Originally published on GameInformer.com September 6, 2013, at 10:00 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 9/12/13.
11,173 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
Arcania: The Complete Tale is an incomplete game, whether by design or lack of polish, and in spite of including the original Gothic 4 game and Fall of Setarrif expansion. Indeed, Spellbound Entertainment has packed a lot into this title, but the whole is not the sum of its parts.
Granted my impressions are not based on a complete playthrough, only my first 20 hours of gameplay due to time constraints. However, the elements I'll discuss were consistent throughout the time I spent with the game and demonstrate how Arcania can be entertaining at times but is a missed opportunity.
In early gameplay the first thing I noticed is that your character sometimes floats in space (above). Cut scenes likewise can distract, whether close-ups that can obscure faces, facial animation that doesn't always sync with dialog, or accents that are literally all over the map, including characters that sound British, Irish and Australian.
Add a stereotypical witch, Lycra, who cackles in a high-pitched voice, and melodramatic dialog straight out of a soap opera and you have the ingredients of camp. Still, it can be funny at times, with heavy doses of sarcasm and glimpses of genuine wit. It's like The Bard only less bawdy or clever.
Something that did impress was how I'd instigated a conversation with a villager who at one point spoke of a sheep I'd killed moments earlier. It's rare when a game will take note of such a random act, and in such an organic way.
During gameplay, the camera angle can be set too high though it doesn't really interfere. Animation can be stilted at times, and footsteps sound a little artificial, but at least the latter is context sensitive depending on surfaces that you're traversing.
Textures can be both detailed and blurry (above). Cloud cover thankfully does animate, but cloud movement can appear stilted, seemingly puffing up like kernels of popcorn now and then. The moon likewise moves intermittently, briefly speeding up the day/night cycle to hilarious effect.
While textures are not always detailed, the best environments are dense with foliage and other objects. Contributing to these settings are foliage that animates independently, lighting including the day/night cycle, and ambient sounds like birds, rustling leaves and running water. Caves, on the other hand, are bland, muddy eyesores.
My neglect of the narrative to this point is not an oversight, but just demonstrates how it failed to grab my attention. To my recollection, the king is a danger and his escapades have lured outside elements into the fray. Still, there is enough detail to make stories like Dragon's Dogma seem like a lullaby.
Amusingly, you'll come across signs that have no text, though subtitles instruct you where to go.
Interiors can be a mixed bag as much as external environments, from sparse, uninspired settings to rooms filled with objects whether furniture, books or miscellaneous other possessions. Some have character, others lack personality.
Nonplayable characters might not always have depth, but even when misbehaving they have personality. This drunk patron (above) is ordering more alcohol from an imaginary attendant.
As impressed as I was with the NPC who earlier noted my wanton disregard for the village sheep, I likewise was entertained by a homeowner who could not be bothered by my trespass, theft of his belongings or nap in his bed. Such a gracious host!
While perusing my host's abode, I noticed how the sun cast its light at the same angle on all objects and how it slowly moved in sync across each area. I might take this for granted in general but in a game with such varied execution, this kind of detail is a revelation.
Open world role-playing games demand large free roam maps with compelling settings to explore. Arcania's environments fit the bill on one level, with forests, rolling hills, coastline, swamps, caves, etc. that sometimes benefit from environmental effects like the day/night cycle or changing weather including rain and fog.
However, while such settings benefit from dense, varied foliage, rocks, wildlife and more, there is a distinct lack of inspiration in terms of creating a unique world. The one standout to this point is a gigantic tree that shelters a community within its trunk and limbs. More such locales would help differentiate this title.
As with other games in the genre, or open world titles in general, fast travel portals help speed one's journey across the wide map. That said, using them is not intuitive if I recall and can, on occasion, require trial and error when trying to figure out the menu and destinations.
Destinations include dungeons and caves, standard settings for RPGs and in practice somewhat formulaic like above ground environments. Typically, skeleton warriors guard the former and giant lizards the latter, with other enemies making appearances from time to time.
No self-respecting RPG would take the field without options for character progression and leveling and Arcania is no different in this regard. The skill tree should be familiar for genre veterans, though its selection of skills is relatively limited.
Loot grinding likewise plays a prominent role in the game, however, its implementation is where Arcania makes a dramatic departure from typical RPGs. Indeed, there is an arcade element to it more commonly associated with hack and slash titles than true role playing games.
The difference is that there is no limit to the amount of gear you can carry. You are never over-encumbered or short of inventory space. The impact of such design is that the game plays more like a strictly action RPG focused on combat instead of character development, story or exploration.
Of course you can spend all the time you want in inventory management, but what happens is that you're tempted to speed through chests, cabinets, dropped loot and other sources without any thought to what you're collecting. In fact I would spam the action button whenever gathering loot.
On the one hand, it does help keep action flowing and makes everything more fluid, efficient and exciting. On the other, it distances you from the role playing element and your investment in character development. Spending time on these after the fact removes the critical decision making that helps keep one involved in standard RPGs.
The emphasis on combat carriers over to weapon management and controls configuration. Weapons and items are mapped to the directional keypad on the PS3 controller. The L1 button accesses more quickslots on the keypad, effectively doubling the weapons/items one has at their fingertips.
In addition, elemental attacks via scrolls can be mapped to the R1 button, while the R2 button equips a bow and arrows. Face buttons impact movement, including square to attack, triangle to dodge while moving or block when stationary, and circle to jump.
Admittedly, combat can be fun given the plethora of weapons that can be collected and easily equipped, and the variety of creatures and other foes you will face in any given area (above). These range from genre standards like orcs, giant insects and reptiles to kinds of dinosaurs, golems and soil-burrowing serpents.
Scrolls can be helpful for unleashing elemental attacks that can aid in combat especially against certain foes, though in my experience they have limited use due mainly to their scarcity. It's also worth noting that, in my experience, as one levels up (I'm at level 20), foes aren't so much stronger as they are more plentiful.
One of my favorite glitches so far was a rabbit that became tethered to my character (above). Everywhere I went, the bunny followed -- even into combat! I grew attached (pun intended) to my furry companion, so was grateful he couldn't be hurt by enemies; however, I could still harm him so had to be careful.
But this was no Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, unfortunately, so I couldn't rely on it for anything more than steady companionship. Only when I transitioned into a new area did the link break. <sob>
As mentioned earlier the story is consistently referenced throughout one's journey and provides at least a background narrative for practically everything that happens. I did appreciate the detail but honestly it became a little convoluted for me to follow.
There are lots of quests related to the story or side missions and they offer varied objectives though gameplay usually involves slaying hordes of enemies on your way to completion. If I remember, the start button can bring up a radial menu for skills/spells, map, crafting menu, quests log and inventory menus.
While most are serviceable, I recall that the map can be confusing and not exactly user friendly. It was not always clear to me where I needed to go or how to get there -- sometimes my path was even blocked. If memory serves, I relied more on blank signs mentioned earlier than my map, and that's not a good sign!
I've seen criticisms of the dialog but in reading other commentary it seems to me people missed the point. Arcania has a clear sense of humor and it's reflected in the conversations you'll have with practically everyone. It's not always clever or laugh out loud funny but it is consistently amusing and a welcome change of pace.
Slow texture loading (above) is a common, recurrent problem in this title. NPCs especially will often appear grotesque initially before they transform into human beings. But of course it applies to environments as well. It's a distraction to say the least but otherwise has negligible impact on gameplay.
In Arcania, you can literally get inside others' heads (above).
There are definitely unusual sights and sounds; too bad they're often unintentional. In the example above, I'm pretty sure the instruction to use a stool applies to my character, though I could easily be mistaken.
Behind these walls (top) was, well, not much to judge by this disappearing building (above). Note the smoke from invisible chimneys.
Daytime revealed windows seemingly floating in midair (above), and random furniture such as a bed inside the surrealistic setting.
Once in awhile during my reconnaissance, I spied people materializing in thin air (above) during otherwise unremarkable walks on the upper floors of the invisible tower.
This was one vantage point (above) from which I watched the goings on. No doubt if any vigilant NPCs saw me levitating they would have stared in similar disbelief.
From my perch above, I could watch through walls to the invisible building on the other side as its denizens went about their daily routines. Yes, this was how I spent a good deal of my time in Arcania. : D
Normally the water or vapor inside these bowls (above) swirled horizontally, that is, until it decided to do otherwise.
Arcania: The Complete Tale is available at a budget price seemingly in an admission from the publisher that despite its sizable content this is not a top tier game. It can entertain at times as a wry action adventure game, but certain design choices and a clear lack of polish severely limit its appeal.
Indeed, Arcania is no Elder Scrolls or Dragon's Dogma, but it's not even Two Worlds II, which has more innovation and relatively fewer bugs. As a budget title it might suffice for a time, but at 20 hours it began to lose any appeal it had for me, even with the streamlined combat.
It's a shame, because there was wasted potential here. Some reviewers seem to revel in trashing it, but I for one am sad that so much time was spent on a game that suffers so acutely from poor decisions and quality control.
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