Of all the role-playing games that have crossed our paths with mindless fetch quests, trudging level design, and braindead story, Arcania: The Complete Tale is certainly one of them.
When Arcania was first released almost three years ago, it bore the subtitle Gothic 4. The Gothic name’s relegation to subtitle status was a clear indicator that it was not meant to put the tenets of that franchise — deep, complex role-playing in an open world — at the forefront of the latest game’s design. Arcania instead proffered a rather simplified action-RPG set in a bog-standard low fantasy world, along with a heaping helping of technical issues.
That would be fine, if Arcania‘s combat wasn’t about as deep as a warm, Alabama pond, and just as likely to make you feel as though you’ve contracted a case of dissolving brains. It’s a totally mindless mess of button mashing, with nine out of ten encounters solved by hitting square until the opposing swamp fly falls down go boom. Some interesting quest structure might have curbed the monotony. Instead, Arcania is a beacon, shining light on how all the worst aspects of MMO design have bled into single-player games while providing none of the compensations offered by an online ecosystem. Expect a lot of walking in straight lines to meet NPCs asking you to walk in straight lines to fight identical enemies until your quest’s preset kill counter reaches its limit
That kind of design certainly hasn’t aged well in a world where fantastic story-driven content or unfettered systemic gameplay is increasingly the norm. Neither has the look of the game, which was already a dull melange of Euro-Fantasy in 2010. Now, in 2013, it’s a significantly outdated melange of Euro-Fantasy. That’s not even mentioning the vertical tearing, texture/shadow pop-in, unsynchronized facial animations, and a frame-rate which doesn’t even pretend to stay at or above 30 frames per second.
Coupled with buggy sound that cuts out like elevator music played into a fan, the voice acting just barely edges out visuals as Arcania‘s most poorly constructed component. Dialogue begins as unintentionally hilarious, and ends as ear-pullingly annoying. To be fair to the cast, it’s not as though they had much to work with, considering the awkwardly translated, ridiculously cliche fantasy plot involving a nameless protagonist and a mysteriously a despotic king.
Sometime between now and the game’s original release, Arcania replaced the Gothic 4 subtitle with The Complete Tale. That’s because this version of the game includes the standalone expansion, The Fall of Setariff — a three hour distillation of everything which make Arcania unbearable. The one exception being the soundtrack, which is a mild improvement over its predecessor.
I have no idea as to why the publishers of Arcania would chose to re-release the game years after it was originally panned by critics with next to no improvements. If it’s a marketing ploy for an upcoming Gothic 5, I can’t imagine why they would trot this out as the prime example of the series peak. At the very least, Arcania lowers my standards for a possible sequel.
Mindlessly mashing your way through mobs of monsters has been done far better, far more recently than in this slipshod rehash. Go play one of those.
This review is based on a version of the game for PlayStation 3 provided by the publisher.