The sadly underappreciated Gothic role-playing series has been around since 2001 and has told the tale of a soft-spoken nameless hero who ventures forth into a dark fantasy world and eventually becomes a skillful archer, mighty warrior, or powerful wizard while avoiding the perils of being slain by an orc. Perhaps even more sadly, the previous game in the series, Gothic 3, was released with noticeable technical issues, despite the fact that the game also took on an ambitious graphical overhaul. Now, the series is back with a new developer, Spellbound, and a new chapter: Arcania: Gothic 4. Arcania will have a new nameless hero, a new story, and a new home--whereas the previous games were for the PC only, Arcania will also appear on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
We recently had a chance to see the Xbox 360 version of the game in motion to get a quick overview of the game, which starts off on a fairly large "tutorial island" before shipping you off to the rest of the game, which takes place on two other, even-more-vast islands. You play as a nameless shepherd (a brand-new character) whose entire world has been turned upside down by a violent, bloody raid on his home island perpetrated by the new king, Rhobar III, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous games' nameless hero. The king's raiding party kills off all your character's friends and family, not to mention his fiancee, so you embark on a journey to seek revenge for your fallen comrades, and you can eventually become a swordsman, archer, or wizard, just like your predecessor.
Arcania seems to be easy to control and easy to play with the standard Xbox 360 controller--your character's various skills are mapped to quick buttons (a single button press will switch your character from magic to melee to archery), while you can use the D pad to immediately switch to different quick-use items (such as food and other healing items)--a godsend to Gothic fans who previously struggled to pull healing potions out of their packs while they were being beaten to death by monsters.
In addition to reintroducing the series' three different combat professions, Arcania will have a skill-tree system with points that can be invested each time you gain a level, and its combat systems will be streamlined to make them a bit easier to use. For instance, melee combat will take place with a single button to attack (but will have specific combination attacks based on timing and your character's invested skill points) plus a separate button to either dodge or block with a shield if you have one; archery will let you autolock your targets at the cost of doing less damage, or zoom in on your targets for deadly headshots once you become more skilled; and magic will have three primary schools in fire (which can be developed to rain down damaging blasts in an area), ice (which both damages and slows the speed of enemies), and lightning (which temporarily stuns enemies by causing their bodies to briefly convulse in pain).
Since Arcania's story takes place only 10 years after the events of Gothic 3, you can also expect to see reappearances by other familiar characters in the series, such as Diego and Gorn. And again, that new homicidal king sure looks and sounds a lot like the previous games' nameless hero…but the developer suggests that the story of how the king became what he is may not be as straightforward as it seems. The game itself will be a bit more focused around its story and will have a more-linear structure that will take an estimated 30 to 50 hours to complete for players who just want to reach the end, though there will still be plenty of side content for those who want to poke around and do some exploring.
For more details on the game, GameSpot sat down with producer Kamaal Anwar.
GameSpot: Give us an update on the game's development. What aspects is the team currently working on?
Kamaal Anwar: We're getting close to finalizing the game, actually. We've kept things a bit open to allow us to revise things over this last period if necessary. Most of that is lurking around forums and paying careful attention to the discussions in response to what's being featured by press. In addition, there is a large focus on quality assurance (QA) right now. Every remaining issue is being identified and addressed to ensure that this game runs as intended on all platforms.
GS: Given that Arcania is the successor to the Gothic series, what are some of the primary improvements that the team wanted to make to the series, particularly over Gothic 3?
KA: It's no secret that Gothic 3 had its problems when it came to bugs and accessibility for those not familiar with Gothic. [Most players who were] lucky enough to get around the bugs and invested enough time to get comfortable with the Gothic universe enjoyed Gothic 3. For everyone else, it was a frustration before its layers could ever unfold. As these were two of our primary concerns when we started Arcania, we've focused on bug-fixing and accessibility. Having a new main character, for example, lets us naturally introduce the cast of the Gothic universe to players who may not have known them from previous games, while at the same time covering all the bases for fans of the series. A few more-perceptible improvements are the graphics. We've boasted about what's been achieved by the talented developer Spellbound--fans simply didn't believe the first batches of screenshots were real.
GS: Give us an overview of Arcania's story.
KA: Arcania takes place 10 years after the events of Gothic 3. A lot has changed in the world with the original nameless hero, now Rhobar III, unifying Myrtana and extending his influence throughout the rest of the world. In Arcania we find Rhobar III expanding to the islands south of Myrtana, in particular Argaan. While Rhobar III comes off as corrupt, he rationalizes [his behavior]. [He feels that what he does] is best for a world that has been so consistently helpless in the past. However, there seems to be more driving his totalitarian approach to world peace. Throughout the game, we are introduced to new characters as well as old favorites who will ultimately help decide the fate of the world.
GS: How have the events in the previous game shaped the world of Arcania? What has happened to the factions of the previous games--which factions are in power and which have fallen out of favor?
KA: As you can see, everything in the previous games has a direct tie in some way to the story of Arcania, even though it doesn't focus particularly on Myrtana. I have to be a bit tight-lipped about the details of the factions, because they do play a great role in the story, and I wouldn't want to spoil any of the many twists Arcania has to offer.
GS: The Gothic series is known for letting players create a character specialized along the lines of magic, archery, and melee combat. Can you tell us about how character development will work in Arcania?
KA: Similar to the previous games, you are playing a set character. How he develops, however, is completely up to you and similar to the previous Gothic games. While unlike the previous games there is now a skill screen, it doesn't cover everything you can eventually be capable of. What we have done to improve over the previous games in this regard is better balance the rewards of choosing any of those specialties.
GS: Are there any plans to change or enhance the melee or ranged combat systems in Arcania, especially considering that the game is planned for consoles as well as for PC?
KA: It's been changed quite a few times already, actually, and is currently going through slight revisions to tighten everything up. Every form of combat is effective and intuitive on either the PC or consoles. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into making sure that players weren't forced into using a particular form of combat because the one they wanted to use just wasn't designed properly. While ranged combat is not quite like playing a first-person shooter, it's an excellent method of combat as either a supporting or primary strategy depending on how you've developed your skills.
GS: Are there any other specific enhancements or additions that are planned to help the game be more console-friendly? A new interface, for instance?
KA: There are specific interfaces for the console versions opposed to the PC version. We've been conscious about how the play styles differ from platform to platform and what gamers expect. After all, we're gamers too. The console version is not just Arcania in "easy mode," and neither is the PC version. There are, however, interface modifications that can be enabled or disabled at any time that may affect the difficulty you experience.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Arcania?
KA: Of course, tons! But I'll leave the rest for E3.