Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Demo Reviews: Gothic 4: Arcania

Hey there all, Picky Mama Scholar here with a new blog segment: Demo Reviews. In this segment, I will play demos I download from X Box Live and share my experiences for your reading pleasure. So let's dig in.

Our first game is Gothic 4: Arcania. Now I haven't played Gothics 1-3, but I do love me a good RPG so I figured I would give this one a try. This game was actually just released on Oct 12th (unless you play PS3, in which case, you will have to wait till the new year). Now then, this review is somewhat comparative between this game and Dragon Age: Origins, since the latter is kind of my "gold standard" and due to similar styles between the two. It will all make sense as we go, I promise.

Now the first thing I noticed is that my character, the hero, doesn't have a name. Or perhaps the full version gives the option to change the name, I don't know. So during my time wandering the village and talking to people, a good chunk of the people called me Shepherd. Now I get this, seeing as how that is apparently the characters job, but it's kind of weird for me to hear this as an avid Mass Effect player. So whenever someone referred to my character that way, this* is what came to mind, and that didn't help this game any. That wasn't the only reminder of another franchise in this game. At one point, I met with a man named Diego, who had apparently been teaching my character fighting and swordsmanship. Now maybe it's just me, but upon seeing this character, I immediately said aloud "is that you, Ramirez?"He doesn't have the Scottish accent, but it's still kind of weird.

The dialogue in this game left me with something to be desired. From what I have read online of reviews, playing the full game doesn't change that. In my case, what the characters were saying and what the subtitles said sometimes didn't match (hours became days at one point). As for the dialogue itself, it's seriously lacking. There are almost no dialogue options. Only twice did I find myself with two options for what to say, and I ended up saying both options in the course of the conversation. This is a major departure from RPG's like Dragon Age, Mass Effect (which I know is action/RPG) and Fallout, where many options are present.

Arcania Convseration: PC and Ivy (Sit-And-Watch)
Arcania Conversation

Dragon Age: Origins-Awakening Conversation: PC and Nathaniel (Dialogue Options)
DA:A conversation with Nathaniel/Merrah

this brings me to my next point regarding Gothic 4: the voice acting. With the exception of The PC and Diego, it pretty much sucks, the witch Lyrca being the most outstanding example (as well as example of subtitles not matching spoken dialogue). Her voice acting was atrociously the most stereotypical, pointy hat, wart on nose, broom-riding, black cat owning witch voice EVAR. And it grated on the ears to listen to. Ugh. Her voice in the German version, where this game is from, is much, much better. The PC voice I actually liked a lot, it was probably the best one. Diego's voice was pretty good too, although I still think it would have been more awesome for him to talk like Sean Connery. It's not the worst I've ever heard out of my 360 (Bullet Witch and Jurassic: The Hunted take that title) but it's no where near the best (in the regions of Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Brutal Legend and Ghostbusters). Mediocre at best, we'll say.

The next thing I looked at was the graphics of this game. The landscapes are rendered gorgeously. They look awesome. The people, not so much. From what I have seen from the full game, there is improvement with the people, but they are still not nearly as nice looking as the world they inhabit. Quite frankly, I like the landscapes, but Dragon Age has the better character renders.

Arcania Landscape (Pic doesn't really do it justice)
Arcania UI

Dragon Age Landscape
DA:A group shot/UI Ura

Arcania Character Render: Ivy (your girlfriend)**
Arcania Ivy Conversation

Dragon Age Character Render: PC (right) and Sigrun (left)
DA:A Conversation with Sigrun/Melmo

I noticed as I played this demo that the character movements seemed clunky and slow, as were the controls. I did not find a button for running, so I was stuck with this wading-through-molasses pace for the whole thing. Combat wasn't any better. It was slow and repetitive button mashing, as I also found there to be no auto-attack. You basically hit x to attack with your weapon, and it reacts sluggishly. And you have to hit the button for every weapon swing. I could see combat in a dungeon with lots of enemies turning into marathon grind-fests of endless button mashing. Perhaps had there been better reaction time (even dinky one-handers seem quite slow in speed) it would have been better.

Finally, my biggest problem with this game: I couldn't any of the friggin' text. From the quest logs to the looting screens to even the radial menus, the text was so damn small I couldn't read a word of it. And I'm not that far away from my TV when I play. I measured. Six feet. That's how far I am when I play. I suppose this game was made with PCs or high def TVs in mind. It must be, because otherwise this game would be unplayable. It really kills the game experience when you can't see what you're suppose to do, what you're picking up, or the stats on your equipment or yourself. It was ridiculous. I noticed the text in the codexes of Mass Effect 2 were quite small, but I could still read them from where I usually sit to game without too much difficulty. In Gothic 4, it was impossible, even when very close to the TV. Even if the rest of the game had been completely phenomenal, this would still have been a huge problem.

Arcania Loot Screen***
Arcania Looting Indoors

Dragon Age Loot Screen
DA:A Looting Scren

Arcania Quest Log
Arcania Quest Log

Dragon Age Quest Log/Codex
DA:A Quest Log

Mass Effect 2 Codex
Mass Effect 2 Codex Screen

So my final verdict? This game is meh. Granted, the full game may blow my socks off compared to the demo, but everything I have read indicates that this isn't the case. The character movement looks better and smoother and less sluggish, but the voice acting will still mostly suck and the character renders are still ugly. The demo tells you very little of the story, and in fact most blurbs on the plot are vague and hint at it being not terribly original. Now the story in Dragon Age isn't exactly the epitome of originality, but the characters and stories woven into the plot make it well worth it. As for Gothic 4, I would say a rental at best. As for me, renting it is unlikely, as I don't feel like going through a whole game (which takes 10-25 hours, depending on who you ask) unable to read anything, especially not an RPG. I'm not recommending this, unless you've played the other Gothic games, but then you would not likely need me to tell you one way or the other. It's mediocre, a rental, but not a buy. There are much better RPGs out there waiting.

Well folks, thanks for reading, and hope you join me for another Demo Review very soon.
Remember to check out our YouTube Channel, Facebook, and Flikr page (NEW! and with more pics from this review!)


PS: If anyone can tell me who voices the PC in Arcania, that would be awesome. He sounds familiar and I can't find an English cast list anywhere.

*I'm an exclusive FemShep player. The Cynic has played MaleShep, as I discussed in my video review of the game.
**I had to grab this pic from Google. It appears to be from the finished game.
***I sat in the same place to take all of these pictures, for consistency.

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