In the video settings for ArcaniA: Gothic 4, you can select from two different tone maps: American and European. Let’s 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 they’ve 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 “TM1” and “TM2.” I would have been happy with that. I would’ve appreciated the extra customization option. But they didn’t. They named one “American” and the other “European.”
I understand why they did it: JoWood wants to break into the North American market, where the Gothic franchise hasn’t met with much success. Having an “American” tone map makes it seem like you’re catering to that market. In fact, Microsoft tried a similar tactic when developing the Xbox 360.
After the original Xbox’s 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, “If the Japanese consumers like the look of it, so will the rest of the world.” Unfortunately, an appealing design can’t overcome decades of brand loyalty, at least in this case.
Maybe I’m over analyzing this. After all, I haven’t even started the game yet; I’ve only looked at the options menu. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just dwelling on this because my Indian heritage isn’t represented. Where’s my tone map?
The American tone map is way too bright and cheery. I feel like I’m out on a picnic, not slaying murderous goblins. So, I’m 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 – 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 hero’s 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 wasn’t 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, I’ve slain molerats, fought goblins, and hunted deer all to win the approval of my woman’s father. Along the way, I may have stolen some apples from the orchard. I’ve also learned how to shoot lightning from my hands, and I’ve 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 – 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. I’m not an errand boy.
At least the combat is interesting – it’s 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. We’ll 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 they’re releasing Fallout: New Vegas, which obviously falls in the latter. Interesting.
The landscapes are stunning.
Gameplay feels stale and dated.