Game Brings Complete Arcania Adventure To Consoles
Arcania: The Complete Tale is an Xbox360 and PS3 port of ArcaniA Gothic 4 and its expansion, Fall of Setariff. The Gothic series had an amazing first entry around 2001, and was largely known for its complexity, atmosphere and challenge. Years later, the fourth installation in the cult classic RPG series comes in, and it’s less of a direct sequel than it is a sidestep from the series: The gameplay has been heavily altered, simplified to accommodate a larger audience. This can be both a good and a bad thing, as will be explained further.
For those unfamiliar with Gothic 4, that is to say, those who didn’t originally play the game on the PC a few years ago, Arcania plays as a hack n’ slash RPG with lots of equipment to find, use and sell but relatively few skills with which to spend your upon level up. Those who enjoy collecting loot will find a lot to enjoy, but those who like building diverse characters will be left with a lot left to be desired. Characters tend to be pigeonholed into using just two or three of the skills throughout most of the game, since there’s only eight skills total, three of them are melee, one each for ranged and stealth and finally three for magic. A lack of skills to spend points in ultimately results in very few ways in which to make a character feel unique, especially once it’s considered that there’s no character creation. Instead you play as a random male farm hand trying to win his prospective father-in-law’s approval.
Venturing through the landscape and actually playing the game is relatively simple. The surroundings are pretty linear so it’s difficult to actually get lost. The good news is that the environments the player must traipse through are absolutely gorgeous from a distance, only helped by the extended view distance that allows the person playing the game to take in the whole of the landscape while adventuring. Individual blades of calf-high grass sway in the breeze around the player character, with even heavily detailed chainmail on NPCs having well-defined links all over it.
The shadows are much less impressive, however, casting an amalgam of blobby, splotchy darkened shapes across the ground rather than defining the cast shadows. Of course, though the environments look quite nice (shadows aside), the PS3 iteration of Arcania has rampant and consistent frame rate drops in which during even the prologue, where the game needs to make its best impression, the frame rate dips constantly while trying to display the shadows and grasses populating the scenery. Texture pop-in is extremely noticeable during dialogue, as well. Sometimes finer details don’t appear on character outfits until most of the way through a conversation.
As far as general game progression goes, the player moves from area to area, accomplishing tasks for various NPCs for both story missions and sidequests. These NPCs are the ones who provide the player with quests, usually composed of going to a specific place and killing something or bringing a specific item back to the quest giver, so it’s pretty standard RPG fare. The missions are pretty easy, especially when the player begins spending skill points and bumping their HP, health and mana regeneration to levels that make it seem almost like a cheat code on the hardest difficulty level, called Gothic. Randomly though, there will be mobs that will just wipe the floor with an unsuspecting player, so even if you’re scouring the land, killing everything, there will be one or two enemies that knock you down so the rest can slaughter you while you’re defenseless.
Crafting is another addition to the game that helps the player tailor the difficulty if they’re having trouble or wish to abstain to purposefully make the game a bit more challenging. Making various potions can help your combat effectiveness to a surprising degree, even if the player just focuses on making excess amounts of potions in the event of running low on health. Weapon crafting seemed pretty pointless through the majority of the game since none of the incredibly expensive blueprints offered anything that even remotely out powered the randomly generated loot equipment picked up from chests.
As far as combat goes, the way in which Arcania plays seems significantly closer to that of Diablo than it does a game like Dragon Age since this lacks a comparable, "Tactical menu" for the player to utilize. Attacking can require somewhat precise timing. To continue stringing attacks together while dodging can play a pretty important role in escaping any and all of the slow-moving projectiles through this game. Casting spells to stun or damage enemies is incredibly unrewarding at first, one of the few ways to make the game challenging initially, but by the end of the campaign a full fire skill tree allows a player to nuke nearly any enemy in the game with ease.
The expansion, Fall of Setariff, starts you off with the same character as the main campaign, but allows you to choose between Warrior, Ranged and Mage, which pretty much just maxes out two of the eight skill bars with around 20 points leftover to invest further as the player wishes.
Starting off at the castle gates after a brief introduction telling you of a volcanic eruption in the region of Setariff (imagine that), you’re set on a linear path to go meet the Grand Master of Darkness (that’s actually what he’s called). Along the way, you may be accompanied by an erratic sheep that comes out of nowhere, stops following you at the end of random trails and then just teleports next to you in a cave because…it can. Also, it can’t die and doesn’t kill anything, so it’s a magical glitch sheep that knows better magic than the player’s character.
There are some other weird things that crop up throughout the expansion that are, seemingly, more intentional than the indestructible deity sheep. Fighting enemies on the docks at the beginning of this expansion is a significantly more dangerous situation than anything found in the entirety of the main game. Fighting some basic fire-breathing lizards and slipping off into shoulder high water somehow leads to instant death even though the character could be easily moved around the dock and back to the shore. The dialogue is significantly more humorous in the expansion, but that won’t be spoiled here.
To summarize, Arcania: The Complete Tale is a remarkable looking game with lots of gorgeous environments for gamers to adventure through. While the visuals are by no means the best on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, the draw distances and attention to detail in the landscapes definitely do the powerful console justice even if the game, itself, is nearly three years old. Also, for those who may have access to play this game on PC, the graphics are still a good deal more pixelated than what could be seen on PC. This isn’t to say that those fantastic draw distances aren’t without problem, as the frame rate and texture loading speed seems to suffer significantly as a result. The only appearance customization available in the game is changing the equipment on the male main character. Even customizing characters with skills offers pretty slim pickings.
The combat, on the other hand, does require that the player hack n’ slash with some precision and, on higher difficulties, dodge powerfully damaging projectile attacks. Unfortunately, the game is extremely linear and simple, and while being linear isn’t an inherently bad design model, it doesn’t help the gameplay when everything else, from combat to story progression and crafting, are also extremely simple. Those looking for a triple-A RPG or a sleeper hit might feel best to look elsewhere. Those who have exhausted other similar RPGs like Diablo, Torchlight, The Witcher and are starved for another round might find something to enjoy here.