As mentioned in some recent podcasts, my PC gaming time and scope has increased since I met my husband, a dedicated PC player who sneers (politely) at most console titles. He introduced me to a series called Gothic some years ago and he raved about the quality of the first two while mourning the lack thereof in the third title. He'll undoubtedly be incredibly happy to hear about how my experiences with ArcaniA: A Gothic Tale were top notch.
I entered into the game and was quickly run through the differences between old hardcore Gothic and new, more approachable Arcania. Quest logs which can be activated or turned off to increase or decrease difficulty are one of the most thought-out quest systems I've seen, catering to both casual and dedicated gamers. There are approximately 300 total quests, of which about 200 are part of the main storyline (including a branching ending about 75% of the way through play), and the rest are optional quests with the three factions the game holds as well as the five guilds.
Factions and guilds have been completely re-thought for Arcania; in prior Gothic games they were tied together. Now, the five guilds are factionless and a player may interact with all, some, or none of these establishments. Quests associated with their respective guilds follow the logical path: the Fighter's Guild will send the hero out to kill specific monsters for trophies, while the Mage Guild is more interested in gathering reagents (spell components) and errand-running quests. There is full voice acting including tracks in English and French; more language options may be available.
Also changed is that quest-givers can no longer be killed, although they can be assaulted to within an inch of their life before they coweringly retreat. In addition, looting has been changed from prior entries in the series, making the looting considerably more streamlined with a "loot all" option available. NPCs are also considerably more interactive and react to day/night as well as weather cycles -- for example, guards don't want to stand out in the rain and will go inside during stormy weather.
Combat is exactly what is expected of an action-intensive RPG. Switching between melee, ranged, and magic attacks is done with a simple button press and gives the player massive variety in attacks. The hero may lock on for a guaranteed hit with less damage, or those cocky enough to wing it will gain additional bonuses to damage when not using the lock on option. As I hacked through a variety of enemies, my sword would glow, and if I timed my next swing right I could chain together multiple combos for a devastating amount of damage. I was almost sad when something died....
Arcania is currently on track for a Q1 2010 release and will be unsurprisingly available on 360, PS3, and PC. I personally favour a controller, so maybe I'll just have to get two copies....