge. Of course the massacre includes the character’s fiancée being killed too for added pathos. Basically the entire setup is the same as Venetica except with a male protagonist and far less character development. From there, the main character roams around the world in a very linear fashion performing a LOT of fetch quests or killing wild animals and monsters as he slowly makes his way around to the exact opposite side of the continent (funny that) where he kills more things and performs more fetch quests. There is a bit of a story about King Rhobar III being possessed by a demon which causes him to do all these evil acts, and some winged harpy things being behind it, but honestly, the story is so terribly told I couldn’t honestly tell you what the hell was going half the time. It feels like large chunks of the story are missing and when you beat the final boss, the game just ends after a weird cut scene that made no sense save for three character who have never been seen up to that point in the game, casting a magic spell that sucks the demon right out of the king. If that’s the case – THEN WHAT WAS THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE GAME IF THAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE AT ANY TIME. It’s so freaking nonsensical, I stopped trying to understand the plot and just threw lightning bolts at far off enemies for the rest of the game. It also doesn’t help that quests or sub quests will seem to begin in the middle of the explanation. One example is I went up to one of the few characters I could talk to for the first time and the conversation started “Sure, I can run a few errands for you!” as if my character knew who this lady was, what her problem was and all these other details which the gamer behind the controller was not privy to. What the hell? So either there is a bad coding job that caused parts of the plot to not be shown/displayed/told or the writers were terrible. Considering there were many times when a cut scene would just start up which would feature people other than your character without any explanation of who these characters were, where they were, the time frame or any details at all, you spend much of your time wondering who wrote this thing and how they managed to get a job! The sad part is the very beginnings in your little soon to be murdered hamlet were well done as it integrated learning the controls of the game while trying to get you to care about the townsfolk. Then it all went to hell as soon as you fight the first boss in the game and it never looks back.
Then there are the visuals. I’ll be honest – this might be the worst looking game I’ve ever played on the PS3. Now I’m fine with the fact the game looks like a PS2 or Xbox title rather than something from this console generation. It’s a common occurrence with Euro RPGs and I’m used to it, but that doesn’t mean a lot of younger or more casual gamers will be turned off by the fact they could pick up say, Morrowwind and have a better visual experience. However there are so many visual bugs in this game, especially in towns, which will frustrate or outright kill you. I’ve had the ground disappear under my character causing him to fall to his death or into water which is also an insta-kill SOMETIMES. I’m had my character slide into rock or phase through rock only to be trapped. I’ve been walking along a path only to have a wall materialize in front of me. I’m seen massive slowdown and frame rate errors, characters (mine or antagonists) teleporting across the screen, far too many invisible walls and other crazy (or god forbid intentional) visual bugs and issues that plague this game from beginning to end. My personal favorite was a fireball flinging skeleton that would only exist if you had your camera at a specific angle. Like I said, this is visually the worst game I have ever experienced on the PS3.
The aural aspects of the game are the only thing I’m especially positive about. The voice acting is nicely done, with accents and intonation fitting the game wonderfully. The soundtrack is quite nice too. The music helped the game come to life in ways the story and graphics failed to and in long walking missions or dungeon crawls humming along with the music made up for the hours I did nothing but walk around.
Gameplay is odd. On one hand the conversion from PC to console is surprisingly good in terms of button allocation and at no point did I think, “Boy I wish I was playing this with a mouse and keyboard.” On the other hand, the gameplay is so simplistic it harkens back to a Diablo clone. The entire game is pretty much just button mashing and walking. Of course with the game’s bugs, you’ll find playing the game to be a chore. My game crashed or froze multiple times, and there were others I had to restart/reload because of graphical issues or my character getting trapped in a land mass or falling into water that wasn’t there a second ago. Considering Arcania was made over three years ago, one would think this collection would have bugs cleared out, but that simply isn’t the case.
The D pad is used to allocate things like magic spells or useable items. Your left analog stick moves you and the right controls the camera. Shoulder and face buttons correspond to attacks or moves. Close combat is literally just button mashing and at one point, you can have an unlimited hit combo, which is pretty crazy, right? Well not as crazy as magic or ranged combat with your bow/crossbow. Those attacks have unlimited range – if you can see something and there’s not a boulder or wall in the way you can hit them. These attacks may be slower than melee combat but you’re so far away they’ll be dead before they can get to you to do damage with their own melee hits. If you want to see how unbalanced this game is, just start maxing out lighting magic as soon as possible. Just keep putting your allotted three skill points per level into it. Each dose lets your lightning magic do more damage and stuns the opponent! I was cake walking through the entire game with this, especially as bosses are stunned by this attack too. I slaughtered nearly every boss in the game without losing a single hit point – and this was on the highest difficulty (hello free gold trophy!). You get enough skill points that you can max out three skills or half ass everything. My recommendation is to do what I did – max out your Lightning magic, which also enhances your mana points (what are used to cast spells) and magic damage, your Fire magic, which enhances your magic damage even more and mana regeneration and Flurry, which gives you physical combos and also beefs up your hit points. The end result is a mage that can two to five hit kill anything in the game and can use two handed swords as good as a warrior.
The game plays fine control-wise, and it’s even a lot of fun in the beginning, but the longer the game goes on, the more you realize how shallow, repetitive and easy the game is. As I said earlier, at no point did the game offer me a challenge and I could have easily platinumed this thing if I had decided to search for all the hidden statues or artifacts. At some point you find yourself going, “Oh god, not another fetch quest or backtracking through an area I’ve already been!” The game was just so shallow, which would have been fine if the game wasn’t so buggy, or ugly, or saddled with an insipid plot it would have been a decent little mindless button masher. I mean, being a Diablo clone isn’t a bad thing and millions of people love those types of game, including me. The catch is the game has to be well made and sadly Arcania is a bad game with some good underpinnings.
Arcania is a fairly short RPG. It took me a little over twenty-three hours to beat it and the only thing I didn’t do was find some of the stupid collectibles thrown in to pad the game length and give people with OCD a virtual workout. It felt a LOT longer than twenty-three hours though. At least most RPGs try to vary up their fetch quests with different environments and enemies, but not Arcania. Here it’s the same “kill X number of Enemy Y,” or, “go into an underground dungeon and retrieve a MacGuffin for a townsperson.” At least if you like the game, you get the expansion for free bundled in and you can either play it on its own or play it as soon as you beat the original game. Getting two games for a budget price is nice and the fact you can build your character as an archer, warrior or mage adds some degree of Replayability, but in truth Arcania is mainly a one and done game due to how linear the actual experience is.
So you have a game that is half the length of most RPGs, is exceptionally easy, has some annoying bugs and it basically just button mashing and fetch quests. So who would want to play this? Well, Gothic fans for one. Those looking for a short RPG are another. Trophy hunters will find this game to be a very easily platinum, especially with the character build I mentioned above and those that just like Euro RPGs will no doubt get their money’s worth out of this. Aside from that, I can’t see too many gamers that will be impressed by what is here. It definitely won’t win any awards, but it’s also far from the worst RPG I’ve ever played. It’s a budget RPG and you should expect that going in. Will you get twenty-thirty dollars worth out of it? As long as you’re a big Diablo fan, sure? I know I had a hard time putting the game down when it first started up, but the longer I played, the more bugs I discovered, along with how badly done the AI, graphics, and story all were. Plus any game where I can snipe an entire pack of enemies from a good distance away without anything of them noticing their friends are being electrocuted as they stand right next to them…has issues. It is interesting to see how wildly different my first impressions of the game were compared to how I feel now that I’ve beaten the game.
I won’t mince words – Arcania is not a good game, but I feel I’ve made that abundantly clear in this review. The story is all but nonexistent, the cut scenes are terribly done, the visuals are terrible, the game is buggy and regularly freezes and/or crashes and the AI is so laughable that I can’t imagine anyone having the slightest bit of trouble with this game. It’s kind of a mindless time sink at times though and I can see why some people might enjoy playing it, especially those that can’t afford sixty dollar full budget games, but even though I beat Arcania, I can’t say it’s a game I’d ever want to experience again nor would I recommend it to other gamers unless they really want to play a Diablo clone or want to experience an extremely dumbed down version of Gothic. It’s a lot like X-Men Destiny in that the game has a gem of potential lost amongst a LOT of bad programming decisions and poor storytelling. I’m sure it will have an audience and hell, having been out since 2010 I have no doubt it already has fans that love the game, but they will be a extremely small niche group of gamers.
Short Attention Span Summary
Arcania – The Complete Game isn’t the worst RPG I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly not a good one. If you’re in the market for a Diablo clone or a platinum that will only take two dozen hours (a fraction of the time it usually takes for a RPG), Arcania might be worth your time especially with the low budget price tag. Just be prepared for a nonsensical plot, horrible graphics, a lot of bugs and extremely easy battles where magic is so overpowered your can lightning bolt even the final boss in less time than it takes to play a round of Street Fighter II.