One of the most involving adventures you’ll ever play.
When German development house Pyranha Bytes finished their first Gothic, it spawned quite a fanbase on both sides of the Atlantic. The vast story, open-ended quests and apparently living, breathing world made for one of the most vivid virtual 3D worlds ever imagined. Gothic II uses a modified version of the same engine and closely follows the storyline and gameplay from its predecessor. For a high fantasy adventure / role-playing hybrid, it’s refreshingly different thanks to its German roots.
A World of Myrtana
If you’re an escaped convict from the Valley of Mines, the magically sealed prison colony from the first game, then Khorinis is not the best place to hang around. People naturally look at your torn rags and unshaven mug with understandable suspicion. Finding a job and gaining influence within the safety of the city walls isn’t easy, but neither is living in the outside world teeming with bandits and wild creatures. There’s a shortage of food because of a rebellion in the outlying farms, and what’s with these rumors about dragons and an army of orcs amassing in the former mining colony?
This is the chaotic yet gorgeous backdrop that Gothic II will have you explore. The environment, story and characters are every bit as rich as in the first game, featuring hundreds of NPC’s with unique dialogue options, open-ended quests and a fairly interesting story. The world itself is large and a lot more colorful this time around, comprised of a busy harbor town to the far west, several outlying farms, lots of mountainous woodlands and numerous roads crisscrossing the area.
It would be the idyllic rural landscape if it were not for the foul beasts inhabiting the wilderness. The human populace have their own menial tasks to see to, and they function according to a day-night cycle, going to work, chatting up with each other, and finally going to bed when it’s late.
As before, the opening act will feature the most freedom. An initial quest involves obtaining an audience with the high commander of the city to warn him of an impending dragon attack. As it turns out, there are several ways of doing this, and your choices will subsequently reflect how the rest of the game is played. The most straightforward route is to sign up with the city militia, provided they don’t find out you’re an escaped felon. But then again you hear rumors of a sizable rebel uprising near the farms, where some of your former prison pals could be hiding.
Maybe they could help you out? Or what about the respectable hermits up in the old Monastery, whose wizards can also teach you a thing or two about magic? You have a choice of joining one of these three guilds, and the initial career prospecting is a lot of fun. Each guild will open up new items to buy, quests to play and higher ups to please.
Although Gothic II is a great open-ended adventure, there isn’t a whole lot of heavy role-playing elements. Unlike Morrowind, Gothic II doesn’t attempt to go into stats that much, preferring to focus on story and characters. You win Learning Points with each Level Up, and you can use these points to better your guy. You can allocate points into your base attribute pools – Strength, Dexterity and Mana (Hitpoints are raised automatically) – or learn any number of weapon proficiencies or skills, including Alchemy, Lockpicking, Forging or Sneaking. This is of course assuming you find the right teacher willing to show you the tricks of the trade.
Combat with the bow and sword are self evident, but magic is easily the most difficult part of the game to master, should you choose that path. You can still cast an abundant pool of spell scrolls if you don’t want to be a career magician, but doing so will gradually unlock a sizable arsenal of permanent spells. Spells that summon hideous demons, turn enemies into miniature versions of themselves, freeze foes into ice blocks or set them ablaze. Others even let you transform into wild creatures.
The Old And New
The interface bears some familiarity with the original game, but has altogether been relaxed and made more user-friendly. Doing menial tasks such as climbing ladders or selling your wares is less of a hassle, though controlling your character (especially around jagged obstacles) still feels awkward and unwieldy. The inventory has been redone also, throwing every item into one gigantic clutter instead of neatly organizing each item according to specific categories. This I actually didn’t enjoy as much. Although items are apparently grouped into logical clusters of junk (eg: swords, bows, spells, potions, etc), the resulting chaos can add up with your infinite inventory space. You can sell most of it, thankfully, or just store them in any empty chest for later use.
I can imagine the quest journal, which logs your quests down in written form, can also aggravate first-time players. There’s no amount of slack here – important characters or quest objectives are never clearly pinned to your map, and you can inadvertently sell vital quest items if you’re reckless. The scripting isn’t perfect on top of that, and I found several side quests that can be broken under the right circumstances. It’s almost expected when you consider how large the world is, but it’s still a game killer.
Combat is real-time, and can involve either one-handed or two-handed swordplay, ranged bows or magic. But the combat system is still pretty clunky, especially when fighting several foes – bash one guy but his pals will quickly pile in on you from every other angle, and you’re helpless to do anything. There will be some instances when a hired sword might tag along, but most of the fighting will be done solo. There isn’t a lot of hand-holding to be had, and you’ll often find that the only measurable way too see whether you can defeat that gang of bandits, wargs or sewer rats is to charge in sword drawn. If you don’t die, then congrats – you’re several experience points richer.
Gothic II is quite an expansive adventure game nonetheless, and its only a shame that the often buggy controls hinder the fun. The range of quests and possible outcomes are impossible to experience in one playthrough, as is the sheer size of the world with its numerous caves, crypts and other secrets, not to mention the interesting characters and their stories. It will feel overwhelming the first time around, but it’s a game worth combing through just for the sheer volume of stuff in it.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 Mhz, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Win 98
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