by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Rather than stoically producing another Gothic game, Jowood decided it was time for the series to undergo something of a reboot. Gothic 3 fared well with its players but critics complained about the unpolished, buggy state in which it was released. Determined to bring the series back to its former glory, Jowood enlisted the help of a new developer, bought a license to a new engine and slapped on a new name for good measure.
The result, ArcaniA: Gothic 4, is still very much a Gothic game but built from the ground up to do away with some of Gothic’s more annoying quirks and shortcomings, as well as adding a host of new features to the roster. As the game is due out in only a couple of months, Jowood’s Clemens Schneidhofer was able to show us a nearly finished game.
The game takes place some 10 years after the events in Gothic 3. The lead character from the previous games returns only as a NPC, this time with a name: King Rhobar III. You play a new character, a young villager eager to prove his worth to the father of his would-be fiancé. Coming back from a quest to appease your future father in law, you find your village raided by Paladins, apparently in the employ of King Rhobar. The raiders made short work of any resistance, killing your friends, family and fiancé. Vowing revenge, you set out to find those responsible for the atrocities. Paladins raiding a village? Yes, there is a clue in there. Things are not what they seem.
The Gothic games have always targeted a hardcore RPG audience, mostly due to the lack of aides such as mini maps and directional arrows pointing towards your currently selected quest. ArcaniA will ship with a number of aides, including said mini map, but leaves it up to the player which of them he switches on. An overall map shows your location on the large island that makes up most of the game world. Jowood describes the game world as a ‘natural barrier open world’ which translates into large, isolated areas that can be accessed only when you are ready for them. Readying yourself means taking quests, gaining experience and leveling up your character. One example given of such a barrier was a bridge guarded by a bunch of thugs not willing to let you pass unless you carry out some jobs for them.
The game world is as rich as one would expect from a Gothic title. There are 40 unique enemy types, some familiar, some new to the series. Each of these has a number of sub types so you can, for instance, distinguish between a Shaman Orc, a melee fighting Orc and a ranged fighting Orc. Speaking of Orcs, not all are created equal. Orcs can now be found living peacefully among humans. So no more indiscriminately killing each and every Orc you meet then.
The map is made up of swamp, desert, woodland and snow covered areas. Besides the obvious geological changes in each region, the architecture in towns and cities changes as well. If that isn’t already enough variation for you, wait until you see the day and night changes and impact of the weather. Day and night changes are incredibly life-like. The engine not only changes shadows and luminescence but also adds slight variations in coloring to accurately mimic light in the early morning and late afternoon. The randomly occurring downpours are even more impressive. Using different textures for a wet environment the game turns dirt into mud before your very eyes.
As your character gains experience, skill points can be spent to upgrade your character. Each level adds 3 points to spend towards increasing your skills in areas such as melee or ranged combat and magic. Spending enough points in one specific area will unlock special moves or skills like for instance the Bashing Blow that stuns close by enemies for a short period. Spellcasters can upgrade their skills in areas such as fire and cold magic, their effectiveness improving slowly with every point spent. In combat, patient magic users can charge up their spell for maximum damage or wear enemies down with a barrage of quickly cast bolts and balls.
Even with an estimate 35-60 hours of gameplay, Clemens deemed it highly improbable that anyone would be able to achieve enough skill points to max out in every area. To experience all the options the game has to offer, one has to start again and choose a different upgrade path.
Users focusing on a non-magical character may still be able to use some magic through the use of runes. Runes can be found or bought and then used for a specific but usually supportive purpose. A rune may for instance grant you additional speed to run away from a fast enemy. After use, the rune slowly regains its power before it can be used again.
ArcaniA: Gothic 4 may in some ways be a reboot for the series, but it shares much of the DNA of its predecessors. And from what we were shown at Gamescom, only the strong and wanted DNA strains were brought along. To prove that ArcaniA is still very much a Gothic game, Jowood even promises the return of iconic NPCs such as Lester and Diego. And with no less than seven unique factions to piss off or impress, there is plenty of trouble to be found too.