Gothic 3 Review

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Graphics: 7.5
Sound : 7.5
Gameplay : 6.5
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 7.5
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen
The Gothic series started about five years back when the developer Piranha Bytes released the first installment to the German audience. It was very well received, so much so that it got published internationally a while later. Unfortunately, it was a game missed by most gamers that didn’t fall into the hardcore RPG fan category, though the sequel did a little better. The story told of a man who was unjustly sentenced to a prison camp that was protected by a big magical barrier. You had to figure out how to survive the very brutal lifestyle there and hopefully even get out. Eventually you learn that (surprise, surprise!) there’s something special about you, that there’s great evil, and you have to find its source and kill it. In the sequel you’d gotten outside, but this time evil dragons are lurking in the far distance, and they obviously need to be stomped on. Even if the story sounds quite cheesy, the characters were charming and things just made sense. For instance, you lived in a game world where people would go to work, do their thing, have dinner with their friends, and go to bed. Not too long ago, an expansion was finally released that told a story parallel to the main one. Unfortunately, this meant starting Gothic 2 again from scratch. These weren’t short games by any merit, but were thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. They had a few bugs, but not too many atrocious ones.

The wait for the third in the series is finally over, and there are quite a few opinions about it. As mentioned, the first games were mainly popular among the more devoted RPG fans. This wasn’t just because of a lack of advertising, but because the games were hard. You couldn’t just aimlessly attack things and expect to survive just like that. At first you were about as tough as a schoolgirl, but if you respected this fact and gradually killed enemies and did quests, you’d get tougher either as a magician or a warrior. Still, when running through the game world, you were always cautious of enemies and to be honest, I enjoyed this approach to RPG design.

Many things are done differently in Gothic 3, and I’m not too happy about all of it. It’s a well known fact that developing a big title today costs a lot more money than it did only a few years ago. To stand out, you have to offer things that you don’t find in other “big” games, and in order to do this you have to guarantee that it sells well. So what does this mean? Besides a big upgrade in the audio and graphics department, the gameplay is also deliberately different. While the game is intended to be easier, most of the difficulty and frustration will come from bugs.

This time the nameless hero has arrived by boat to the mainland. You’re finally off the island, but to your surprise you find that orcs have taken over just about everything. The friends you traveled with take off, and Xardas the dark mage (around whom much of the story revolves) is nowhere to be seen. Throughout the game you have to decide if you want to help the human rebels (who follow the god Innos), the orcs (who follow Beliar), or alternatively a third option that reveals itself later. In contrast to the previous games, you aren't able to join a faction. Everything is meant to be open-ended, for better or (in this case) worse.

The area you’re playing on is divided into three parts, one in the middle that resembles a fantasy place with towns, forests, and settlements. This is basically where the orcs have invaded the humans. There aren’t many battles anymore, and the people who live there either serve the orcs or live as rebels. Below is a desert area that’s inhabited by a different sort of humans that follow Beliar (the evil God). These guys certainly have their own motives for moving into orc territory, but you’re really only after what’s in their temples. You see, at the northern part of the map, the icy and mob-packed area is where Viking-types and fire mages live. In order to restore the world to how it was before the orcs wrecked everything, you have to collect a number of items and artifacts. This is no small mission and it brings you to all corners of the landscape.

One of my main gripes with the game is how the main quest is easily broken. One orc boss carries an artifact that you need which you’re meant to purchase for a rather hefty sum. In my case I played as a rebel (not that you actually join a faction, but that’s who I supported). If you liberate too many towns, the orcs will start to seriously dislike you. In this situation, even if you can walk around freely in the town that he commands, the orc boss will attack you as soon as you initiate conversation. By killing him, you don’t get the artifact and there’s no way of making him happy again. Using a cheat to obtain the artifact will not complete the mission. In my case I was level 69, and each level certainly takes a while. This is an inexcusable design flaw, and a quick search online will show that mine is not an isolated case.

Combat Mechanics

Gothic 1 and 2 used a fairly non-standard method of fighting which I guess some people disliked. It worked just fine, but with enough patience and knowledge of the system, you could defeat most normal enemies with the smallest of swords. This time it’s different. Armed with a sword, you can do heavy attacks with the left button, and lighter attacks with the right button. Holding down the left will do a charge-up attack that does a little more damage, but in all honesty there’s not much of a reason to not just “spam” the right button (when you need a little extra range), and the left button (when you can go in very close and do a lot of damage). There are also shields (that are for the most part useless), and ranged weapons (that behave as you’d expect). Additionally you can dual wield one-handed weapons and equip big two-handed weapons. In order to do this, you have to learn the appropriate skills at a trainer. When you level up you gain 10 learning points. One skill costs 5 points, but they can also be spent on gaining more health points, endurance points, mana, and so on. As in the previous games, you can learn skills in alchemy, blacksmithing, thieving, and obviously mage-specific ones.

If you liked playing a mage in Gothic 2 you’ll also like it here. Even though you start out fairly weak, you’ll be extremely powerful by the end. Melee characters? Not so much.

Weapons and Armor

When you’re playing a melee character for this many hours, you’ll definitely want weapons and armor that make you progressively stronger. Before the 1.08 patch, you didn’t get much of a benefit at all from wearing armor. Enemies with elemental attacks for instance would kill you very fast unless you managed to run up close while dodging the spells that aren’t like homing missiles.

Weapons scale poorly as you progress through the game. You get swords fairly early in the game that aren’t that much worse than those you obtain after hours of doing quests, so there’s no big excitement when you finally get something new. Oh, and the best sword related skill (which actually makes a difference) can only be learned by siding with the bad-guys, or using a crafted sword that’s difficult to get and less powerful than other weapons that you can get in the end-game.

The enemies you fight are generally also disappointing. You’ve basically got your humanoid and animal type enemies. Humans and orcs are outrageously much easier to kill than they used to be because their AI is just about useless, their health points are much lower, and they hit a lot softer. NPCs that you escort or are with you for assistance are even worse. These supposedly tough guys have serious trouble fighting even single enemies. Animals and monsters are harder to fight because it’s easy to get stuck in their attack animation. In other words, they sometimes attack you very quickly, so much so that it’s really difficult to escape. This is much like rogues’ stunlock in World of Warcraft, and it’s an extremely annoying way to die. Fortunately this is fixed in a patch, but those playing without the patch are in for an interesting time ahead.

Graphics

The game world of Gothic 3 looks a lot more interesting than, for instance, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. This is because mountains are shaped realistically, and more interesting things happen in them. That said, Oblivion looks and feels a great deal more polished, and it certainly performs a lot better. Gothic 3’s big problem is that it uses a great deal of RAM and CPU power. When moving around, you keep a certain radius around the character in the memory. As you move around the world, data is added or removed, and if you’re moving somewhere that’s graphically “heavy”, the framerate gets very, very low. Even with a gigabyte of high-performance RAM, it performs very sluggishly regardless of resolution. Some have reported improvements in performance with two gigabytes of RAM, but it has been tested on quadcore systems with four gigabytes and with little improvement at all.

Characters look pretty decent, though their variety is lacking. Occasionally someone’s head will be too small for his body which is quite amusing. Textures and special effects are very good. Generally speaking, Gothic 3 is quite an attractive game.

Sound

The music in Gothic 3 is excellent. At the end, I was largely sick of it but it fits very well with the game and I suspect it will help players' initial impressions of the game. Sound effects are as good as you’d expect, but the voiceovers are a different matter. Quite a few different voice actors were used this time, and while they do okay mimicking the ones used in the previous games and adding to the new characters, the tonality is odd in many cases. Audio is downright missing in some cases, and the hero himself is just not the same kind of guy he used to be. He feels borderline arrogant and not sympathetic as before. This would be fine for someone working for the nasty orcs, but not as much so for a rebel helping good people.

Your friends from the previous games are like shadows of their former selves. Not only are they basically useless in combat, but they also don’t say much seeming, for the most part, old and bitter. I suspect the developers didn’t want new players to feel like they had missed out on too much, but come on! Instead, we have a myriad of characters that you never really connect with at all. There is no real emotional investment, and that’s one of the main things that made the first two games so great.

Conclusion

While I’ve obviously seemed negative in this review, it is with good reason. Mind you, even though I disliked quite a few things about it, I just kept on playing it no matter what. It has quite a few redeeming qualities that I’m sure many will appreciate, for example the huge amount of content. Many are proclaiming Gothic 3 to be what Oblivion should have been, best RPG of the year, and so on. But I tend to disagree. If not for the countless bugs, the watered down melee and magic combat, the uninteresting NPCs, the sometimes weak design, the horrible performance, the missing dialogue, and the overall lack of polish, perhaps it could have been.