From the ashes of the awful Forsaken Gods expansion to Gothic 3 in the wake of its separation from Gothic developer Piranha Bytes, publisher Jowood and new developer Spellbound seem to have been shaping a reasonably worth while successor. Late last week I got to put that to the test in the form of a demo. Since I have had such ‘trust issues’ with Jowood since the Gothic 3 debacle, I wanted to give you some impressions from the demo to help if you are thinking about buying the game.
Here is the demo press release:
ArcaniA-Gothic 4 Demo Released Today
Fight off demons, hone your skills and prepare for a bloody battle fueled by vengeance
London, September 24 2010; JoWooD Entertainment, Dreamcatcher Interactive and the BVT Group announce the release of the ArcaniA-Gothic 4 DEMO.
The official demo comprises the first two hours of the game and shows the beginning tutorial level on Feshyr Island featuring selected quests. As a shepherd, the new nameless hero is living on the Island in peace but dark clouds are coming over to Feshyr and now it’s time for the hero to come to terms with his fate.
“We’re excited to give everyone the opportunity to play the official Demo of ArcaniA – Gothic 4 and get a feeling for the game and its quality”, explains Markus Reutner, Head of Marketing JoWooD.
ArcaniA-Gothic 4, the official successor of the famous Gothic series will be released on the 12th of October 2010.
For further links and more information please have a look at www.arcania-game.com
Here are my thoughts:
System Requirements: Given that no less a respected writer as Desslock said this was going to be a ‘computer buster’, I was surprised at how nicely this set up and ran on my laptop – never an issue or any feeling of the game stuttering or lagging. And while my laptop is on the high-end, with a Core i7 processor and 1GB nVidia graphics card, I have certainly seen poorly optimized games have issues regardless of the PC. That said, I wouldn’t suggest trying unless you have a solid Core 2 Duo and a decent graphics card.
Graphics: I will let the screen above and further down in the article speak for the graphics. They are gorgeous, from the character models to the environments to the dungeons and houses and more. I didn’t spend any time tweaking the graphics setting, instead leaving things at the default ‘high’ settings.
More than just looking good, the developers put a lot of effort into trying to make the world feel alive. From the beginning you see people going about their business, livestock milling about, and other normal activities happening while you get your bearings. The water moves, the wind blows, and so on. Everything works together to help immerse you into the world.
One thing that very much didn’t work was the facial animations – when characters speak there is absolutely no synchronization between words and faces. I am not sure if that is due to being a German game initially, nor do I know if it will improve in the retail version. If that sort of thing bothers you, definitely find out before buying!
Controls: Third person games can get a bit tricky in terms of controls – particularly with the camera. And while I certainly had a few issues with getting the movement and viewpoint to cooperate, in general things worked better than, for example, Red Faction: Guerrilla.
ArcaniA is designed for both PC keyboard & mouse controls and the XBOX360 controller, and the developers did a good job adapting to both. I completed the demo with my PC controls but also tried out the XBOX360 controller and it worked as expected. In fact, I would say that the controller was clearly the target, as it seemed to adapt better to one particularly odd thing – during combat the camera pulls out to an almost strategic view, which gives you better visibility but makes it more difficult to track movement direction.
Typical RPG keys are all present – you get direct access to skills, map, quests, inventory, and so on. You have wide flexibility to customize the settings however you like.
Quests: You play what is essentially the tutorial – the first couple of hours. You immediately meet with a girl who is there to tell you to meet with someone, and will then move just a bit ahead and make sure you get there – even if you are like me and explore everywhere, she will patiently wait at the next checkpoint.
During each dialogue you get some options in how to approach things. Naturally at this early stage your choices are somewhat limited, and eventually you need to accomplish everything the developers wanted you to do. There are the all-too-typical quest indicators floating over people’s heads, waypoint markers and other things that many games have adopted through the years.
Speaking of dialogue … the voice-acting is just really not very good – and some of it is just annoyingly terrible (as opposed to so-bad-its-good).
Soundtrack: Rather than Kai Rozenkranz, we get composer Tilman Sillescu for Gothic 4. That makes sense since KaiRo is part of Piranha Bytes. There were a few songs released on the ArcaniA website, which are nice and give an atmospheric feel definitely inspired by the Gothic games, but none of them even made it to my iPod.
Playing the demo felt the same – it is hard to explain, but the music was very well done and nicely composed, but is ultimately just ‘good game music’, failing to reach the heights of the KaiRo Gothic music, or stuff like Arcanum or Divine Divinity amongst others. I am hoping the actual game contains a better sampling of music, but my expectations are considerably lower.
Gothic-ness: This is a tough one to quantify, but it is represented by a living world, strong and interesting characters, the ability to really not care what anyone wants for short periods while still having a strong main quest pulling you along, and just a general sense that anything you can interact with BELONGS.
To me this is where the demo came up short. There is stuff to interact with and plants to pick, but whereas the other Gothic games felt like you were really collecting stuff, in ArcaniA you will just see a cluster of stuff now and again. It feels forced rather than natural. Also, you can go anywhere and simply loot chests. Sure that works in games like Oblivion, but in the prior Gothic games you could take a beat-down from a whole town from filching a single apple!
I know this is just a demo, but one hallmark of the Gothic games was the long-strung quests where there would be multiple milestones and various NPC’s to chat with. Here the only real chatter comes from two characters who are essentially monologuing.
Also, I know this is just the start of the game, but early on there is a significant opportunity for ‘Choice & Consequences’. You meet Diego – someone Gothic fans have seen in every game thus far – and you are supposed to run him off the island as he is a smuggler. But apparently you are already his friend and he has taught you to fight. I feel that in the earlier Gothic games I would have been given the choice to kill him and loot him or spare his life, but here you only get a single option pre-chosen by the game. It is very un-Gothic-like to railroad you that way.
Perhaps surprisingly, after completing the demo I went and pre-ordered ArcaniA. I did this because I had fun, could get the pre-order for 15% off, and with a Twitter deal was able to buy a couple of other games and end up spending less than the game itself would have cost!
Sure there are a number of factors working against the game – it is clearly a ‘B level’ game with some shortcomings, made for console players primarily, and with many, many un-Gothic elements. But there is still something about the general style of game here that I like, the need for mêlée as well as magic, and many other things that make me think that while this isn’t going to be a ‘great’ game, nor even live up to any of the earlier Gothics (or Risen), it will be a fun experience.
The demo is a huge 1.7GB download, available from a number of sites including Gamershell. XBOX360 gamers can get it from the Live Marketplace.
ArcaniA: Gothic 4 will be released on October 12th, and there are a variety of pre-order deals (GamersGate, Impulse and Direct2Drive all have it 15% off, and Steam is tossing in Gothic III for free) available.