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Arcania: The Complete Tale review - humdrum adventures in mediocre land

31 May 2013

The other night I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamt I was in Hell where I was forced to undertake the same hideously boring task over and over again with no end to my torment in sight. Then I woke up and realised that I had fallen asleep playing Arcania: The Complete Tale; a game that makes it very easy for you to slip into unconsciousness.

This latest RPG from Nordic Games promises a rich world, entertaining quests and a sophisticated plot, but it's a game that totally misses all these marks by a very wide margin. But, before I dive into Arcania's many faults and a few of its redeeming features, let's take a look at the game's story.

Arcania is set on the continent of Midland, where King Rhobar the Third is seeking to unite all of the known world under his command. After a series of victories however, Rhobar comes under a terrible curse that lays him low. All Rhobar can think of and say is that he must find a mystical amulet, which leads him and his generals on a mission to find what their King needs even if they have to destroy everything in their path.

The game starts far away from this conflict on a peaceful island with the player taking the role of a shepherd boy who must forsake his flock to undertake three tasks; these will prove he is worthy to marry Ivy the love of his life. However, while undertaking these quests all chances of marital bliss are destroyed when evil Paladins kill Ivy and everyone else in the hero's village, setting him on a path of revenge.

With nothing but vengeance on his mind our hero sets sail for the mainland where he learns of a mystic forge, which if he can locate it not only can he deny its powers to the evil Paladins but by using it he can create a mighty weapon to sweep their evil from the land.

          

Of course nothing is straightforward; the location of the forge is lost to history and the land is wrecked by Rhobar's war, so the hero must battle across the world undertaking quests, righting wrongs and seeking clues to the forge's location.

From jungles to volcanos the player travels the lands getting ever closer to the location of the forge by examining ancient archives or speaking to scholars of forgotten lore. As he seeks the forge, the player will soon discover the world of Arcania is full of danger, monsters lurk at every corner and players will have to master magic, the blade, bow or all of these weapons to remove them from your path. Also, as the world of Arcania is in turmoil, its people cry out for a hero to help them and many sub-quests can also be found. These offer weapons and experience points to make your character level up and be able to tackle more dangerous enemies.

I felt it was a nice touch to start Arcania as a shepherd boy and not be immediately thrust into the action but instead be introduced to the world by the way of an interesting tutorial. However, as the game is so riddled with problems it's sad that any attempts it makes to engage players like this can't overcome the many faults that destroy any enjoyment a player might gain.

The first problem players will notice is that although the graphics for the most part look good, they can misbehave displaying great big blank gaps in the scenery, poorly rendered NPCs or parts of the world so badly joined together that the seams are showing. This is disappointing as the land of Arcania, mostly, doesn't look that bad and problems like this shouldn't exist in what is supposed to be a finished game.

Despite not looking too bad Arcania is sadly quite a dull world when it comes to atmosphere; it's the fantasy equivalent of an old seaside town where pensioners go to watch paint dry as they wait to die. The landscape, despite its up and down graphical moments, doesn't change much as you adventure; sound effects such as birds fail to bring the world to life by just tweeting randomly (often in caves or over NPC dialogue) and the weather is always bright and sunny. This sunny weather never goes away unless you encounter one of the world's bizarre three-second rain showers, which sound like someone is flushing a toilet.

The inhabitants of Arcania do nothing to add any life to this dreary world; all NPCs move with jerky stop motion, often bizarrely in unison, making players feel like they are trapped in a cartoon made behind the iron curtain during the Cold War. Just as the player starts to feel things couldn't get any worse there comes a time in the game where they have to speak to an NPC and suddenly you are treated to a vocal performance straight from the school of Ham. I was certain as I listened to the NPC's stereotypical voices that polluted my ear drums that I could hear the sound of their performances being phoned in. Luckily you can switch them off and listen to the background music which is less harsh on the ears, though still isn’t going to win any awards.

All of this might not be too bad if underneath all these problems Arcania could engage the player with challenging combat, great customization options as you level up or intriguing quests and puzzles. Sadly yet again the game promises much for these features but delivers very little of any note.

At the heart of any good RPG game should be a strong combat system that allows players to adopt a play style that suits them, but Arcania's idea of combat is to simply allow players to mash the square button to repeatedly hit their foe or triangle to block until they are dead. The magic system in the game is broken in that it doesn't allow the player enough magic points to cast spells. There is also a strange omission in that there are no healing spells. Because of these problems playing a spell caster or battle cleric is not an option and combat healing is limited to scoffing food or guzzling potions, making the player feel like they are someone with an eating disorder rather than a brave warrior. All of this is irrelevant anyway as enemies have no combat tactics other than a suicidal desire to leap on your blade or cast the same spell from a distance. Also enemy AI is flawed as monsters will often stand and watch you kill their comrades until you move inside their range.

Even after you kill any monsters you encounter the game continues to offer flaws in that each monster in a group always carries exactly the same loot as his dead comrades. For example, you could kill ten orcs and each might have exactly 3 gold pieces on them, almost as if they had all been given their wages before fighting the player.

         

To gain experience and increase in power in Arcania all you can do is kill monsters and do fetch quests as it seems across the whole land all NPCs have lost something or someone or need you to kill some monsters. Arcania offers the player no puzzles or escort quests to break up this monotony and two NPCs will often want the same type of monster killed, but bizarrely one group is in one field and the other in the field next door thus totally killing any immersion in the world.

Arcania's lack of imagination isn't just limited to combat either. Levelling up instead of allowing you to pick from a variety of customisable options offers a few unexciting development tracks. Though there are extra combat moves on offer they simply fail to materialise in the game making levelling up all a bit pointless.

Arcania does have some redeeming features. One of the few things it does right is make it easy to control your character and via a simple radial menu you can easily flick between your inventory, the map and the crafting screens. Movement is a simple joystick control and fighting just an easy mash of the square button.

As you explore Arcania, there are also some nicely produced linking scenes; it's just a pity they are short and due to their high production only serve to highlight the game's shortcomings when they end.

Exploring, which allows the player to find various ingredients can be fun, and Arcania has a nice simplistic crafting system that easily allows the player to see what items they need and make items. Recipes are easy to come by and you can craft useful items from quite early in the game.

Another nice touch is in what could be considered an act of generosity ( or one of sadism.) Nordic has not only released the original Arcania but also included its sequel, The Fall of Setarrif for no extra cost. How good this expansion actually is must remain an unknown factor though for after playing Arcania I was certainly in no hurry to continue my adventures, free sequel or not.

Despite these good points, Arcania, with its dumb monsters and NPCs that randomly teleport around the landscape, tedious quests and dull gameplay that takes no skill to master, is always going to be a game where the bad outweighs the good; heavily.

Overall, that’s a shame because underneath all these problems the player can find a few ideas in the game that make you think: if only the developers had expanded on them perhaps they might have either saved Arcania or at least have helped players stay awake. For example, the hero has a nice line in snarky dialogue that comes out every now and again when asked to undertake another quest. The sad thing here is you can't help but agree with the hero's grousing. Lore-wise the game also tries to move beyond standard RPG fare, such as the when you talk to Orcs and find out they have a complex belief system of souls and honour and are not always your typical RPG brutes. It's just a shame that these two ideas, despite engaging the player, really adds nothing to the game other than diverting their interest for a few seconds.

So Arcania is just a combination of an uncompelling story line, a button mashing unskilled combat system and many repetitive quests all set in a world that gives the word dull a whole new meaning. Add in a bland atmosphere, mediocre sound and terrible voice acting, and you’ve got a game that should be avoided. Don't get me wrong, the game isn't unplayable and those with herculean willpower could complete it. The problem is it offers no fun or reward for those brave or sadistic enough to do so.

-The Final Word-

A lacklustre RPG that lacks originality and playability, avoid at all costs.
  • Easy to use crafting system
  • Nice linking cut-scenes
  • Free sequel
  • An unimaginative world
  • No game play skill involved
  • Poor enemy A.I.
4.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
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