"... the sort of game a hundred monkeys sitting at a hundred PCs might create if given enough time."
Two sentence review.
Arcania's high-level expansion begins with a quest in which the player must kill twelve wolves. Beware, however, for they've changed since your forays into the low-level forests and caverns of the core game: they now have DEMON EYES.
Welcome to Arcania: The Complete Tale, also known as Arcania: A Gothic Tale repackaged with its expansion, also known as Gothic 4, also known as Fantasy: The Action RPG. I was naďve to think that The Elder Scrolls represented the heights of generic fantasy. Arcania's existence serves no purpose, and what could be more damning than that? We've done all this before, we've done it in more fantastical and vivid worlds, we've done it with more style, we've done it while actually having fun, and we'll continue to craft, level up, kill things, walk down forest paths, swing swords, and, yes, protect peasant from beasts, only we'll be exploring wild worlds, or feeling the weight of our foes' every dire blow, or we'll be Geralt of Rivia and not some anonymous automaton with ugly hair.
Games have the ability to stand on gameplay alone, but Arcania's gameplay is as unimaginative and poorly executed as its setting and story. Combat feels like a dream in which movements are disconnected from their consequences: you try to run and though your legs feel heavy and useless, you somehow end up there anyway. Swinging a sword might feel like nothing at all, but enemies fall to their deaths regardless. This also works against the player: I died more than once because I couldn't feel myself get hit. The few special abilities are difficult to activate and sometimes have a life of their own, draining the stamina gauge when you need it most. The AI is exploitable, but what does that matter when combat feels
Every movement is agonizing. Every quest is a bother. The main quest follows the travels of a FedEx driver with awkward voice acting, and side quests are equally unmemorable. Arcania's menus look and feel like unfinished placeholders. I avoided my inventory, organized like the contents of a backpack shaken up and sent rolling down a hill, and I couldn't even find simple information like my character's level. The map, both full and mini versions, is unhelpful and misleading. At one point, the main quest markers disappeared from my map entirely, leaving me with nowhere to go (so I quit — I had had enough). Frame-rate drops punctuate the action, although this may be a small price to pay for no loading times, one of Arcania's only impressive features. Unfortunately, the game is also heinously ugly, so we pay dearly for the freedom from load times. Arcania: The Complete Tale doesn't do a very good job of being complete either: in every minute, the music cuts out for a second. Oh well — you've pretty much heard it before anyway.
In the quest for answers in the debate between art, entertainment, and the nature of video games as products, Arcania plays an interesting role. It provides strong evidence to suggest that there's a monumental difference in quality, tone, and character between a work of art and a product. If Arcania: The Complete Tale is a product, then it's a worthless one, the sort of game a hundred monkeys sitting at a hundred PCs might create if given enough time. I've rarely encountered a game with such disregard for the power of the human imagination, and I hope no one encourages this by playing Arcania: The Complete Tale.