Another important element now missing in ArcaniA (which was, I dare say, an essential part of the series) is theft. Once you get the lock pick (now infinite, no need to go stock up anymore), any coffer can be unlocked through a mundane mini-game and emptied, no matter if its owner is around or not. It was an unconceivable thing even in Gothic 3, where even something as small as a plate that wasn’t yours made the soldiers arrest you or give you a hefty fine.
So Stealth is just a way to trigger surprise attacks, not to get that cool sword after sneaking into the owner’s house at night. This also holds if you want to attract monsters in an inhabited area. Before, everybody came to your aid, now NPCs just watch you fight bravely against the odds. Not even drawing your sword in public will impress them, everybody seems to be zen. Probably that’s why there are no more factions to ally with along your adventure.
Interactions are also limited to NPCs that will give you a mission and the dialogues vary from “out of context information” to “totally stupid”, a mix which turns fatal when combined with the voices. Those of you who played the demo have already met the infamous witch that will crush your hearing (as an appetizer for what’s to come) and despite the fact that the nameless hero has a voice, his stupidities made me wish he was mute. On the other hand, the music is quite all right, actually the only good part about sound. It doesn’t have anything as memorable as Vista Point mind you, but it fits nicely in the scenery.
Even if it’s not that good looking as the producers claimed two years ago in Leipzig, the graphics is the best thing ArcaniA has to offer. The day-night cycle offers some impressive sunsets if you are on a beach or on some coastal cliff side. Weapons and armours are very detailed, the scenery is quite impressive sometimes, the dynamic shadows work well, especially when they bounce on the cave walls thanks to the “radioactive” crystals, the spells light your way and fire will drip from your fingers when you’ll have a Fireball at the ready.
Rain is also featured, but with a slightly artificial implementation: yes, it looks good, but it starts and ends like someone just flipped a switch. Also, the way the shadows change to mark the movement of the sun is kind of clogged, which is annoying if you are in a dialogue or just watch the butterflies in a meadow. Also, during the dialogues you get to see up close and personal that most of the NPCs are shameless clones and the expressions or the facial details aren’t that impressive either.
The cinematics are a mix of in-game animations and static, artwork-drawings. I prefer the drawings, honestly, because the first have neither the details, nor the technical ability to push the story forward the right way. The ending movie isn’t the exception, leaving everything not only unfinished, but even more clouded in terms of narration.
When it comes to bugs, ArcaniA isn’t Gothic 3 on launch day, but it has its fair share of issues: monsters that remain stuck in walls, weird collisions, NPCs that should talk to you, but the scripts don’t trigger; other NPCs aren’t where they should be, a moment I experienced in the area where I had to get access to king Rhobar’s fortress. In technical terms, it’s a game stopping bug and with a little luck you might be saved by a load game that will activate the script. So, save often and don’t rely on the automated saves of the game.
The funny (and depressing) part is that I had two versions of the game: the Steam one and a Collector’s Edition. The first managed to ruin my saves and offered the major bug described above. The second didn’t even start until I installed it default (on C drive) and also caused a BSOD. It was probably trying to tell me something, the poor thing.
After a tormenting adventure with a similar ending, the conclusion is obvious. It’s a pity for that Gothic 4 in the title, the game would have been better off with ArcaniA – A Gothic Tale, considering they decided to make the series mainstream. On the other hand, games like this one make you appreciate Risen even more, although it too was criticized; truth be told, Risen is more Gothic 4 than the game which bears the name officially.
ArcaniA is functional, it looks good, but it offers nothing special in its 20 or so hours. And if this is the bright future of the series, I can already say “May it rest in peace”.