Arcania: Gothic 4 Review
publisher: JoWooD Productions
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 12, 10
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Boy, the RPG scene sure has changed since the first Gothic game. There was something captivating about that game and I could never understand why I felt compelled to spend so much time with it. Gothic 2 still remains one of the best games I've ever played. I've spent days and nights exploring its locations, meeting NPCs, until I've completed every single quest. Of course, we must remember that at the time games like Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind were already on the market and open-world RPGs that emphasizes exploration were all the rage. In that regard, Gothic and Morrowind were the best in the business. Each game featured an immersive world, solid quest structure and a well-written storyline. Mind you, stories in games were a bit different back then. In Morrowind, for instance, conversations with most NPCs were text-based and there was no need for any big-name voice acting and stuff like that. Things have indeed changed. Top games nowadays hire some of the best stars in Hollywood to play out their characters, which is a great addition to any gaming experience. None of that matters even in the slightest, if the developers failed in the most important aspect - gameplay mechanics.
Can't see a bloody thing.
I mention all of this because even after all these years and a disappointing sequel (i.e. Gothic 3), I was still hoping we might get fairly decent RPG ride with Arcania: Gothic 4. Oh and just to make one more thing clear, this title doesn't come from the makers of the Gothic series, but rather Spellbound Entertainment. The team behind Gothic 1, 2 and 3 have split and made an interesting little Gothic clone, called Risen (a pretty decent action RPG, as it turned out).
As for the story, well, here's how it goes. War is spreading across the lands until it has reached the peaceful island of Feshyr in the Southern Seas. Our hero returns from a journey and discovers his home town pillaged and looted. He catches a glimpse of a ship escaping on the horizon. The ships flags had an Eagle across them, which our hero memorized and swore to take revenge upon whoever was responsible for the destruction of his home town. As he sets out on a new adventure, he starts to realize that mysterious evil power is threatening all the lands. Hm, a tad predictable perhaps, but there you are.
Anyway, the plot and characters are basically right out of the RPG story handbook. It all looks familiar. Too familiar. Actually, the fact that it feels like we've seen and heard this type of story before many times, isn't my beef with Gothic 4. What bothers me is how shoddily the dialogues were written and how bad the characters were voiced (oddly enough, this would never have bothered me in Morrowind). In short, players will take no interest in the storyline, just because it has been dumbed down to a very basic and unappealing fairy tale.
This is not the game's main problem. While the combat mechanics and gameplay in general are intuitive and very easy to learn, it won't take you too long to get tired of it. You receive a quest, get a destination, embark upon a few enemies and NPCs and then once you've finished, you return to collect your reward. The reward is - you guessed it - experience points and a bit of cash, possibly followed by something useful such as a weapon, armor or rare item. The routine has been employed in countless RPGs and it works fine here. However, the developers have done little to put things into perspective with quests and characters that are a bit more motivating than usual: "Do this for me and I'll give you the key to open the door to the man's hut where he keeps the special thing, which he won't give away until you bring him something else..." and so on into infinity.
The skill system is another weak link in the Gothic 4's chain. Accumulating experience allows you to increase the character's melee, magic or ranged skills. The whole system ties rather clumsily into the game's simplistic combat. In other words, regardless of what particular field you advance in, it's virtually possible to overcome groups of enemies with nothing but a few basic strokes - via simple-minded button-mashing. Quite disappointing. At least in earlier Gothic games, you had to make an effort with every attack. You had to make every swing of your sword count. This wasn't easy at all and you were required to practice a lot until, you could finally pull off some great combos when you leveled up. This time around, things are almost effortless and players will quickly get the feeling that they're invincible, which definitely takes the pleasure out of the whole game. No challenge in it whatsoever.
Looks and sounds very nice, it's easy to get into and there are plenty of items to toy around with;
Besides the lush environment, nothing motivates players to stay in this world, simple gameplay and simple quest structure, awful English subs (or voiceovers if you will), uninteresting story and characters, there's nothing challenging about this game.