Arcania Gothic 4 is an action RPG from Spellbound Entertainment, and the first of the Gothic series to make it on to the console platforms. All previous outings have been on the PC, with one mobile title exception, starting back in 2001, so how well has the transition taken? Arcania does feel very much like a PC RPG shoehorned in to a console skin, something that's particularly evident on the inventory screens, but overall it handles well with a pad, if just a little bit quirky.
The main thrust of the game revolves around a local sheep herder in a small village, whose only real desire in life is to marry his sweetheart. And for the first two or so hours, the game has you fulfilling this role, having to carry out quests to please the father of the potential bride. Given this goes on for quite some time, and with some very tedious tasks to do, you'd be forgiven for turning the game off and playing Fable III instead. However, persevere for that bit longer and the game opens out a little more, eventually finding yourself in the midst of a bloody war. The missions though, tend to remain the same for most of the journey, being either fetch quests from one location to another, or the variety where a group of enemies need eliminating and it rarely strays from this path. On the upside this more simplistic nature makes Arcania that little more approachable.
One troublesome aspect is that the tutorial keeps things fairly local, so stepping in to the real world for the first time becomes somewhat daunting. Later in the game, missions need travel further afield, and quite often finding where you need to get to isn't easy; the markers on maps aren't greatly helpful, so there's a bit of trial and error scouting around. Not that the travelling is unpleasant; locations are pretty enough, it just seems to judder quite jarringly when the camera is panned about. It's not dropping frames, it just doesn't seem to move as smoothly as you might expect. This is countered with some very nice atmospheric vistas, particularly when day transitions into night.
The main story doesn't have much in the way of emotional impact, even at the points where you really expect it should. It's a tale of revenge, but there isn't the drive to move things forward – there is no Aeris moment to be found here. Characters seem very two-dimensional and their backgrounds are never properly explored, which is a shame because the surroundings could easily lend themselves to a better yarn. There are plenty of other side quests along the way from the NPCs that are encountered, but speaking to them throws up the rather poor voice acting, with inflections feeling in the wrong place and the general malaise that the cast was given a list of things to record, rather than play off against each other. This always gives a far drier feel to the dialogue and interactions – and the lip syncing is laughably horrible. Some quests do seem a little silly too, such as having to find a character's wooden leg only to have him walk off just fine, not a stump in sight, but this ends up being more baffling than amusing.
Arcania isn't completely without its interesting aspects though. In many RPGs you'll end up with lots of miscellaneous trinkets that are useful for little more than trading at shops for cash. Arcania makes a bit more use of them, and through your adventures you'll come across recipes that transform the odds and sods in to useful inventory, such as potions.
It will come with little surprise that completing quests and killing monsters earns experience which ultimately levels up your character. The usual strength, health and magic stats are there, but the names are a little more obscure, meaning you'll need to read the descriptions of each one before committing the point allocation. The game restricts how far you can progress down any of these skill lines by level, but with the amount of points there are to spend, hitting these glass ceilings really isn't much of an issue and it's worth keeping them spread evenly initially.
The other staple of any RPG is combat and Arcania does little to stray away from familiar territory. Here the fights are action based, with the hero being able to use melee, ranged and magic attacks. The combat isn't tricky, but learning to block and counter is a needed skill. Random encounters can see you getting surrounded if you're not paying attention, and it's all too easy to take a few too many hits, which will ultimately lead to the 'Load Save Game' screen. Potions and other health items aren't in massive supply, particularly at first, but with the right equipment, health gradually restores if you keep away from the enemies for a while. Loading and saving in game is excellent – it takes mere seconds, if only all save systems were this effective you could claw back hours of game time.
Arcania turns out to be a passable RPG, it has pleasant enough locations and plenty of quests to get stuck into, even if they do feel a bit similar to each other. The timing of such a generic release couldn't have come at a worse time however, and with Fable III and Fallout New Vegas also vying for attention, Arcania is a pretty hard sell.