Arcania: Gothic 4, otherwise known as Arcania: A Gothic Tale, is a 3rd person RPG and marks the first outing in the Gothic series to be helmed by new developer Spellbound. Piranha Bytes developed the previous Gothic games, but publishers JoWood have handed most of Gothic 4's creation over to Spellbound Entertainment.
Set in the mythical land of Myrtana, Arcania: Gothic 4 puts you in the greaves of a nameless hero as he awakens on the edge of small village in which he herds his sheep and otherwise leads a simple life. Of course, he is destined for great things, to perform heroic acts and rid the land of a nameless evil that has slowly swallowed up the Southern Lands, but you won't get to see any of this for the first three or so hours.
Our hero has been plagued by nightmares of late, in which an insane king, King Rhobar III, wanders a netherworldly cavern, slaying undead things and encountering a demon. The game begins immediately following one such nightmare, as our hero is jarred from his slumber by his harpy of a girlfriend, chastising him about catching rats, talking to her father, and various other trivialities.
If you are the kind of gamer to whom mad kings and fantasy role-playing are of great interest, this game's basic premise will suck you in immediately. The opening cut scene -- albeit a very compressed video -- spins its yarn with skill and sets the stage nicely. It appears that King Rhobar III was driven mad by his pursuit of a mysterious amulet, and as a result set the lands to ruin as his search for it became more desperate.
The strength of any good RPG lies in its ability to sweep you up and away into its mythos, its story and each character's situation. The overall story of Arcania is serviceable, solid stuff. The epitome of traditional, to be sure, but certainly not uninteresting. This all changes upon commencing play. The first few hours of the game -- arguably the most important time to win a player's interest -- are an endless barrage of tedious conversation by badly-rendered characters, combined with fetch-quests that are both unimportant and make very little sense whatsoever.
After the first few tedious hours, our hero suffers an unimaginable tragedy at the hands of a mysterious fleet of ships. He pursues them in the name of vengeance, only to discover that everything he thought was just unfortunate happenstance had been his fate all along. Now he must make peace with his true destiny and take up arms against the one true evil of the land. Though the story is told very well, it isn't particularly new or inventive. Though meaty, the story is rote and is the very definition of generic.
Graphically, Arcania looks fantastic when motionless. Unfortunately, all of this fidelity comes at a price. The framerate never once rises above 25 fps, and for the most part, I'd say it averages out at closer to 20 fps. During one particular section at an inn during the game's early stages, the framerate slows to a nausea-inducing crawl.
A quick check on Youtube confirms that the PC version fares much better in this aspect, but the Xbox 360 version has clearly not been optimized for the hardware. This game very often feels like unfinished code.
The music is actually very good, however. Its suitably epic sweeps, swells and horn blasts imbue all the fantastical qualities you would expect in a fantasy musical score. The sound affects are also competent, though not particularly note-worthy.
The voice acting, however, is beyond terrible . The sensation of people in recording booths, reading lines they don't understand and have no motivation for is palpable whenever a dialog sequence is triggered. The accents are utterly unconvincing and devoid of actual emotional weight. All of the lines are delivered in ridiculously over-the-top ways. In many cases a line would be delivered with the incorrect inflection, changing the meaning of the line altogether. When someone shouts at you to go away, but intones it as a question, what does that mean?
Perhaps the most criminal is a witch called Lyrca. Her forced falsetto pitch, pantomime cackles and horrendous script-reading combines in such a way as to make the entire conversation both unfathomably funny and depressingly unbearable. Here is a video of Lyrca, at the height of her considerable vocal talents:
Ultimately, the RPG pieces are all here and in-place. The inventory system, though bland, does a decent job of conveying what items you have and their traits, though the text is a little on the small side. The mission framework does open up after the initial few hours, but, again, there isn't much to see that RPG veterans haven't seen before. The adventure is massive and the scope is impressive, though there really isn't anything altogether new here. RPG fans will certainly get something out of Arcania's story and its varied locales, but all in all this game is more of the same.
Arguably the RPG genre is full-to-bursting with this type of story and set-up, but the fact that this decidedly average RPG is imbued with awkward controls, offensively-bad voice acting and an embarrassingly low frame-rate put this game in a lesser league. How the Xbox 360 version got certified as releasable at all is a a small wonder. There is a sense when playing Arcania on the Xbox 360 that it received an arbitrary scale-down in order to tune it to the console's hardware, but without optimization of any kind. The game actually locks up for a solid two seconds with each achievement unlock.
Playing this game on the Xbox 360 is not recommended. Artistically, Arcania: Gothic 4 is cliched and rote and generic in every sense of the word. Technically, Arcania: Gothic 4is a jumbled mess that is inferior in every way to games that were released four years ago, namely Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
If you love western-style RPG's unconditionally, and feel you can look beyond the performance issues, bad voice acting and the game's tedious opening three hours, by all means give Arcanium: Gothic 4 a try. There is good in here, waiting for gamers with a more forgiving eye than mine. For everyone else, you would be best served walking on by. There are far better and more accomplished RPG's on the store shelves right now that more deserve your coin.
Arcania: Gothic 4 is out now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.