Genre : RPG
Developers: Piranha Bytes
Release Date: October 28, 2003
Buy 'GOTHIC 2': PC
Gothic 2 is the sequel to Piranha Byte's sleeper hit, Gothic 1, and after originally being released overseas it's finally available in the States. The game picks up right where the original left off: a monster named the Sleeper has been defeated and the necromancer Xardas has rescued you from certain death. You awake in his tower on the island of Khorinis, bereft of your armor and memory. This serves the purposes of both forcing you to start as a level one character as well as not requiring you to have played the original.
After a fairly lengthy opening sequence, Xardas gives you your first task: get the Eye of Innos from Lord Hagen, the leader of the Paladins in Khorinis. Naturally, Lord Hagen isn't going to just hand it over, he wants proof of the doom Xardas is forecasting, so he sends you off to prove things really are that bad.
Just getting in to see Lord Hagen is enough to fill the first of the six chapters that encompass the game. The citizens are a little paranoid these days, so getting to see Lord Hagen forces you to gain entrance to the town and then become a citizen of the town by becoming an apprentice with one of the Masters in town. If the enemy was really on the ball, they'd have invaded long before you even get to tell Lord Hagan they are coming.
The quest to become a citizen showcases the open-ended nature of Gothic 2. There are few quests where there is only one solution, which is a good thing since the obvious route in many cases is the most difficult. In order to become an apprentice with one Master, you have to gain the approval of all Masters. Naturally, they won't just give you their approval; they'll want something done first. The Blacksmith's approval is the hardest to get since he wants the weapon of a powerful monster to prove you aren't a wimp. The obvious way to get the weapon is do simply kill the beast, but at your level that's suicide; instead, there are at least 2 ways to get the weapon without even approaching it.
In addition to a lengthy main quest, there are several hundred side quests scattered throughout the game's six chapters. While most people consider side quests to be optional, the game is scaled to your finishing most of them, so your best bets is talk to everyone and do their tasks. Initially, I went through the game sticking mostly to the main quest, but soon felt underpowered as the game progressed, forcing me to go back and do some of the side quests to get more levels. These side quests are a lot of fun, and do an excellent job at introducing you to the politics and factions in the game and subtly steer your way to choosing the Guild in which you become a member. I did find that even though I tried to always take the moral high road, having some sneaking and thieving skills was invaluable.
Gothic 2 differs from your traditional RPG when it comes to choosing your class and advancing your character's skills. Rather than choosing your class at the start of the game, you instead sign up for one of three guilds during the game: the Militia, which leads to the Paladin class; the Mercenary, which leads to the Dragon Hunter class; and the Novice, which allows you to become a Magician. One thing to keep in mind, the name "Novice" for the class is a misnomer as the term "Novice" really means Novice Magician and it's recommended that only advanced players follow the Magician class. Once you've chosen a guild, the decision is final and you cannot change your mind. In most games as you go up in levels your skills and stats automatically rise, or give you some means of raising them instantly. In Gothic 2, each time you level you gain "Learning Points" which you then spend at a trainer to raise your attributes (strength, dexterity and mana) and weapon skills. You'll come across items in the game that will require you to have your attributes at a certain level, forcing you to make some decisions as to which is more important: raising your strength to use a new weapon, or raising your weapon skill so you can use the weapon you already have more effectively. If you spread yourself too thin, it's very possible to stunt your character's growth making it very difficult to succeed later on. Specializing in one area and then using left-over points to fill in the gaps is your best plan.
There's a decent trade skill system in here as well, where you can spend Learning Points to learn how to create weapons, magical runes and potions. While you can create helpful items, like healing potions, I found many of the recipes included one very rare component, usually making it more time efficient to just buy the potion. However, if you are a fan of taking the time to work on these skills they are there. Unlike other games that make you experiment to learn the recipes, Gothic 2 has most of them uses that item you just picked up has.
Gothic 2 can be a very frustrating game, both in terms of difficulty and controlling your character. I rarely found a middle ground where the fight could have gone either way; I either won easily or was defeated easily. There's no shortage of monsters either, just head off the path a few feet and you'll find more than you can handle. Heck, even staying on the path will tell you when you've gone too far for your level. Unfortunately, that distance isn't too far at the start of the game since just getting from Xardas' tower down the path to Khorinis can prove challenging. While gaining levels seemed to help a little, given the low frequency of level-ups they don't make the huge difference they should. You'll want to avoid drawing the attention of groups of monsters as well, as any time I encountered 3 or more opponents I was quickly back at the loading screen. While I'm all for games being challenging and don't want the thing to be too easy, I felt that I was loading saved games with a greater frequency in this game than I should have.
The control scheme takes a lot of getting used to as well. Your movement keys are pretty typical; you use the arrow keys to move and your mouse to look around. Combat takes some getting used to though, since it requires three key-presses to initiate. When you see an opponent, first you press the spacebar to enter combat mode, then you press the CRTL key to focus on your opponent while simultaneously pressing the arrow keys to perform combat moves. It's not easy to swap out and cast the spells you need so you'll probably die often trying to master the Magician class. Every character does have the ability to use magic of some nature and you'll find some scrolls that allow you to heal yourself or take the form of a monster to sneak past a tough opponent. As with weapons and armor, many of these scrolls will require an attribute to be a certain level so you'll need to decide for yourself just how important using that scroll really is. One handy magical item you'll come across is teleportation runes that instantly send you to the specified location, cutting down the lengthy travel times. You don't start to get most of them until about 1/3 of the way through the game, so expect lots of running in the early parts of the game.
I found the keyboard controls the buggiest part of game. If I was fighting several opponents, sometimes it would take several presses of the spacebar to initiate combat. Having a delay that costs precious seconds can mean losing a battle, which makes working around some of the control issues much more frustrating. Needing to repeat the key-presses wasn't unique to combat either, as I noticed it several times with other actions. Using the combat system to perform magic is very difficult, hence the warning it is for advanced players only. While most of the other bugs are minor, and are usually scripting errors or some left-over German bits, there is one major bug where the game will think you've killed all four dragons when you've only killed three, robbing you of the opportunity to get the loot and XP from the last dragon.
There are not a lot of gear upgrades to be found either, gold can be hard to come buy and you'll find most things expensive. Since the items you do find usually have an attribute requirement, the usefulness of the item can be questionable; there were plenty of times I would have to spend Learning Points to be able to use a weapon that's a marginal upgrade. The good news is, as you advance up your guilds ranks often times there will be free upgrades which make a significant difference.
There's no auto-map in the game either, but I find Gothic 2's system better than the usual method of having the map reveal itself as you explore the land mass. In Gothic 2, you buy (or steal) maps from vendors which you then equip and call up using the appropriate hot key. This map is usually fairly detailed visually, but doesn't have any location notes. It does serve as a good reference as to where you are, and some quests will also give you maps with the locations of your destinations marked. I would have liked the ability to make notes on the map in-game, but you can work around that by just printing out a screenshot. There's also a delay when you bring up the map, ostensibly to add realism while you unfold and orient yourself on the map.
While the terrain and models are slightly blocky, they still do an effective job at immersing you. Some of the models seem incomplete, as a lot of the buildings don't have doors. The sounds are well done; the game supports EAX and really sounded great in my surround speakers. The voice-overs, which have been re-dubbed from German, are hit or miss. While they are easy to understand, the accents are out of place. In one town, you'll encounter Texan, New York, New Jersey, Wild West and jive-talk accents. While it's a nice change from the usual Shakespearean accents that you usually encounter in these games, the modern accents took me out of the game a bit. Some of the "bad guy" voices are cheesy, especially the Seeker magicians you'll encounter later in the game. The ambient sounds are well done though, from the usual birds whistling down to rickety wooden bridges that creak as you walk over them.
There's also one noticeable improvement in Gothic 2 from other games, in that the townsfolk have normal work hours. Unlike most games, where the shops are open 24/7, here the shops are only open during the day which does a fantastic job at adding to the immersion. You'll need to plan around their hours, and as a nice touch if you head into some sleeping quarters you'll see them sleeping in their beds.
In spite of the frustrations I experienced, I still enjoyed Gothic 2 and would recommend it to any fan of the genre. It's similar to games like Morrowind, so if you enjoy a somewhat slow paced game that's open-ended and challenging, you'll also enjoy Gothic 2. It's a lengthy game, giving you plenty of value, which is a nice change from games you can get through in a weekend. The game forces you to go at a slow pace and explore the countryside, as dangerous as it is, to do enough quests to gain levels. While you can go back and replay the game as the other guilds, as I played through the game I didn't feel inclined to do that, simply because I enjoyed the guild I was in (Paladin) more than the other two. That's not a bad thing either, since I didn't feel like I was robbed by not playing the other classes.
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