Arcania: Gothic 4 Review
Gorgeous visuals and great level design do little to save this pseudo Gothic game from tedium and mediocrity
It should be immediately known that Arcania: Gothic 4 isn’t really a Gothic game. It is developed by Spellbound studios rather than Piranha Bytes, who developed the previous Gothic installments. Because of this, it’s not all that surprising that Gothic 4 pales in comparison to its predecessors. It doesn’t retain the feel of the Gothic universe which is all about being a single man in a huge, dangerous world full of things that can kill you. The satisfaction comes from obtaining things you work hard for, progressing through the story, and meeting interesting characters. If you want another game like this, you should check out last year’s excellent Risen, which is in many ways the real Gothic 4, since it is developed by Piranha Bytes. So if you do decide to get Gothic 4, you should know that it isn’t going to be anything like its predecessors.
Despite interesting appearances, the people of Arcania are very boring to talk to
Gothic 4 is set in the same world as previous Gothic games, Arcania, but it isn’t nearly as rich or compelling as it was before. The interesting characters that used to populate the world have been replaced with poorly voice acted; single dimensional characters that like to stand in one place all day and don’t seem to care if you steal things from their houses. The slow, deliberate progression and gradual stream of much needed rewards have been replaced with inconsistent pacing and copious amounts of loot that you probably won’t find any use for. The great, intertwining stories replaced with a single, generic tale of revenge with lots of fetch quests and tedious combat. If Gothic 4 was any more generic, it would resemble a parody of modern fantasy stereotypes. Yet the game still takes itself totally seriously. At least the terrible bugs that plagued earlier Gothic games are also absent.
Once you get past the fact that Gothic 4 isn’t a Gothic game at all, there are the bare bones of a competent action game with RPG elements. No gameplay mechanics are broken, and some aspects are very well designed and implemented. There isn’t much abrasive about playing Gothic 4, so while you probably won’t be immersed in the world like you would be in a better RPG, you won’t be frustrated or confused either.
Combat is somewhat improved over the clunky horrors of Gothic 3 and Risen – now instead of holding block and circling your enemy waiting for him to attack, you can dodge in any direction, stun your enemy with one of your scrolls or spells, or try and outmaneuver them so that you can get behind them and do some real damage. For the first 5 hours of the game, combat is incredibly easy, but eventually you will encounter some more challenging fights involving multiple enemies, some of whom will be using ranged weapons, and some of whom will be trying to kill you with swords. You have to be quick and careful in order to finish them off without getting killed or seriously wounded, and you will need to use all of the weapons at your disposal which include ranged weapons, like longbows and crossbows, as well as a few spells. The combat isn’t exactly deep, but it’s fun and engaging enough to be competent.
You'd best get Ogbosh his Scabooze, otherwise the consequences will be dire
When outside of combat, you will usually be running from one place to another to talk with people or pick up an item. The majority of the game is composed of fetch quests – go find my straw hat, go kill the 10 giant beetles in my field, go ask my friend to come back to my hut. Often there are seemingly endless strings fetch quests where one person will want something, and you go to get it, but to get it you will need to get something else for the person who has what you want. These can often string on for ridiculous amounts of time, and generally these segments are pretty tedious. It doesn’t help that the dialogue isn’t very good – the writing and voice acting are poor, and you aren’t really given any choices within dialogue, for instance there are no good or bad choices, usually there is just one that gets you where you want to go. That means that it fails at one fundamental element of a proper RPG – choice. You generally only have one way of doing things, there are one or two times where you can obtain your objective in two different ways, but neither of them are morally better, and you don’t feel like you have any choice about whether you are good or bad.
You do level up in Gothic 4, but with each level you automatically gain health; stamina, which governs how many times you can swing your sword before resting, and mana, which governs how many spells you can cast before taking a break. The attributes you can upgrade aren’t very exciting; a few different attacks and a few different spells. So Gothic 4 is more of an action adventure game with a few RPG elements than an actual RPG like the Gothic games used to be. Sadly it doesn’t work very well as an action adventure game because there is a lot of grinding and a lot of pointless, boring dialogue which is painful to listen to thanks to the awful voice acting.
Giant beetles are standard fare in the world of Arcania
Something that Gothic 4 does do well is level design. Even though the quests aren’t very exciting, you don’t need to backtrack much, and you will rarely be confused about where you need to go next. This is complemented by a excellent quest log system, where you are given directions about where to go, although there is no arrow or line guiding you, and once you get close to your objective you will see a marker on your map indicating its exact location. This system is honestly brilliant since it allows you to explore a bit on your way to your objectives, but if you follow the directions you will always find your next objective without any confusion. I never felt lost or confused in the 15 or so hours it takes to complete the game, which is quite impressive. The menus are also really well designed, making changing your current quest, changing loot, or moving weapons or spells to hot keys an intuitive breeze.
Visually the game is very impressive, with fantastic dynamic lighting, detailed textures, day/night cycles, and highly detailed facial animations. Shadows are cast from every light source, including the sun. The weather effects are also quite impressive, with rain creating slick, shiny surfaces and lightning casting shadows form every object. The only major visual weirdness, apart from the lack of anti aliasing support, is the foliage that seems to sway hyper-actively when blown by the wind. The game does have some frame rate issues, especially in cities, and you will need a fairly capable rig to see it with all the settings turned up.
Less impressive are the sound effects – some things sound ok, like armor clinking and clanking as you run around and a spell shooting through the air to its target, but environmental sounds like rain and wind are rather underwhelming. The thunder sound effects resemble someone flapping a plastic bag in the air. Voice acting is also very hammy, for some characters it’s ok, but most performances are highly forgettable.
Fighting in the rain is something you will have to get used to
Overall Arcania: Gothic 4 fails as a Gothic game, but it isn’t broken. The core gameplay mechanics are in place that allow the game to work as a simple action adventure title with some RPG elements, but it isn’t memorable, it isn’t all that fun, and it probably isn’t worth your time unless you are desperate for something to play where you get to bash people with swords.