Arcatera: The Dark Brotherhood

16_1There is, initially, some aspects to enjoy about Arcatera, a role-playing game with a distinctive Teutonic feel. It takes place in a fancy medieval world with convincing art and architecture. You’re in the capital city of Senora, where a conspiracy threatens the land. A secret organization called the Black Sun (let’s face it, it does sound cool) has a network of corrupt high priests and officials that pull all of the strings in town. As with any promising RPG, you can choose to be one of several characters – an Adventurer, Monk, Thief or Magician.

Arcatera has an unusual structure. It was marketed as an adventure role-playing game, a bit like Gothic (another German game that it somewhat resembles). The emphasis here too is on story and character interaction, with a neat focus on quest-solving rather than monster hunting for experience points. Cool on paper, but the execution is hardly top notch.

In the first part of the game, you must spend endless hours talking to dozens of NPCs, trying (usually fruitlessly) to uncover some gem of information that will give you experience points and inch the story forward. The ratio of attempts to success in this endeavor is quickly discouraging.

There is a novel notebook feature to Arcatera, which keeps track of your progress on the three main quests, plus details on all subquests and characters you’ve encountered (including highlights from all conversations). The problem is, you spend most of your time stumbling aimlessly around the large city. The third-person perspective and capricious camera angles make navigation quite confusing. Add to this a nearly useless “map” feature, and getting your heading becomes quite a frustrating challenge.

2_1This is a real game killer, considering you are constantly attempting to locate a particular building or person to move a subquest forward. You will likely spend hours just trying to find people. The fact that the characters regularly do bizarre visual things, like walking through each other and disappearing, doesn’t help. There’s also a combat system to complement the obnoxious quest hunts, but it’s even more annoying. As a melee fighting game with fixed camera perspectives and clunky controls, it’s about as enjoyable as standing on your head.

Few games have started out so well and ended in such disappointment. What’s worse, there’s probably a good story to Arcatera, but the German to English translations so bad that it makes everything harder to grasp. The interface is terrible. Sure, it doesn’t look that bad, but the amount of work needed to simply move an object from one place to another is insane. There was a great idea behind this game, but the company behind it just didn’t have the manpower to pull of something that is fun.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win98

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