Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Arcania: Gothic IV Preview

Part 1: The history of the series, and the new developers.

From the first “Welcome to the colony” Gothic was a hit in Germany and North America. With its sarcastic main character and its enormous replayability, RPG fans immediately fell in love.  

The original Gothic I and II touted a unique game experience combined with a solid game engine developed in-house (4 years in the making). A special focus was placed on day night cycles, realistic NPC schedules and habits, and interactivity with the game environment; I’m sure we all lovingly remember cooking 500 pieces of meat for 20 minutes <3.

Gothic I

The Gothic epic started with our (famously) nameless hero making a name for himself by freeing the slaves unjustly thrown into a magical prison and forced into mining magical ore for the King’s war against the Orcs. The dark wizard Xardas, a prison camp taken over by the prisoners, and a cult of ‘swamp weed’ loving fanatics all added to the involving story.

                  Anyone teleport/bloodfly in and kill everything in sight right after you got locked out? Good times...

We were introduced to many complex and interesting characters, the most memorable of whom manage to stay out of the way and simultaneously influence events. These characters end up being mainstays of the Gothic story throughout the three games (and beyond).  

The story ends with the magic barrier keeping the prisoners in destroyed, the hero trapped underground, and the great Sleeper slain. The atmosphere of the prison colony was so diverse, unique, and gripping… stopping the tale there would have been a crime ;).

Gothic II, Night of the Raven

A much wider scope of the story, and a bigger world! The sequel took the Gothic experience to the next level, as we all hope sequels will. Add to that one of the best expansion packs ever made, and Gothic II really secured the Gothic series’ place as a must have in any RPG fan’s collection.

The new game was filled with great moments like coming back to the old prison colony to find it torn by war, and a continued storyline with all your old pals from the first game.

                                                                        Oh Diego, you and your shenanigans. 

We find through the course of the story that our nameless hero is not just a wanderer, but a chosen of the gods. After our hero saves the day (again) he finds that his old pal Xardas has had designs on his own place as a ‘chosen’ leaving many questions and our hero setting sail for the mainland…

Gothic III

This is where the Gothic series hits the rocks a bit. While the excellent story and even larger and more involving world are present in this title, they are hampered by unfortunate game-breaking bugs.

Through tremendous efforts by the community (and up to a point, the developers) the game was wrangled in to a relatively bug free state with a series of player made patches. So finally we were able to appreciate the real Gothic III, and there was much to appreciate!

                                                    Massive world? Check.

                             Well... lost again, but I'm sure if I keep going in a straight line everything will be... ah crap.

An overhauled graphics engine made the Gothic world come alive in ways that it hadn’t been able to previously (except in our imaginations).

As for the storyline itself, it really tied up the loose ends of the series nicely with our hero discovering the true motivations of the mysterious wizard Xardas and our companions becoming part of the mainland of Myrtana.

Depending on your choices, the game ended with either the Orcs or men winning the war, or neither winning and the gods being cast out of the world to let the peoples choose their own destiny.

The last was the ‘assumed’ ending for the series in the short game: Gothic: Forsaken Gods, which sought to tie together Gothic III and Gothic IV.

This game was… for the lack of a better word a ‘flop’. In many ways even buggier then Gothic III at its outset, it met with bad reviews and frustrating game play.

Again, it was patched and eventually became playable. It told the story of our hero who, upon seeing that conflict was once again fomenting, comes back to the world to show humanity and Orcs a better way.   

Arcania: Gothic IV, new developers?

That’s right, Spellbound studios has taken over the series. The rights to make a sequel were taken away from Parana Bytes by JoWood because of the faulty release and bugs of Gothic III, along with other internal issues.

Spellbound is best known for the Desperado series. All real time strategy/action hybrids, they were met with fairly good reviews.

The first year or two of development were fairly hush hush, with only a handful of interviews and screenshots getting out. That said, the first screenshots were quite striking, with the new lighting effects and character models being top notch.

              Wow! A foggy morning.

        Again, a wow factor. Like what you see? Then you will probably be glad to hear that you can visit every landmark you see in this screenshot!

Showing their commitment to the series, JoWood extended the release date and significantly increased Spellbound’s budget when they found that the game wasn’t holding up to what they had come to expect from Gothic. This both frustrated and relieved fans, who had been worried about the lack of new information but anxiously awaited the release.

 Now thats some detail! They really know how to breed them in that fishing village. 

The extended release date and eventual ‘Open letter’ to JoWood and Spellbound from the fans who wanted more content led to more interviews, videos, and screenshots being given and shown.

Continued Friday in Part 2: Early impressions, hints at story and gameplay changes from the previous Gothics, and E3.