Arcania: Gothic 4 Review

So Fallout: New Vegas came out this week, and on the same day, Spellbound released Arcania, the fourth game in the Gothic series. This invites an unfortunate comparison.

Positioning two action-RPGs directly beside each other is a great idea if the two games can actually compete, but while Fallout and Arcania are fundamentally different, their similarities do a lot to highlight Arcania’s shortcomings. And the more time one spends playing Arcania, the more those shortcomings stack up.


Arcania: Gothic 4 (PC [Reviewed], XBox360)
Developer: Spellbound
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Release Date: October 19, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

That’s not to say that this fantasy world action-RPG isn’t decent, because it is — but next to a game with full-blown characters and story such as that brought to mind by the word “Fallout,” Arcania falters. These are areas in which it just can’t compete.

To its credit, Arcania looks great in that grandiose-landscapes type way. The game builds immersion by laying out a beautiful world that sweeps before you. Visually, Arcania isn’t exactly arresting, but it can achieve beauty quite often.

Even better, transitioning from area to area as you lead the Shepherd, the otherwise nameless hero of this installment in the Gothic series, through the world is just about seamless. You’ll wander through caves and up hills and onto beaches and into and out of buildings without really having to stop or wait for the game to fill out the world ahead of you. It’s a great-looking game a lot of the time

And when it comes to the nuts and bolts everything here is solidly built. Arcania’s combat, which makes up the bulk of what you’re doing in the game, is generally fun. It’s not incredibly deep, but the mix of RPG elements with some third-person tactical moves — blocking, parrying and dodging away with a quick roll — takes the combat in a different direction than similar RPGs and their dice-rolling math battles. You’ll mix in magic and occasionally some work with a bow. Nothing about it is ground-breaking. Arcania feels just like all the games that are like it, and most specifically like Fable or the latest entry in the Elder Scrolls franchise.

If Arcania has been managing to bail out the water slowly filling its hull up to now with graphics and somewhat engaging combat, it starts to sink as you realize that this is very familiar ground you’re covering. Sure, you can go hammer goblins and stab wolves, and you can even work in some strategy as you block attacks and roll clear of others. But players who’ve spent any time with similar games in, more or less, the last five years are going to feel it here. You played this in Oblivion already.

And it was more fun in Oblivion, because while Arcania hits the standard beats well, they’re just that: standard. The world spreads before the Shepherd as he heads out into the quest, but there never feels like there’s a deep and compelling reason to keep moving forward. The people you interact with are never characters, they’re means to specific ends. This tavern owner will help clear brigands off the only bridge out of town, but she needs mead. The guy with the mead needs you to go find an artifact in a goblin-infested cave. The entrance into the cave is blocked by rocks and you’ll need to obtain explosives from a miner. Who even remembers what the miner needs.

It all amounts to the Shepherd dropping into each new area, which really aren’t as large as they first appear to be, finding the powerful people in that region, and running their errands. They tell you what they need and where it is. You kill something that’s standing in front of it, or bargain with someone who has it in their possession. You repeat that process.

And interacting with those errand-dolling characters can be painful. The voice acting in Arcania ranges from the bottom end of passable to elementary school holiday play. It’s awful, and the characters rarely have anything interesting to say anyway. But every time another ludicrous British accent or insane put-on voice floods the speakers, the accompanying involuntary cringe makes you tumble out of the world. But this is a role-playing game — if you’re not drawn forward in the role you’re playing, there just really isn’t any game.

Arcania is decent entry into the fantasy RPG fold, and had it been released before Oblivion or Fable and the like, it probably could have performed a lot better and found a bigger audience. But this is a game that already feels dated. It never marks you or leaves you with a memorable experience. Before some of those great games, it could have been possible to have a pretty good time with Arcania. Having played those, however — this feels like something key is missing.

Pros:

  • Detailed graphics and some powerfully sweeping landscapes
  • Fun, strategic combat that’s more action than RPG
  • Good basic RPG mechanics — tons of loot, lots of dungeons, plenty of monsters to stab

Cons:

  • Irritatingly bad voice acting
  • Boring story and a lack of good set pieces or strong plot elements
  • Errand boy go-fer quests by the dozen
  • Whole game feels like it’s five years late to its own party

Score: 70/100


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3 Comments on Arcania: Gothic 4 Review

edva

On October 21, 2010 at 1:45 am

i like this game!!!!

Geeta

On October 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I liked all of them and like this one

Bystander

On October 25, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I’m actually having a better time with this than with Fallout: New Vegas. Of course, part of that may be because I’m experiencing the NPC lag problem which has left Fallout unplayable for me right now.