Gothic - Retroview

A Not So Gothic Tale That Entrances

By: Lael Brown

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 9
   Plot 10
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

60-100 hours


Title Screen

   What the heck is Gothic? To be honest, no one seemed to know the answer to a simple question like that. I bought it anyway, and I have yet to be disappointed. Published by Xicat here in North America, the game was developed by Piranha Bytes in Europe. Gothic is a semi-linear role-playing game with several branches within the game to help the player develop the story line from at least three different faction viewpoints. Now, since I'm having trouble putting down the game itself, and this review is taking up my time, let's get into the nitty gritty of the good and bad. Well ... mostly good.

   As per any RPG, you have enemies that you fight. In Gothic, these can be either monster based, or human. Human and Orc battles tend to be more difficult in a one on one situation because they fight back hard and are quite often very unpredictable. For instance, one human has an axe whereas another has a stronger axe, and in the next hallway is someone with a hefty two-handed sword. Monsters can be hunted, pulled from their groups, and systematically removed from the scene. The most annoying thing about using something like a bow or crossbow is that using it tends to attract the attention of the entire group, causing a swarm effect that can get your blood boiling - especially if you've just pulled 8 black goblin warriors and you're only level 12. But I digress.

   The game boasts 130 different weapons to acquire and use, and considering that your strength or dexterity plays about half of the role in damage as the weapon does, you'll be looking for the biggest and best. Now, this is not simply a hack and slash adventure, as one of my friends so kindly put it. It plays a bit like a cross between Asheron's Call and EverQuest. You have to upgrade your fighting skills with skill points gained at each level - 10 per level - and with each skill level gained comes a different stance and combo system for the weapon. Say you start off with a rusty sword. This is a one handed weapon, but because you are untrained in one-handed weapons, you are slow and can really only swing it in three directions. Once you upgrade to the first trained level in one handed weapons, you stand differently, hold the weapon differently, and swing differently to include combo hits. There are 4 weapons categories to be experimented with - one handed weapon, two handed weapon, bow, and crossbow. It may sound a bit light, but I find that the simplicity has helped me to appreciate the story line and action much better. Each level you gain through experience allows you the 10 skill points to save or put towards training a skill or an attribute. I've already touched on some of the battle skills, but you can also spend them on Strength, Dexterity, Mana, or handy other things like Lockpicking, Pickpocketting, Sneaking, Acrobatics, or a level of Magic. If it sounds a bit confusing here, don't worry, it's actually simpler than it seems.

Dino Swarming Will Be Painful.
Dino Swarming Will Be Painful. 

   Magic is something that I have only played with when required to, and I find it rather slow. However, with a little practice, it can be extremely powerful. Several times I have found myself confronted with a magic user and ended up running away from them while burning alive. Each circle of magic, as weapons, requires a certain amount of skill points to progress into the next circle. The higher the circle, the more powerful magic you can use.

   Unfortunately, there is a down side to the battle system. The learning curve is a pain, especially if you're a player of online games as I was. You can't walk around in combat mode all the time as the inhabitants take it as a threat, so when you want to fight you draw your weapon. Agreeably, this is more realistic ... but when you REALLY have to fight someone or something, the wait to prepare your weapon is deadly. To attack once in battle mode you have to hold down the 'use/action key' and use the directional buttons. For example: My 'use/action key' is the left ctrl button and I'm using the directional buttons to move. I hold down the ctrl key and press left or right to swing accordingly, up to take a forward step with a swing and begin a combo, and down to defend for a short time. When you're being attacked by something that has the power to rip you to shreds, you sometimes want to move out of the way, so you have to release the 'use key' and move. This still frustrates me when I'm in a heated battle with a large Orc Temple Warrior or something of the sort that takes me down 2/3 of my health in one blow.

   The beasts of the field don't respawn in large amounts. In fact, the only time that they do respawn is if they are part of a quest that you haven't completed yet, and they respawn for the quest, or when you enter the next chapter of the game ... and even then they spawn in smaller amounts. Don't think that this is a down side to the game. Far from it, you just won't be able to gain many levels from beasts that you can one-hit

   Battle flow goes like this at the beginning of the game: Make sure your weapon is equipped. Find a beast to slay. Remove your weapon from it's sleeping place and have it at the ready position. You can either allow the beast to come at you if you are patient, or you can run in and attempt to get the first big strike while running. If there are no other beasts around to support it, you now have a one on one fight. Swinging left and right, when timed correctly will produce multiple hits doing some pretty good damage. You can defend if the beast attacks, but avoiding the attack is altogether better once you begin fighting things that chain different attacks together. Remember that you have to release the 'use/action' key to move again. Once you defeat your opponent you may feel free to loot the body of anything valuable.

That Is Some Powerful Magic
That Is Some Powerful Magic 

   The story seems simple to start. During the Orc war, the king sentenced every single male convict to work in the ore mines. To ensure that they never escaped, wizards were sent to put up a barrier around the 'colony'. However, during the event something went wrong, and the barrier expanded beyond it's original intended size, trapping the wizards in with the convicts. The convicts took advantage of the distraction created by the barrier to kill all of the guards and take over the 'colony'. You are have been convicted of something - we're not told what - and sentenced to work in the mines. The only mission you have been given is to deliver a letter to the High Magician of Fire. You will learn that there are three different factions that you are able to associate yourself with and within each are different occupations that can be worked for and gained. The plot is muchly the same for each faction, but within each there are different missions, goals, and relationships to be developed. I'm looking forward to playing all three and entering all of the occupations. If you follow the missions in the order you get them, or at least the order you are able to complete them, the game flows incredibly well. I always was waiting to see what happened next, but was never finding myself impatient for the story to advance. The game fits together completely in every aspect.

   The interface is simplistic to a fault. Unfortunately the manual tells you how to do most everything, but I spent the first 45 minutes of the game trying to figure out how to do everything thinking that there must be more to it. Well, there's not. The 'use/action key' that I have already spoken of is your central key. Get used to it, and keep it as your new best friend. You have to hold the 'use/action key' in conjunction with your 'walk forward key' to pick things up, open doors or chests, talk with people, fight, etc. Within your inventory menus, the 'use/action key' is combined with the 'walk forward key' to either equip or use, or the 'walk backward key' to drop. To cycle through the different categories in your inventory is just right or left. What I found to be frustrating when looting or purchasing is that if you slip and pop over to your side of the purchase screen, it defaults to the miscellaneous category and you have to cycle all the way through the other categories in order to pop back to the merchant or corpse selection. Other than these little irritations that can grate on your nerves at 3 am, even when you are accustomed to it, the interface accompanies the rest of the game quite nicely, keeping the emphasis on the game itself and not the juggling of items, weapons, or spells.

   Gothic has a tendency to play fairly slowly out in the open, but only if you know what you are doing. If you are always running into the thick of battle, it will be very fast, and you'll most likely end up loading the last saved game. From the moment you get into the game, you realize that you aren't in for an easy ride. Your welcoming committee gives you a quick thrashing as a 'baptizing' into the colony. From there you have to talk with inhabitants, learn information, and draw your own conclusions. Without giving away the story, you have to learn that things can change very quickly both for you and for the rest of the colony. Aside from tedious running when you're playing the role of an errand boy - which eventually can be remedied by handy potions of sprinting - the story keeps driving you forward and throwing twists at you.

I Want Them On My Side!
I Want Them On My Side! 

   The sound and music score fits the medieval setting quite nicely. Every so often I find myself enraptured by the spooky music when in a temple or tomb, or a wonderful harmony while standing beside a huge waterfall. The sound created when you pull your sword from its scabbard is metal on metal, like nails on a chalkboard, but I absolutely love it. Now, whoever else is in the house at the time when I have it turned up to the maximum possible effect doesn't particularly enjoy it, but I just yell at them to not worry ... I'll silence it in some beast flesh! The voices are fabulous. I don't think there has been another game that I have played recently that did such a good and commendable job on the quality of the voices. The only thing that I see that can get annoying is the reuse of some of the voices for, say, the peasants or generic greetings. The library of voices for those NPCs is limited and sometimes drives you to not want to talk to the regular people. I also noticed that the reply to something you say or ask an NPC could overlap what you are saying, especially if you are not talking to the person for the first time.

   Though I can't raise Gothic up on the platform of total originality, I must say that this is just a rehash of old stuff. The game gives a simple view of the weapons system, but doesn't just give you everything at once ... and that it does give you, sometimes you still have to work to be able to use it properly. I never have really enjoyed a third person game as much as I have this one. No, it doesn't really play like Tomb Raider, in case you were wondering.

   The translation is supurb, as it seems the game was originated in Denmark and relased in Europe a while ago.

   I have to give some kudos to replay value. With three different factions to join, there are quite a few relationships and roles that you can develop. I will definitely play the game at least three times, and probably more just to explore the different class occupations.

   The visuals this game treats the player with are fabulous. Gothic basically installs completely on your hard drive, so if you have a fast drive all the better. The sunspots are blinding; the shading and lighting effects are superb. I do have to mention a few faults though. For instance, entering each area on the world map is seamless. There are no loading times unless you enter a dungeon or someplace huge like that. However, when you are walking near the forest you can see the boxy outline of its edge until you get close enough. Also, there have been several times when I've gotten myself stuck in the ground or wall by jumping at the wrong time - which I do a lot. When you're standing on a mountaintop, looking around, I think that the distances could be increased ... but to be honest, the stress on my system would have been outlandish (P4 1.4gHz, 512Mb Ram, 64 MB GeForce). Yes, the game is huge.

   The game itself shouldn't give you the 'hair-pulls' or the 'kick my computer' feeling. However, there are several battles that you just wish you could be faster, or have better armor. I save often, especially when entering uncharted territory and exploring.

   To beat this game you're looking at about 60+ hours. Of course, you can do it faster, or you can be like me and do anything and everything you can discover. If you want to fully experience everything and get the full experience levels for each mission, you're probably looking at about 90 hours.

   I bought it. I don't regret it. At first, I had no idea what I was getting into, but now I want to spread the gospel of Gothic. Even though I find myself wishing constantly that I could have another friend in the game watching my back when hunting Orcs, I spend too much time on this highly addictive game. Combine the visuals with the story and the music and soundtracks, throw in the exhilarating rush of actually controlling battle, and the desire to get the armor that "That guy has", and this game is pretty much a must buy. Add the fact that it doesn't require the CDs to play, and you and your friends might like it even better. The game itself cost a fraction of what I would expect. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to figure out what's happening with whoozits and the other guy, and get a sweet axe and some promised nearly indestructible armor! Play the game!

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