Overall, I give this a 3 out of 5 stars.
Ok, so I don’t mind the new combat mechanics, and I actually find them quite enjoyable as somewhat of a hybrid between action hack and slash and the combat of open-world RPGs of the past. The game does seems to lead everyone to the inevitable jack of all trades category (mage,warrior, archer, thief), but that is a gripe I can live with.
I admit that I have been won over by the beauty of the world, particularly since the hotfix that eliminated the constant lag and jitters that plagued my early hours with the game. Sometimes I get to a cliff face, a tower top or the shore of a stormy beachfront and marvel and what a beautiful game these developers have created.
It is because of this beauty and what I believe is very significant potential that I am so disappointed by the developer’s choices on actual role playing and world exploration.
First off, one of the biggest appeals of the game to me were the statements made in developers interviews where the game would provide a large open world to go anywhere and do anything, etc. (e.g. Arcania: Gothic 4 Interview 1 on Gamespot.com – direct quotes “… it is a completely open world..”, “…you are pretty much running around going anywhere you want to go…kicking ass and taking names…”). Unfortunately, this is not an accurate depiction and it seems to go against the developers intentions. In fact, one of the key design concepts seems to be to artificially gate the world with often inexplicable (and to me story and role play breaking) obstacles.
One particularly bad example of this is on the second island when you want to get across the first bridge which is guarded by brigands. Despite the fact that you are attempting to gain entrance to the camp to fight the brigands and kill the tough-guy leader, you are not able to challenge the two idiotic guards at the gate blocking your entrance. Instead you are forced to follow a very specific quest objective in order to pass into the brigand camp, to then of course fight all of the brigands and the leader. If you were going to fight them all anyway, why did you need to follow the elaborate scheme to get the first two weak guards to let you in the camp in the first place you ask? Good question. Furthermore, the brigand camp is surrounded by a relatively small wooden fence, which should be easy to jump or climb over and, in fact, is possible except for being blocked by invisible walls. At one point I was using a rock as a jumping board and the sprint boost rune to run and leap over the fence. I jumped and was in the air flying at what had to be at least 2-3 meters over the top of the fence only to smack into an invisible wall and slide back down. To me, this isn’t my idea of fun role playing. I am just following exactly as the developer intended, going through preset motions to reach a new area. I can’t just kill the guards, I can’t climb or jump over a small wooden fence, I can’t bribe the guards, nothing but what I am told to do. This design element is just one example of what seems to permeate the entire world, which is a huge shame because I think it could have easily been avoided.
I also find it unsatisfying that the game marginalizes the main character (he is often disrespected, treated as a weakling, etc. by the other NPCs) and then when you do end up fighting these NPCs, they just yield during the end of the fight and that’s the end of it. What’s even worse is that the conflict is totally pre-determined and there is often no way to avoid it via dialogue, it is simply following the motions in which the developer intended. When I play a game like this, I don’t want to feel like I am watching a movie. Furthermore, it doesn’t appeal to me to play the role of a tough, conquering hero that lets every dirt bag, farmer, alchemist, guard, etc., badmouth me without as much as a smack to the face. Sure, I could understand and support that role if it was the “players” choice, but as a developer created stipulation, it really annoys me.
I understand that it may not be practical to design a game without a mostly linear main storyline, after all almost every RPG has one. What I believe to be a necessity for this category of game is to allow players to totally ignore it if they so choose, hopefully for as long as they choose. For a game like this to limit the areas I can explore until I specifically satisfy very specific quest objectives is extremely disappointing. It makes it even more egregious that the voice acting and dialog is often quite poor, and thus I really would have appreciated the ability to skip it for as long as I wanted. Perhaps when I went out and explored the world and learned more about it, I may have been more willing to bear the burden of having to converse with the army of morons. The developers obviously put a lot of work into building this large and beautiful world; why not let player characters explore it without having to follo