After amassing a cult following on PC among hardcore WRPG fans, the Gothic series makes its debut on console with Arcania: Gothic 4. The previous games in the series were praised for their excellent story, character interaction and (by some) their challenging difficulty. With the reigns of development for the 4th entry handed off to a new developer (Spellbound, the previous entries have been developed by Piranha Bytes who also developed the recent WRPG Risen) many long time fans of the series were concerned about whether it could maintain these aspects while also making the transition to console. Unfortunately, these fears appear to be grounded as the game is seemingly stripped of much of what made the series special. What we’re left with is a watered down action RPG that, while occasionally fun, lands squarely in the shallow end of the RPG pool.
The story of Gothic centers around a lowly shepherd whose village is razed by the kings army while he’s off on a mission to unlock his inner potential. He returns to find the village in ruins, and his pregnant fiancé mortally wounded. As his fiancé dies in his arms the weight of the story rivals the emotional turmoil of reading the back of a can of soup. Not some exotic foreign soup either. Plain old Cream of Chicken. Low fat, low sodium Cream of Chicken. The game does everything it can to set up the relationships and get you accustomed to the town and its inhabitants before the aforementioned razing, unfortunately the characters are so generic and the voice acting so average that what should be a slam dunk moment for player to connect with the main character comes across as simply a means to an end.
Fortunately for those disappointed in the story (but unfortunately for those who actually expect storytelling in their RPG’s) you won’t have to worry about it much. The game really seems to forget about it’s own plot after a bit while devolving into standard RPG tropes like every villager requiring a task of you before you can move forward. At least, to the games credit, the main character seems equally frustrated with the way these events play out as the game moves on. If your story is going to kick off with something as emotionally raw as the death of the characters fiancé and unborn child you have to maintain a certain level of anger and bitterness in the characters personality. The main character in Gothic however, rarely seems to push the needle past “meh”.
Luckily while the story aspect of the game is disappointing, the action in the game is actually pretty fun. Melee combat consists of hacking away with your weapon, with the occasional dodge or block thrown in for good measure. Ranged combat is a lot of fun and where I ended up doing the majority of my damage. That’s not to say the combat is flawless however. Switching back and forth between Melee, Ranged, and Magic is somewhat clunky. Also, the game doesn’t really ever force the player to use strategy to win battles. There is a decent amount of good loot to uncover though, and a simplistic crafting and alchemy skill that allows you to forge your own weapons, food, and potions. Like most aspects of the game however, this function is very shallow and simplified. The combat is definitely the games strong point, and while it doesn’t really do much to separate itself from the pack it is enjoyable enough to provide entertainment for fans of the genre.
Oddly enough, the one area not overly simplified is the navigation and questing system. The game puts targets on the minimap to signify quest objectives. These targets only show up when you’re already close to the objective however, and the directions you get from questgivers are rarely more detailed than “find this landmark and turn left”. As you can imagine, this leads to plenty of confusion when it comes to finding where you need to be, especially for underground objectives.
Visually, the world of Gothic 4 can be quite striking at times. Incredibly detailed and unique environments are mixed in with more generic fantasy fare. The lighting is mostly very solid and makes the colors of the world really pop off the screen. Character models look decent at first glance, but in motion look more like the animatronic characters in an amusement park than actual living residents. Unfortunately, the game suffers from many of the same glitches that plague similar games in this genre when ported from the PC to console. Be prepared for enemies to get trapped against geometry, floating dead bodies or equipment, and the occasional framerate stutter (especially when facing multiple enemies).
If looked at as a jumping off point for newcomers to the western RPG genre, Gothic 4 is an enjoyable if shallow romp that will entertain less demanding fans with solid combat and a good amount of loot. Longtime fans of the genre, and especially fans of the Gothic series, will be disappointed in the games lack of depth and emotionless narrative. Games of this style are difficult to get right on consoles, as generally developers walk the fine line between simplifying the game to work with a standard controller and presenting enough depth and complexity to keep things interesting. If this series makes another appearance on multiple platforms, hopefully they’ll be able to better strike this delicate balance.
Review copy provided by publisher.