I originally bought this game for a steal during a PSN flash sale. It was just a few bucks so I didn’t expect much. It was cheesy and vapid but after pushing through that I started to like it and kept playing. That is until the game started falling apart at the seams. Texture problems, pop ins, frame rate problems; they were becoming too much to bear.
With this PS4 update I’m happy to say that almost all of those problems are gone. The game usually runs buttery smooth and with a proper graphical display. It really is like a whole different effort. I heard somewhere that it is just a port of the PC version, but that doesn’t matter so long as it’s better than the mangled PS3 version.
So let’s check out what’s on offer. The visual presentation is behind the times. Pretty far behind too. The important characters look decent enough and the unimportant ones look quite terrible. The world fares a bit better. It does retain pop-in but can occasionally show some beauty and nice lighting transitions for day to night and weather conditions. Towns and castles tend to be a mix of good and bad textures depending on where you are. Are the graphics and visuals a problem? Not a big one, if you aren’t a graphics hound you’ll get used to it quickly and start to enjoy the world for the effort that was put in to it.
The sound is another mix. You’ll find some really great dramatic scores that I find more appealing to the ear than some of the generic ones that land on mainstream games. The voice acting is hard to describe, but for starters it’s terrible. That isn’t the end of the story though. Considering Arcania is more of a child’s view of a fantasy adventure than a realistic one, the voices help to set people apart, give them character, and bring about laughs. Some of the performances, while cheesy, are still done well. Some are just plain awful too, but hey it’s never dull. Effects and ambient sounds are quite good but they can get confused as to when they should function. For instance you may hear the birds chirping in the open air while you are a mile underground in a cave. The only thing that really bugged me about the sound department was that the main character’s responses were delivered very often in the absolute wrong tone given what the other person is saying. Sometimes they will even pronounce things differently as they speak.
The gameplay is just like the game itself: simple, straightforward, and resistant to change. First I have to have my biggest gripe said. While you have a decent jog going even in heavy armor, there is no ability to run! At least no natural ability. You can get special runes that let you run but they have to recharge and aren’t realistically usable in a world where monsters are there to spoil your use of the rune just about every time. Okay, with that out of the way I’ll give you the low-down on how this thing functions.
You can use all manner of cutlery and bludgeons with one handed weapons allowing for a shield and two handed weapons making you a bit slower but stronger. Fighting is streamlined. You block with triangle and while holding that the left stick will perform a dodge roll. That move is critical because every enemy has a special attack. When the enemy slows up and starts to glow you want to get out of the way. Square attacks with your weapon. You can mash it and hack away but for a little more depth you’ll want to perform a flurry which is an upgradable sequence of attacks set in motion by striking when your weapon glows yellow. You’ll have to level up your attacks quite a bit to see how impressive the flurry moves can get when connected.
For ranged weaponry you have bows and crossbows. Bows can be drawn more taught for a harder impact and various types of special arrows can be used. Crossbows can use special bolts too and the draw time for loading it is perfect so long as your enemy hasn’t gotten too close. Bows are handled by equipping and then drawing with R2 and releasing. Crossbows you just fire with R2. Magic is ranged as well but can be better put to use in medium distance fights or when you are surrounded. The game gives you just three paths: ice, fire, and lightning. As you upgrade them they gain more power and abilities for instance chain lightning. You should pick one or two you like and stick with it because it would be highly difficult to level up enough to fill all three magic bars up (each ability has a bar that goes straight across rather than a tree). You can map your weapons and magic to the directional buttons and use them on the fly, which is pretty cool if you care to do so. Once a magic is selected you fire with R1.
You can also craft based on alchemy or hardware recipes. Each major hurdle in the game gives you a choice of heavy armor, light armor, or magician’s robe. I found that pretty cool and collected as many as I could. If you choose unwisely you can usually find the armor you missed out on for a hefty price at a merchant. Accessories provide buffs and the inventory is pretty intuitive once you get to know it.
One of the great things about this game is that you can loot while in the middle of combat, I love when a game lets you do that. He will either just pick it right up when you press X or the action will stop and you’ll get a menu to select what you want. Then, back to the fray!
The world is an open one, but not as open as it seems or as these games tend to be. Really though, it’s just fine that way. There are interesting locales the story brings you through and if you want to look for rare items then there are places where the map is a bit more explorable. Unfortunately there is no funny business with the jumping. If a rock barrier is there to stop you from getting somewhere, even if you can jump up on it you can’t use your hopping skills to vault over or ride up a mountain.
When stealing from people there are no worries, nobody cares if you wander in and take their stuff. Perhaps the devs meant to implement something later or maybe not but I find it refreshing to not have to deal with angry guards all the time. There’s tons of stuff to get too.
I said before the story is more of a child’s take on a fantasy adventure. That doesn’t mean it’s a childish game, it just means nobody is behaving reasonably in the story. Case in point: in the beginning you want to marry your lover and her dad hates you. After doing three of the easiest quests in the world (like walking into a cave and grabbing a knife) he loves you like a son and says go ahead. It goes on that way. The quests get harder but the people behave like those in a storybook throughout. There are a few chances to make choices with your conversations but I found they don’t have much effect on the outcome, and certainly none on the ending. The story starts to fall apart in the middle (which had me worried) but it comes back stronger toward the end.
Replay value lies in exploration of places missed, finding the materials to craft super weapons, and choosing different personas such as a mage or an archer instead of a knight or a ranger. I like to hack things up but I admit the bows and crossbows were a lot of fun sometimes.
I’d like to end with one of the weird factoids about this game which make it unique and just plain surprising. The game does everything the big boys do with its crafting, weapons, leveling, magic, city-states and everything. It also has stations for sharpening blades, tables for doing alchemy, anvils for pounding out some blacksmith goods and more. Press X to start doing these things and you can see your guy go through the motions. There is absolutely no point to this: it does NOTHING. You just watch the animation. All those things are done by menu on the fly, you don’t need these stations and they don’t work anyway. Just when I was getting to the point of rolling my eyes I pressed X in front of this thing that was smoking and my guy sat down, grabbed the hose and started smoking a big bong. That brought a big laugh and some screenshots. Who thinks to put a hookah in their game that the main character can sit and smoke for no purpose? Nordic Games apparently.
This game is different in subtle ways but mainly is an inferior version of the beloved open world fantasy adventure formula. That said, it’s just not fair to compare it to something like The Witcher III. It was never going to be a AAA game and couldn’t even get the Gothic series name on it so I opt to judge it based almost entirely on its own merits. I also have the benefit of having played the entire game before this review, which has changed what I would have scored it if I’d only played the standard amount of time for an RPG review. If you like this style of game and don’t need a blockbuster to have fun then get it and make your own fun.
ArcaniA: The Complete Tale was played and reviewed on the PS4 from a download generously provided by Nordic Games.