Arcania: Gothic 4 and its expansion Arcania: Fall of Setarriff were recently ported to the PS3 and Xbox 360 as Arcania: The Complete Tale. Gothic 4 was developed by Spellbound Entertainment instead of Piranha Bytes, the team that developed the first 3 installments in the Gothic series. I can't speak to how true this game stays to the rest of the Gothic series, or how it compares to its PC counterpart since I haven't played them; but after playing the PS3 port, I'm sure I don't need to pick up any of the other iterations to form my opinion on The Complete Tale (For the sake of simplicity from here on out, whenever I say "Arcania", I'm referring to Arcania: The Complete Tale).
There's a lot to sift through here, so I'm going to make things easy by organizing my thoughts on Arcania into a good old fashioned "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" style review.
What I liked the most about Arcania is that there isn't really a wrong way to build your character. When it's time to spend your Skill Points there's seven skills you can upgrade: Mettle and Discipline (for melee) Precision and Stealth (for fighting with bows) and Zeal, Serenity and Dominance (fire, ice and lighting spells, respectively). Each time you invest in a skill it also increases your hard stats like Hit Points, Mana, Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, etc. This makes investing in several skills instead of specializing in one worthwhile, since it makes your character stronger no matter what you purchase. I really enjoyed making a mage that specialized in fire, lightning, and a gigantic-ass axe.
For being the fourth installment in a series it was written to be very friendly to newcomers. Despite not having played any of the other Gothic games, the world of Arcania was fairly complete to me. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything, I didn't have to sit through any lengthy exposition, and I never felt like I needed to be brought up to speed. Not only that, but the Fall of Setarriff expansion is
included with Gothic 4. Two games for the price of one is always good... right?
The reason I made a crazy axe-wielding pyromaniac is because the combat gets extremely repetitive if you aren't constantly switching between weapons. On top of that, the combat animations have a lot of fluff time between them, so I always ended up pounding the attack button in order to get in as many hits as possible- except when I had to dodge an attack every once in a while. The combat is in real time, but the action is so slow that it has the pacing of a turn based game, the battles all basically went- "Okay, I'm attacking. Now he's attacking so I'll try to get out of the way. Okay, I'll attack him again." I eventually got good enough at dodging that combat wasn't even a challenge unless I was taking on four or five enemies at a time. I don't think the game would have held my interest at all if I had made a strict warrior or mage. But the absolute worst part of combat is the targeting mechanic. You hold L2 to lock- on, but it takes a second for it to target anything and you're lucky if it locks on to the right enemy. Fluffy animations, I can abide- but if you give me the option to target an enemy, I need it to work as soon as I press the button. I don't want to stand by waiting for the game to catch up to me.
The quests were just as monotonous as the combat. Just about every story-related quest involved you running errands to get a permission-slip to enter the next area, and most of the side quests were thinly veiled fetch quests. Not that I have anything against linear RPGs or fetch quests- but there has to be some degree of variety in their style and writing for the game to be engaging. The worst part is that the hero of the story eventually started complaining about people coming to him with the same problems. There were multiple occasions where an NPC would come to me with a quest and my character would say "Let me guess, this is the part where you ask me to kill something for you." and he was inevitably right. The writing felt forced, bordering on lazy- I checked the credits to make sure Tommy Wiseau wasn't on staff.
In my opinion, the lowest point of the game's writing was the very first mission. You're trying to prove to your girlfriend's father you're good enough to marry her, so he gives you three trials- the first of which is fetching a relic from a tomb. Maybe I'm a prude, but what kind of father-in-law asks the man who will marry his daughter to go grave robbing!?
The voice acting is poorly implemented. Every character has a ridiculous voice and there isn't a consistent accent for any region. It's like the actors were going with the most exaggerated voices they could muster. On top of that, many of the conversations are poorly edited, some lines are cut off prematurely and a few were spoken out of context, or even repeated themselves. But the voice acting doesn't have nearly as many problems as the graphics, which is where most of Arcania's faults lie.
At its best, Arcania's visuals are on par with most current-gen launch titles, but you wouldn't know it unless you were standing still. If you're moving around, something is always rendering- the textures on the cave walls chug along, your legs disappear into the rocks as you run over them, or you watch a pillar turn into a statue. The most unsettling glitches are when you have to watch someone's face assemble itself while they're talking to you.
Worst of all, Arcania just feels like a half-hearted port. It's most evident in the graphics and some gameplay glitches- like not being able to equip certain items or use certain potions half the time. But there are little things that catch your eye and make you shake your head. For example, the dialog boxes that say "Press the attack key" instead of "Press the attack button" or "Press square to trade, press X to talk", spelling out 'square' instead of placing a symbol.
If you decide to play Fall of Setarriff, there's a bit more for you to do since you start out at a higher level. You get to fight more difficult and exciting monsters right away, and the dungeons are more expansive. Unfortunately, there aren't any different options for leveling up your character, you just get more points to invest in the same seven skills. Fall of Setarriff has all of the same problems as the standard game, so unless you enjoyed your first playthough, you'll want to just move along.