The first two Gothic games are turning in their shelved “grave” and the series’ fans are probably now regular customers of assassins, voodoo witches and all knowing gypsies to rid the world of those who made Gothic 4. Pardon me, ArcaniA: Gothic 4, even though I won’t understand too soon what’s with the A in the end or why JoWood dropped the ArcaniA: A Gothic Tale name. Because not even putting Gothic 4 in the title managed to pull the game out of the abyss where it ended up trying to gain weight on the mainstream market (because the other games in the series didn’t quite catch the eye of the gamers on the other side of the Atlantic).
Gothic is a German product and these guys always were Europe’s “weirdoes” when it comes to RPGs (also check Drakensang). But I find myself at a point when, again, I miss the first two “gothics” with all their weirdness, a not so functional interface, a fighting system that demanded atomic physics knowledge and a whole lot of bugs inside their fictional islands. Gothic 3 tried to improve the fighting system, but other essential elements got lost in the process: the story, the interesting quests, the consistent characters, practically the whole RPG. The bugs were still there though, don’t worry. Unfortunately for ArcaniA, changing the studio in favour of Spellbound (Piranha Bytes moved out of JoWood’s backyard and made Risen on their own) didn’t help, it’s even worse. And when I think of all the hopes I had after the first presentations in Leipzig in 2008…
The story is great, what can I say, but it “only” lacks the motivation, the surprising turns of events, not to mention originality. We still have a nameless hero, now a normal shepherd on the island of Feshyr, wanting to do great things, but for the moment more interested in getting married. His adventure starts with “go get for me” missions of X things, the dagger of a dead warrior in a grotto, kill some other X animals and maybe you’ll get to marry that beauty chosen by your heart (who ugly as hell, truth be told). His adventure will finish in the same way, because all along the game I couldn’t find the smallest spark of diversity in the quests, whether they were for the main mission or secondary ones.
Almost everything is stupid grinding, the apex being the three all-game long quests (the 30 graves, statues and rune pieces), that pretend to offer you in the end the ultimate weapon or magic, encouraging you to explore the world. But you think: the hell with all that, I’ll go kill three pigs and two skeletons, I’ll get the experience I need. You do, but not that much, so you eventually end up picking mushrooms if you want to level up faster.
But let us go back to our nameless hero, a metro-sexual hipster-like character who passes through some unpleasant events that wake up the avenging angel inside him and make him decide to confront king Rhobar III (the other nameless hero, from the previous Gothic); about this guy we find out that he’s gone a little nuts due to some awakening of some wrong demons, and the aim of our little shepherd changes from revenge to… uhm, never mind that, you’ll see, I don’t want to be the only one punished to finish the game. Nevertheless, this change of scope isn’t believable at all and I just wasn’t convinced from the dialogues that I should do what I did (not that I had a choice), but the context gives no details that will eventually give you some strong motivations. So I went on with the stupid missions, out of the book combat and a slim hope that the ending will surprise me.
In ArcaniA, like in any other RPG, you (theoretically) get to choose among some classes. I wrote theoretically because the Gothic series never had a strict limitation between warrior, archer or mage. You can do them all, the only difference being the skill level and efficiency of you sword, arrow or lightning. My first playthrough was dedicated to the melee warrior, with a sword and maybe a shield to block attacks or to collect enemy arrows. But the game informed very early on that huge two handed weapons do about 50% more damage, so I got me a nasty hammer and started doing pork, rat, goblin stew and roast, plus other less edible creatures.
Unfortunately, despite the obvious focus on action, dual wield seems to be a strange notion to Spellbound, so you can’t use two swords at a time, not to mention yummy combinations like an axe + sword. At the beginning, the hero is also limited to only three consecutive hits, stopping for a second to think about his sins and then going back to monster chopping. A perfect break for a wild boar to bite his bee-hind, after which you have to feed him an apple, a roasted piece of meat or a potion for an instant health boost.