Friday, October 15, 2010

ArcaniA - Gothic

“Gothic” is one of the few German games that has been published successfully in other countries as well. Three parts of the series have been published before, now a fourth part has been finished. Things have changed – in a good way, for me.

I have tried my hands at all parts of “Gothic” so far, mostly unsuccessful. The game has always been open-world, which is good in one way and bad in another.

An open world is good, because it’s pretty realistic. You can travel from one side of the island (all games were set on islands of some sorts) to the other. You can go wherever you want (and get royally screwed by monsters that are far too strong for you). Well, the bad part is the one in the brackets, actually. “Gothic” regulated the player’s movements by putting enemies in certain areas that were far too strong. There wasn’t a warning around, though, so you had to walk into them and be slaughtered to know.

After three games, the developer has changed. After the catastrophic fighting system and the enormous bugs in the last game, a new developer had to take over. But as “Gothic” is a trademark of PiranhaBytes (the old publisher), the new game had to be given another name. It was changed a couple of times, finally they settled on “ArcaniA – Gothic 4”. After all, the world has stayed the same and the player will meet quite some characters from the former games.

What else has changed? Well, “Gothic” always was a very minimal game when it came to information for the player. No health and magic bar, no quick use slots (1 to 0 on the keyboard to store important items or weapons), no mini-map for orientation. The player had to keep in mind where the most important things were. While that is a great thing for hardcore gamers, it is sure to drive away everyone else. I’ve played quite some RPGs in my time, but even I found it tiring to run around, trying to remember which way to go to a tower or a town or a camp. And one movement in the wrong direction could easily mean a sudden death.

I prefer the new system in “ArcaniA”. I can switch on or off a lot of display options (health bars for enemies, a mini-map, whatever else I want) to customize the game for me.

Oh, and I just love the new fighting system. With the two mouse buttons and the movement keys I can fight, dodge, use spells (switching between weapons and spells is easy using the quick use slots) and actually defeat a group of enemies. Due to the catastrophic fighting system in “Gothic III”, one measly blood fly could kill you, if you were unlucky. I actually feel I’m accomplishing something when I can start combos with the right click rhythm. I can learn to use combos, I can customize my abilities after every level-up, I can dodge and block attacks – and all by ability and not by chance, it’s great.

The graphics are good, too. There’s weather changes, there’s day and night. The enemies look good, the NPCs I deal with look better. The surrounding is nice – on the start island that serves as a tutorial of sorts, I spent quite some time climbing high areas and then watch the sea or just the village and the fields in the valley beyond. Especially climbing up to the cave behind the waterfall (where I had to go to talk to an important NPC) was great. It was getting dark and the path up there was really steep. The waterfall was between the entrance of the cave and the look into the valley, distorting my sight.

The story is good, too. “Gothic” never had much of a story, to be honest. You arrived somewhere, picked up missions, but rarely knew why the heck your nameless character (new character, still nameless in “ArcaniA”) was actually going there and fighting whomever. But after seeing your village destroyed and your fiancé (who was pregnant with your child and just had agreed to marry you) dying in your arms, it’s pretty clear why the hero would want to find those responsible and hack them to tiny pieces.

“ArcaniA” isn’t “Gothic”, despite the subtitle, but is a new form of “Gothic” at the same time. Maybe not what the seasoned, hardcore “Gothic” players wanted, but a game for RPG players who have nothing against fighting in real time and like having but one hero to control.

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