Arcania: Fall of Setarrif marks the first, and probably only, expansion to 2010's Arcania: Gothic 4 PC release. Unfortunately, it's been a while since I've played an expansion this bad. Gothic 4 wasn't exactly well received by most, and I wasn't expecting a great deal going into this stand-alone expansion for the game, but even my lowest expectations were shattered after completing the game in a handful of hours.
Let's start at the top. The events of Fall of Setarrif take place after the finale of Gothic 4. You still take on the role of the "unnamed hero" and can choose from three pre-built character types — Hunter, Mage and Warrior — for your role in the game. If you've played Gothic 4 and have a save file, you can carry that character to this game; otherwise, the game gives you a leveled-up character and some skill points. The game almost gives you more skill points than you need. When I started with a warrior, I found most of my warrior skills, such as melee, were already maxed out by the pre-made character, so I dumped the extra skills into ranged and stealth. I didn't necessarily need to do that, as the character already seemed to be overpowered for any enemy I encountered.
Your hero sets out on a quest from the king, who had a demon exorcised from his body in Gothic 4, but that demon has now laid claim to the outlying lands of Setarrif. Access to Setarrif has been blocked off, but a mage buddy teleports you to the island, and your adventure kicks off from there. The game features a number of characters from Gothic 4, which didn't have much in the way of memorable non-player characters; I found myself struggling to remember who did what in the last game. One of the selling points of this expansion is the ability to play as some of those NPCs, but those sequences were short and meaningless. If I'm playing a role-playing game that features an unnamed protagonist, I'd want to play as that character and not any of the awful NPCs populating the world, so it's hardly the greatest sales pitch.
The combat in Fall of Setarrif picks up in the same vein as Gothic 4, which was a considerable departure for the series and one that fans seemed to dislike. It's less deliberate and seems like you're just pressing the left mouse button quickly to plow through enemy forces. You've got a handful of combat skills that are mostly unnecessary because the game is so easy, and a dodge function that would be useful if the enemy AI were much of a challenge. The only nice thing I have to say about the fighting system is that it allows for a certain amount of rhythm as you bounce from one enemy to the next, and changing direction between enemies in mid-fight is easy enough. Overall, it feels a bit like an Arkham City knockoff, and it doesn't contain any of the depth suggested by such a comparison.
Speaking of controls, there is gamepad support in Fall of Setarrif, but even that was poorly implemented. The controls don't map enough buttons to cover basic things, like the ability to sheathe your sword after combat, so you're stuck using the keyboard for things. Menu control isn't possible when scrolling through inventory, only for system-level menu controls like saving or loading your game. There are buttons on the gamepad that do absolutely nothing, so it's not as if they ran out of space. Since you can't alter the controls to your liking, you'll still be better off with the mouse-and-keyboard combo.
One of the few positives I can level at the game is the soundtrack, which is consistently better than anything else. The title track stands out as being noteworthy, but it's a shame the rest of the sound design can't follow suit. The voice acting is pretty awful throughout, and only your unnamed hero has any semblance of acting ability. All of the NPC dialogue sounds stilted, and if you're a gamer who relies or needs to use subtitles, you'll quickly find a variety of inconsistencies between the spoken words and the text on your screen. The use of English is poor all the way around, and while the game certainly has roots in foreign development, I've seen better translations out of much smaller titles than this.
On the graphical side, Fall of Setarrif isn't going to win any awards, either. I wasn't sold on Gothic 4's art design, and that same bland design carries over into the expansion. The texture work is poor, and the only stuff that shines through is the skybox of the world and the occasional weather effects, mostly with how well water flows over objects in the environment. Character models animate in a jilted manner, facial expressions are nearly nonexistent, and enemy design is about as generic as RPGs can get. Also, monster variety is pretty low, you'll fight the occasional actual monster, like a harpy, but you'll mostly be going toe-to-toe with nameless "possessed" thugs in mismatched armor sets.
The loot system is equally poor, with little need to search out extra treasure because it's rare to find equipment that's better than your starting loadout. I picked up numerous swords, axes, shields, rings, etc., but their stats all paled in comparison to what the game gave me from the outset. You could easily make your way through the entire game without swapping a single item, and that seems really odd.
Then there's the length of the adventure, which clocks in at around three to four hours. I don't expect every expansion to add dozens of hours, but for a stand-alone RPG expansion, the lack of content seems ridiculous, especially if you factor in that this expansion was quite delayed. I imagine some of the financial woes that led to the downfall of Gothic's publisher JoWood Entertainment certainly caused some of these deficiencies, but it doesn't make the game less of a disappointment. Also, it's unfortunately linear for those three hours, with much of your time spent chasing circles around a broken area of ruins that manages to copy and paste the same wall and ground textures again and agin.
Even if you found yourself enjoying Gothic 4, I can't suggest that you pick up the expansion, Fall of Setarrif. It's a poorly constructed add-on to a mediocre game. With most expansions, I expect to see additional ideas or mechanics that enhance the original game in some meaningful way, and in story-heavy games like Gothic, I'd also expect a little character growth or background to be revealed. Fall of Setarrif does none of that for the player, so it has little reason to exist. Fall of Setarrif was hugely disappointing as far as expansions go, and I would definitely not waste your money on it, regardless of your affinity for the series.
More articles about ArcaniA: Fall of Setarrif