Stop us if you've heard this one before: a man sets out on a quest for revenge after his idyllic life is shattered by the destruction of his home at the hands of a marauding army. On his journey for retribution, not only does he become a great warrior – who handily ends up saving the world – but this nameless hero even manages to find the time to help all sorts of people by taking on some spectacularly tedious tasks. While the story in Arcania: The Complete Tale isn't going to win any points for originality, those who come across it and still decide to give it a go are likely to be more disappointed by many other aspects of this last-gen remaster.
As soon as you embark on your quest, the game's heritage on the PlayStation 3 becomes clear in every aspect of its presentation. While on the graphical front there are a few appreciable differences from the last-gen version – with the biggest changes coming as a result of a decent bump in resolution, draw distance, and frame rate – it's a real shame that the opportunity to make use of the horsepower of the PS4 has been squandered everywhere else. With no obvious improvements being made to any other aspect of the presentation, Arcania still looks like a game that was first released on the PC back in 2010.
But hey, snazzy graphics do not necessarily a good RPG make, so as long as there's some decent game mechanics and a fully realised world chock-full of interesting characters and quests, you could still get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the experience. Things initially look promising as you work your way through a series of quests that introduce you to the basics of the game while fleshing out your hero's background, as he works to impress the father of his girlfriend so he can win her hand in marriage. Despite this reassuring start, once you head out into the wider world on your quest for vengeance, things quickly go downhill.
Working your way through the main quest line you'll gradually unlock access to new areas of the world, and while each of the locales link together, it never feels like a fully fledged sandbox, moving you from area to area in an overly linear way. This feeling is magnified due to the relatively modest number of quests in each area, which, once completed, leave you without much of a reason to hang around. Quests almost never take you back to previously visited areas, so unless you want to track down all of the collectibles or grind out some experience beating up the local wildlife you'll always be moving forward.
Most quests are dished out by the inhabitants of Argaan that you encounter on your travels, but whether they're a farmer or a Lord, they'll all want you to do something for them. These tasks fall into two categories: 'go here and kill that' or 'go there and find this'. While Arcania's certainly not the only RPG to lean heavily on these sorts of quests, it does fail to dress them up in a way that'd make you care even one iota about the stories and characters behind them. It ends up being a revolving door of underdeveloped characters that you barely spend any time with, who send you on the most unoriginal errands. Even the hero himself voices his exasperation at being asked to take on pointless jobs at every turn, showing that the developer was more than aware of these shortcomings, but did nothing to address them.
As most quests involve you trading blows with all sorts of demons, bandits, and monsters, you'll need to make sure that you're up to the job. Fortunately this hero is a versatile fellow, able to not only wield a variety of melee weapons, but also bows, crossbows, and magic spells. While swinging your weapon using just the square button feels a bit basic to begin with, once you've levelled up a few times to unlock a few new abilities, you'll begin to find a little more depth underneath the surface. Charged attacks and flurries, that – providing you time your button presses just right – allow you to launch longer attack combos are enjoyable to get to grips with, and in no time at all you'll have mastered how to stun lock enemies with a relentless assault, taking them down without getting hit.
The problem is that this feeling of discovery doesn't last long. After the first couple of hours you'll start to look again for more depth and challenge to your battles, but when the Trophy pops for killing a thousand enemies hours later, you'll come to the realisation that there just isn't any more to it. Yes, you'll have got better armour and weapons, unlocked a few more spells – all of which are pretty much interchangeable – and equipped runes that'll provide some more unique character buffs and attacks, but by and large the fights will play out the same way over and over again.
This is because none of the enemies force you to change up your tactics very much, with the only difference between the opening hours and the closing stages of the game being that your adversaries pack more of a punch. As result, all you need to do to avoid getting overwhelmed is to make use of your ranged attacks to pull enemies to you, while employing your flurry attacks, defensive roll, and shield to avoid getting hit.
As if the tedium of its story, quests, and combat weren't enough, there are also some technical issues with this title. Not only is there a good chance that Arcania will hard lock your PS4 at least a few times during your quest, but enemies will also struggle to find their way around the world without getting stuck with alarming frequency. Strangely, these path finding problems have been solved by the game teleporting them out of trouble, which can cause enemies to vanish in the blink of an eye, only to reappear a split second later a short distance away. Normally this just looks odd, but occasionally in combat it can be really annoying, especially when you've forced your opponent into a corner only for them to warp behind you and promptly smack you in the back.
This inelegant solution to solving an AI problem helps demonstrate that this was a game designed to take the path of least resistance, following established design philosophies, rather than crafting anything unique or interesting. It doesn't help that since its original release the RPG genre has moved on, and what may have seemed like an average title back when stacks up very poorly in 2015, with many games having delivered much better experiences over the intervening years.
Arcania: The Complete Tale is quite possibly the dullest RPG to arrive on the PS4 to date, and as if that wasn't enough, it also manages to be a poster child for all of the worst parts of the recent trend for remasters. Indeed, any improvements in graphical performance over the PS3 version just aren't enough to make up for the drudgery of your quest or the bland world that you'll be delving into. So, while the price of admission has been sensibly adjusted down – though arguably not enough – you'll be wiser saving your pennies to invest in one of the better RPGs which are already out there.