Earlier today, during a meeting with JoWood, we had an opportunity to spend some time with a work-in-progress version of Arcania: A Gothic Tale on the PC. The fourth game in the Gothic franchise, Arcania is purportedly being designed specifically to appeal to role-playing game fans in North America where, historically, gothic games have never been very successful.
One of the problems with the previous games, at least according to the JoWood representative who talked us through the game, was simply that they weren't very accessible. To illustrate this, we were shown two features of Arcania that are new for the series: a minimap in the upper-right corner of the screen and a World of Warcraft-style quest tracker. Hardly mind-blowing stuff, but they are steps in the right direction for sure.
As we've reported previously, Arcania takes place some 10 years after the events of its predecessor and casts you as an all-new "Nameless Hero" who has been tasked with righting the wrongs of the previous hero--now an evil king. The new hero isn't customizable at the outset, but there are purportedly more than 100 different weapons and pieces of armor in the game that will dramatically alter both his appearance and his attributes.
Weapons in Arcania will include bows, as well as all of the usual melee suspects--both two-handed and one-handed--that can be used in conjunction with a shield. In addition, you'll have access to a number of different magic spells that run the gamut from a simple fireball to changing the time of day and the weather. Much like the control system in Fable II, spells, ranged attacks, and melee attacks will each be mapped to a different button on the controller, enabling you to switch among them on the fly. You'll perform different attacks depending on how you push those buttons as well. Tapping the button will perform a light attack, holding it down will charge up a slower, more powerful attack, and when using melee weapons, it'll be possible to perform combos by timing multiple button presses with visual cues (your sword glowing briefly, for example). It's an easy system to pick up, and we can report that the puny fireball--once you've leveled it up and charged it up--becomes a pretty spectacular explosion that causes damage to all enemies in a large area. The game incorporates a lock-on targeting system that makes combat even easier, but the flipside is that when you're locked on, attacks do half as much damage as those when you're not.
The island of Argaan--one of three on which the game is set--is divided up into six regions that will become accessible for you to explore as you progress through the game and unlock them. The coastal region that we were walking around in had some interesting spots to explore, including marshlands with a green mist hanging over them and lots of huge trees, one of which was hollow and had been turned into a neat-looking building of some kind. We also found our way down into a maze of underground tunnels, but we backed out of them before we got lost because they hadn't been textured yet and there really wasn't much to see.
Up top, though, there were some impressive visuals on display: The transition between day and night (which we saw sped up) looked great, and when a thunderstorm occurred, the world took on a very different appearance. Not only did the flashes of lightning make the previously beautiful scenery more dramatic and foreboding, but the rain falling from the sky also formed puddles, running down surfaces and even dripping through holes in the roof of a hut. It was even more impressive when the rain stopped because the water continued to leak through the roof until the pool of water above was depleted.
JoWood estimates that the 300 or so quests in Arcania will take most players about 80 hours to complete and that the story-critical quests are good for at least 30 to 40 hours of play. The PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 versions of Arcania are all currently scheduled for release sometime this winter.