A great fantasy RPG should immerse you completely into its virtual world, making you truly believe in the mysterious realms around you. A great fantasy RPG should compel you to the point that you want to speak to every character in order to learn intricate secrets both pivotal and unrelated to the game's plot, and should encourage you to search under every rendered rock in pursuit of ancient artefacts, scrolls, and misplaced health potions. A great fantasy RPG should allow you to battle your way through the main campaign, completing side-quests along the way. Arcania: The Complete Tale is not a great fantasy RPG. What it is, however, is an example of ambitious game design and a great deal of wasted potential.
You play as a young shepherd, recently engaged to the love of his life, Ivy, and looking to settle down in the serene village of Feshyr in the Southern Seas. However, the ruling King Rhobar III has been possessed by a strange source of evil and has raged war across the realm in order to seek out a certain amulet. The nameless protagonist's village is caught up in the fury, and is looted and then burned to the ground while the King's troops slaughter its citizens, including his soul mate, prompting the hero to pledge his vengeance against the King and set out on his quest. Unfortunately, the premise lacks originality and will fail to keep you hooked until the end. It doesn't help that the main quests often divert so far from the protagonist's epic journey that you'll often forget why you're playing in the first place.
The majority of your time spent with Arcania will involve travelling to and from different locations, performing mundane fetch quests, and taking out a certain number of monsters in order to fill a set quota. While main story quests can be complex, in essence they are not dissimilar to the side-quest duties. For example, in order to obtain access into a nearby town, you must first find a certain character to gain a password, however this prompts a treasure hunt at a local farm involving various sub-objectives. The game relies heavily on back tracking, and while teleport rings help to ease the monotony of this irritating trait, it doesn't prevent the quests from being downright dull.
Combat is basic, yet functional, allowing you to juggle between different weapons and attack styles, such as ranged, melee, and mana-based fighting. All combat styles use up stamina, which must be regained before attempting to take down any more enemies, and casting spells also uses up mana points. To use spells you must also acquire different scrolls, which are hard to come across, pushing you to primarily upgrade your melee and ranged attacks, rather than becoming a magic-based character. The levelling system is also rather basic, providing you with certain skills to slowly upgrade, however the whole feature doesn't feel particularly rewarding.
It's clear that the game has been produced on a shoestring budget, and is subsequently plagued with every technical glitch imaginable. Trees and other scenery often take an age to load as you walk through an area, meaning that a large rock can often pop up suddenly right under your feet. The draw distance is also atrocious, smearing the screen with fog, which can prove extremely frustrating when a group of orcs suddenly pop up out of the grey mist and start hacking you to pieces. Furthermore, the framerate is dire, meaning that the protagonist can often look very robotic when environments fail to keep up with his movements.
Another technical issue occurs when enemies magically teleport around the screen during combat. You can be charging a big attack, aiming at a certain enemy, when all of a sudden the screen will briefly glitch and the foe will have magically teleported behind you, causing your attack to misfire and the opponent to land a weighty blow on you. This can be particularly frustrating when there are multiple adversaries on the battlefield, and when your health is critical.
In addition, Arcania doesn't offer a particularly believable world. While it does go out of its way to include small trigger events and points of interest unrelated to the main plot, large chunks of the sandbox feel empty. It's almost as if the hero is invisible, as throughout the majority of the game you cannot interact with most characters, and they won't even blink an eye as you swipe your blade at them, pillage their houses, and cast fireballs at their walls.
Visually, the adventure is very poor, too. While the lands are expansive, the textures are basic and the locations lack detail. For example, the sea near the village of Feshyr looks almost static, and trees, rocks, and grass effects often appear to be cardboard cut-outs. Arcania also suffers from a great deal of over-shadowing and ostentatious weather effects, making it often impossible to see clearly what’s directly in front of you. While the inclusion of a dynamic day and night cycle is commendable, it's not particularly well implemented.
Characters within the game often boast the same soulless glazes of the aged fantasy RPGs of the early 'noughties' such as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, with lumpy facial textures and frankly frightening expressions. At least the hero fares better, boasting the optimal balance of rugged and handsome features. The cut-scenes, too, have been lovingly crafted, offering visually rich videos that help to break up the monotonous gameplay.
Sound is a real mixed bag, though. On the one hand, the music can create the perfect atmosphere when scaling a mountain and trudging head-first into a goblin cave, but it's also riddled with bugs, causing tracks to loop unexpectedly, and at some points completely cut to silence before randomly restarting again. While Arcania is fully voice acted, for the most part you’ll wish it wasn’t there, as the quality is average and the lines are delivered with about as much emotional impact as a bog brush. The only relatable character is the nameless hero, who is constantly sighing and moaning at the tedious fetch quests that you're asked to complete.
Arcania: The Complete Tale tries hard to offer an enthralling adventure, but falls significantly short of the mark. The game is plagued by an array of graphical, sound, and gameplay glitches, serving up something of a technical mess. If you can see past the issues, there are some minor redeeming qualities here, but with better RPGs available, it's not really worth the effort.