by Davneet Minhas
previewed on PC
Forgetting the Past
In May of 2008, publisher JoWood Entertainment decided to rebrand the fourth entry in the Gothic series as Arcania: A Gothic Tale. This name change served two purposes: to represent the increased role of magic in the game’s world and to give the Gothic franchise a fresh start in North America.
In terms of the second purpose, the Gothic series is known for its wandering open-world role-playing experiences, comprehensive stories, and stunning environments. As such, it has a very passionate following in Europe, akin to Bioware’s fan-base in North America. But the series is also known for being inaccessible and very buggy, which is perhaps why it has yet to breach the mainstream North American market.
With the series’ history in mind, Arcania developer Spellbound is attempting to bring a new level of polish and user-friendliness to the game that will, along with the new name, finally introduce the Gothic series to this elusive market.
Unfortunately, Spellbound and JoWood have revealed very little about the game since its 2008 name change. Information on the game has been so scarce that the Gothic community wrote an open letter to JoWood in September 2009 expressing their concern about outdated screenshots, low quality videos, and general lack of information. Since that letter, more Arcania screenshots have trickled out from Spellbound and JoWood, but information remains scarce – not something to boost confidence.
The Nameless Hero
Arcania takes place ten years after the events in Gothic 3. Since then, the previous game’s hero became King Robar III who currently seeks to unite the lands. Pursuing this goal, Robar’s forces pillage and loot the idyllic isle of Feshyr in the Southern Seas. Arcania’s nameless protagonist doesn’t take kindly to this, given that Feshyr is his home, and leaves the destroyed city to seek revenge.
In his quest for revenge, the nameless hero will meet up with familiar friends to Gothic fans, including Diego, Lester and Milten. He’ll visit multiple environment types, ranging from mountain tops to dungeons, beaches to swamps, and cities to villages. In all of those environments, he’ll encounter numerous enemies including various human factions, 15 different types of animals, and 25 unique monster types – each with different abilities and attacks.
To combat these enemies, the nameless hero has an array of equipment at his disposal, including standard fantasy RPG weapons such as one-handed swords, two-handed maces, axes, and bows and arrows. Arcania also includes a layered armour system emphasizing customization – the nameless hero can don a quilt under chain mail under plate mail.
In keeping with Arcania’s increased emphasis on magic, the nameless hero appears to have an array of powers to complement any combat style. Those players who enjoy a battlemage style of play can use spells to buff their fighting abilities and weapons. Players who prefer ranged combat can use their archery skills in conjunction with druid-like plant and animal control magic. The nameless hero will even be able to change the weather and alter night and day.
Hold My Hand
To distance Arcania’s combat from Gothic 3’s button mashing fest, Spellbound has implemented a lock-on system akin to the The Witcher’s in certain ways. For ranged combat, locking on a target is simple and self-explanatory, though not always the best option – hitting a target outside of the lock-on system deals more damage. In terms of melee combat, the nameless hero’s weapon will glow blue for a small period after a slash. Hitting the attack button during that time produces a chained attack, and players with quick enough reflexes can continue chaining attacks.
Spellbound also aims to improve on Gothic’s traditional lack of navigation. Arcania includes a map marked with teleportation stones and active quests to hand-hold players through the game’s large world. However, as with many introductions to Arcania’s user interface, the map is optional – veterans of the series need not use it.
Too Little, But Not Too Late
Will Arcania: A Gothic Tale be the Gothic title to finally break into North America? Spellbound is certainly hoping to make it so with a more fluid combat system and increased accessibility. But given the dearth of media and information on the title, it’s hard to have confidence in Arcania’s quality.