Arcania: Gothic 4 – PC
Action Zero’s Christmas Memories
Developer(s): Spellbound Entertainment, Black Forest Games
Publisher(s): JoWood Entertainment, DreamCatcher Interactive
Release Date (NA): October 19, 2010
Genre: Action Role-playing
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
The third trip back under the Christmas tree brings back Arcania: Gothic 4, an action role-playing game that tells the tale of one man’s quest for vengeance and the prophecy that he ends up fulfilling on the way. A spin-off of the Gothic series, its been the subject of mixed opinion, mostly due to its decision to do away with many standout elements of the series to help it appeal to the mass market. As an outsider to the series prior to playing this, I will say that it’s still a rather decent game, but will also agree that the game lacks the staying power to compete with big titles from action RPG series’ like Divinity and Fable. Only time will tell if Arcania has the strength to earn a series all its own, but for now, let’s learn which elements gave this game flavor, and which decisions changed that flavor to vanilla.
Writer’s Note: I have not played Arcania: Fall of Setarrif, the standalone add-on to this game, and am reviewing this game solely based on the merits of the game itself.
Arcania: Gothic 4 begins on the idyllic isle of Feshyr, putting you in the shoes of a shepherd who’s preparing to marry the village elder’s daughter. The small-town coziness fades fast, however, as cruel soldiers from the mainland beset the island during your errands and slaughter the village to a man, including your wife-to-be. Vowing revenge and unknowingly walking headlong into your destiny, you catch the last boat to the outside world and start a journey that will take you right to the throne room of the evil king himself. But as time passes, you realize that war is not the only threat to Myrtana — an evil power is on the rise, and only an ancient prophecy holds the key to stopping it, with only one man in a position to see that prophecy through. Along the way, you’re given many opportunities to learn about the realm around you, help its people, and hunt mythical treasures lost over the ages past.
As you can see, the plot apple of Arcania: Gothic 4 may not fall too far from the conventional tree, but the delivery is done well enough. The storyline is linear but progresses steadily, the side quests are relatively pleasant and don’t seem like pointless filler, and the level progression means that you’ll be prepared for the fights ahead at a natural pace. Ambiance is achieved with a broad soundtrack of good fantasy-style music, with most tracks being made for specific parts of the game so that the same tracks don’t end up overused. The voiceacting is done fairly well too, with fairly clear line delivery most of the time and a reasonable job of keeping the character voices rather varied, though to be fair, I’ll give credit to any game that doesn’t spread a small stable of voice talent through the entire world and have the characters change between voices at random while talking about rumors (I’m looking at you, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion).
Where Arcania: Gothic 4 takes a less pleasant turn is the condensed and less challenging mechanics that do away with most of the special fleshes that the parent series was known for. The robust skill system, encouraging dabbling and profiting from many combat and non-combat skills and trades, is replaced with a simple attribute system that focuses solely on combat and leaves no room for actual development elsewhere, save for maybe stealth. The Circles of Magic are reduced to three elemental spells that run off of scrolls, making them the more expensive magical equivalent of using a bow and arrow. I’m sure that if I played focusing around magic, I would make it work for me and have a better opinion of it overall, but why sink ten or more points into lightning bolts alone when I could spend half of that and get much better results out of swinging a two-handed sword?
There are still interactive elements from the previous games that play a role in Arcania: Gothic 4. You can hunt down wild animals and harvest their meat and eat it raw for some very slight healing, but if you cook it over a fire first, the meat has more powerful healing ability, and can be improved further into a more complicated dish with better healing power. You can do the same recipe method for creating new equipment out of existing equipment and raw materials, leading to some pretty nice weapon and armor options if you’re willing to learn how to make them. There are also roleplaying elements that were present in the previous Gothic games, letting you engage in a bit of in-character goofing off to break up the monotony and give the game a slightly more personal experience. You could easily make your character smoke a hookah for hours if you want to, it’s all up to what you want to do with it.
When all is said and done, Arcania: Gothic 4 can be a good game to play on its own, but you have to want to play it because you’re looking for a simple, casual action RPG experience. If you’re looking for a game that changes the way you look at the genre, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for innovation in a series installment, this definitely isn’t it. It tells a decent story while giving you a fairly simple time with the gameplay, and there aren’t really any deliberately bad design decisions. It merely lost its personality in trying to appeal to a broader audience. Feel free to look for it and give it a play if you’re not picky about the kind of action RPG you play or want a title that’s easier than most to complete. I also recommend it for anyone who looks for accessibility over originality. There aren’t that many people out there are looking for games of that caliber this Christmas, except maybe your confused grandparents who will pick up the first box that looks vaguely like what you asked for. So if you end up getting a game like this for Christmas, just remember: even if it’s just okay, it’s still not bad.
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