by Davneet Minhas
reviewed on PC
In the video settings for ArcaniA: Gothic 4, you can select from two different tone maps: American and European. Letís consider that for a second.
With these two tone maps, publisher JoWood Entertainment and developer Spellbound are definitively stating that Americans and Europeans appreciate two different color schemes. I can buy that. Aesthetic tastes must differ. But JoWood and Spellbound are also stating that theyíve discovered the color scheme that most appeals to Americans and the one that most appeals to Europeans. And they are so confident in their results, that they are making no attempt to hide it. They could have just called the two tone maps ďTM1Ē and ďTM2.Ē I would have been happy with that. I wouldíve appreciated the extra customization option. But they didnít. They named one ďAmericanĒ and the other ďEuropean.Ē
I understand why they did it: JoWood wants to break into the North American market, where the Gothic franchise hasnít met with much success. Having an ďAmericanĒ tone map makes it seem like youíre catering to that market. In fact, Microsoft tried a similar tactic when developing the Xbox 360.
After the original Xboxís disappointing sales in Japan, Microsoft decided to design the Xbox 360 around Japanese sensibilities. It hired a Japanese design firm, Hers Experimental Design Laboratory, to aid in creating a more peaceful design. Microsoft followed the idiom, ďIf the Japanese consumers like the look of it, so will the rest of the world.Ē Unfortunately, an appealing design canít overcome decades of brand loyalty, at least in this case.
Maybe Iím over analyzing this. After all, I havenít even started the game yet; Iíve only looked at the options menu. I donít know. Maybe Iím just dwelling on this because my Indian heritage isnít represented. Whereís my tone map?
The American tone map is way too bright and cheery. I feel like Iím out on a picnic, not slaying murderous goblins. So, Iím using the European tone map, which makes sense: India is closer to Europe than North America after all.
With that behind us, ArcaniA: Gothic 4 is gorgeous Ė on the highest video settings, of course. From individual blades of knee-high grass to the bark on a tree trunk to the pores on your heroís face, everything is highly detailed. But the details are never stagnant thanks to the dynamic day-night cycle, which constantly changes the lighting on every object and shadows those objects cast. If that wasnít enough, the draw distances are incredible. I want to find the highest point on the map just to soak in the landscape.
Anyway, enough about graphics. So far, Iíve slain molerats, fought goblins, and hunted deer all to win the approval of my womanís father. Along the way, I may have stolen some apples from the orchard. Iíve also learned how to shoot lightning from my hands, and Iíve battled over-sized wolves and some more goblins.
Then my woman was murdered, along with everyone else in the village, by some crazed king. Time to get revenge Ė which involves slaying more goblins and wolves and even giant wasps. Every quest I have received has me acting as a gofer: Go fetch a dozen beehives, go kill ten bugs, go find this person. I am a man tortured by loss and seeking retribution. Iím not an errand boy.
At least the combat is interesting Ė itís more third-person action than RPG. You have to attack, dodge, and block with precise timing to remain effective. It feels more skill-based than stat-based, but you can still see the dice rolling in the background if you squint hard enough. You can also see The Witcher, but I think that game did it all better. Weíll see.
Also, the voice acting is hammy.
Modern RPGs seem to be evolving in two opposite directions. On one side, developers are crafting tighter and more linear experiences to tell more immersive stories. Mass Effect 2 pushed the boundaries of what constitutes an RPG, but it was also fast-paced, exciting, and brutal. It connected you with characters that evolved over time, and then ripped those characters away from you. On the other side, developers are creating vast open worlds that allow for discovery. In Fallout 3, you can walk in any direction on the map and meet interesting, fully developed characters with stories that add to your own.
Obsidian Entertainment seems to be going in both directions. First they release Alpha Protocol, which falls in the former category, and now theyíre releasing Fallout: New Vegas, which obviously falls in the latter. Interesting.
The landscapes are stunning.
Gameplay feels stale and dated.