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Arcania: The Complete Tale (PlayStation 4) artwork

Arcania: The Complete Tale (PlayStation 4) review

"Repetitive and dull enough to be novacaine for the brain. "

Arcania is, to be frank, a mess. Unfortunately, when I get hooked on a genre, I get HOOKED on it and tend to seek out and play as much as possible in it, quality be damned. This game, with its Fall of Setarrif expansion included, was available to download on PlayStation Now and that was all the inducement I needed. I'd say this won't be a happy story, but I did find myself perversely entertained for at least a decent amount of the 35 or so hours I spent playing this game, so there's that!

First, a history lesson. There was a PC RPG series called Gothic that seemed to gain a decent-sized fan-base. At some point, the rights to that name went from Piranha Bites to Spellbound Entertainment and they decided to make a more console-friendly game to keep the series continuing. It was originally released for Windows and the XBox 360, before being ported to the PlayStation 3 and then to the PlayStation 4.

One could easily surmise the first problem this would cause. A big reason the people who loved Gothic felt that way was because it was one of those really deep and involving western RPGs where you have all sorts of options for how you choose to accomplish stuff. When series like this get installments meant for consoles, things will be simplified to some degree. Regardless of how much I was loving the Oblivion and Skyrim games in the Elder Scrolls series, all I'd have to do is dig around a bit online to see people complaining about how "dumbed down" they were compared to those that came before. Poor Arcania likely had one strike against it before it even hit the shelves!

It then went on to earn enough additional strikes on its own merits to make a lack of complexity seem like the most petty concern imaginable, although this is enough of an issue it probably should be discussed. When playing this game, you'll go from one region to the next in a totally linear fashion, only being able to interact with a handful of people at each stop, most of whom happen to be quest-givers. Virtually every quest either has you going somewhere to retrieve something or going somewhere to kill something, with absolutely no effort put into making them seem more fulfilling. Whether you're a fan of melee, ranged or magical combat, the system is stripped down to its bare essentials. As a melee-loving barbarian, I found my options were to repeatedly tap the attack button until the enemy died or tap the button with a bit of timing to set up combos. Oh yeah, I also could dodge roll to evade reprisals. With bows, you can charge shots by holding down the appropriate button for a little bit. As for magic, just set a spell to the right button, make sure an enemy is in the cross-hairs and tap, tap, tap.

Early in the game, you'll at least have to think for a moment while using melee, as your hero can only swing his weapon a few times before needing to rest for a second. But when you level up, you get to put points into various skills. Pick a particular one and he'll soon be able to swing it a couple more times and, eventually, nonstop. At this point, combat basically comes down to you running up to an enemy and stun-locking it with your attacks until it falls, whether that takes five swings or 50. At this point, the only thing that can make fighting interesting is a bizarre glitch that frequently causes enemies to vanish and reappear behind you.

The plot is equally bare-bones. You control a young guy on a remote island whose main concern is impressing the father of his girl so he can marry her. There's no peaceful life in his future, though, as while he's away from his village, soldiers from the mainland come and kill everyone but him and his mentor, leading to a quest for vengeance. On the way, he'll go through a series of closed-in areas, needing to accomplish things to move from one to the next. In the first land, you have to get rid of bandits blocking the road. In the next, you have to pick between the established ruler and the rebel leader, with the winner giving you permission to pass through a checkpoint.

All of these places have a couple main quests, as well as a few optional ones. When they're done, you have no reason to stick around, as you won't be able to interact with anyone other than shopkeepers -- even if there seems to be an interesting narrative going on. A ways into your quest, you'll be hanging around a swamp village that surrounds a tree housing a bunch of mages. Serving as a protector for this village is a defector from that hometown-sacking army, as he'd become disillusioned with their recent actions. However, he still does have a holier-than-thou attitude, openly saying he's going to make sure that only good, productive people live in the village and anyone not living up to his standards will be departing…one way or the other.

In many games, this could lead to an enjoyable chain of "shades of grey" quests leading to you helping determine the direction things would go in this corner of the world. In Arcania, you do a simple quest for him to gain his approval, which gives you permission to do a couple more quests for other townspeople. And then you're no longer able to interact with him, as his importance to the plot ended the instant you got into his good graces. Nothing to see here; time to move on!

Eventually, you don't even have the false hope that something might be fleshed out to the point of being remotely fulfilling. Shortly after leaving the mage tree and its village, this game gets painfully linear, with you essentially following a set path with very few off-the-beaten-path distractions. Then again, it's not like this game offers much more than the illusion of choice. Two different people have their own ideas as to how to remove the bandits in that first area, but regardless of which choice you make, you'll wind up in the next area. There, whether you pick the current ruler or the rebel leader, both grant permission to pass the checkpoint. Every single time the game gives you a choice in how to proceed, every decision will lead to the same conclusion and you'll then immediately leave that place to never return, so it's all pretty hollow.

Of course, if you're playing this version, I hope you aren't here for the story. I don't know if it's just the PlayStation Now version or the PlayStation 4 port or what, but there's this teeny-tiny glitch where every single cutscene refuses to load, causing the game to skip them. You'll notice this for the first time on your little island. You'll be doing a magic-tutorial quest for a witch and once you've completed it, you'll see a loading screen and then find yourself on the mainland, talking with your mentor about your plans for revenge. Beat the game's final boss and you'll immediately be taken to the beginning of the expansion. Kill the expansion's boss and the credits instantly start rolling. Look, I know that programming modern games has to be a daunting task and glitches often occur in these larger RPGs, but how the hell does something this egregious not get caught?

There are some positive aspects to this game, although in comparison to the negatives, I can't say they're significant. Taking into account it was initially released for an older generation of systems, it doesn't look all that bad. I'd compare the graphics to Oblivion, if not exactly on that level. Even if that comparison also extends to NPCs, who tend to be bug-eyed and a bit creepy. And I did get a chuckle or two at how exasperated your character often sounded when given another fetch quest when all he wants to do is get from one place to another. I mean, it would have been nicer if the designers were more interested in creating engaging quests than simply having your character complain about the ones he was getting, but I guess you can't have it all…

Come to think of it, that paragraph wasn't actually all that complementary. Because I'm addicted to games like this, I was able to make it through and even had some amount of fun -- at least until the repetition and tedium stripped away whatever pleasure I was finding. But I have enough self-awareness to realize that other people might have standards and because of that, there's no way I'm giving this any sort of recommendation. Arcania is a simplistic and linear game with repetitive battling and questing and a generic story marred by both the game's refusal to linger on any potentially interesting element and the inexplicable absence of cutscenes. Even by the low standards I have for games in genres I love, this one pushed my limits.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 16, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 03, 2021:

...When I get hooked on a genre, I get HOOKED on it and tend to seek out and play as much as possible in it, quality be damned.

This is me with the horror genre.

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