Developer: Piranha Bytes
Release Date: November 13, 2006
The Gothic series has a bit of a checkered past in the United States. While it has garnered good reviews, it just hasn't awakened the furious amount of hype as have series such as the Elder Scrolls and Neverwinter Nights. While that is not a knock against the games themselves, it does seem to be a commentary on what the general gaming public expects and wants to play. With the latest offering in the series, Gothic 3, Piranha Bytes attempts to get everything in sync and put out a title that will live up to the expectations of role-playing gamers everywhere.
One of the best things about the Gothic series has been the fact that the NPCs really seem as if they are alive and doing their jobs in the game world. The shopkeepers tend to their duties and actually do things, like hammer on an anvil; various fighters sit around fires at night or have a drink at the bar. If a monster wanders in, they unsheathe their weapons and attempt to dispatch the invader. Voice acting is present and adds to the immersion, and to top it all off, the world is seamlessly integrated and put together.
So why has Gothic been the red-headed stepchild to games like Morrowind and Oblivion? There's always been something missing in the previous offerings. The first Gothic had an absolutely horrible control scheme that most players despised, and it turned off anyone who might have otherwise picked it up and enjoyed it. Gothic 2 made efforts to remedy the mistakes of the past, but ultimately fell into the same trap with interface and control issues. Of course, it was still a solid game that at least proved that Gothic wasn't a fluke. Now, with the U.S. release of Gothic 3 imminent, have the issues of the past finally been resolved?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Gothic 3 is an ambitious title, with a large world to traverse and a lot of characters with whom to interact. The graphics are gorgeous and positively ooze with atmosphere, the combat is visceral and violent, and the music is engrossing and the sound effects intense. All in all, there's definitely a lot to like. By the same token, the engine bogs down even on a beefy machine, you can die a horrible death at the tusks of a warthog and leave him with nary a scratch, and the voiceovers are pretty average. I'm not sure how early this preview build was, so it's possibly too late to change some of these issues before release.
What is here, however, is actually a lot of fun. The story is your typical fantasy fare, with your homeland being overrun with orcs and you needing to help save the day and all that usual stuff. Unfortunately, you'll be playing the entire game as the same basic character everyone else is playing it with, as there are no noticeable options to change your appearance. It's not that the Gothic series ever gave you that opportunity, but for an RPG, it would be nice to have something of a choice in appearance or gender. Thankfully, you do have the option to focus your skills in one particular area, so if magic is your thing, you'll be able to indulge in your wizardry.
While saving the world is your main goal, you'll probably want to do a little exploring as well. The Gothic 3 game world is large and beautiful, so you'll definitely have a lot of eye candy to feast on as you travel about. Distant scenery is given a blur effect, which adds significantly to the realism and is something that I found to be far better than Oblivion's horrific texture-mess in the distance. As you move closer, items pop up, but it doesn't detract from the beauty of the game at all. Another great part of the graphics is the character and monster models, which are extremely detailed. One of the best things about the character models are the animations that they have for combat, moving around the world, tending to shops, crafting items, and other mundane daily activities.
Unfortunately, this detail comes at a steep price. If you're not running a beefy, up-to-date system, you'll probably be turning down the details considerably. This could be a product of the preview build, so hopefully the engine will be tweaked before release to help those with lower-end systems get the most out of the visuals. There are often many characters on-screen, which is going to tax the graphics engine on any system, but there's no doubting that this game looks incredible.
The combat system in the Gothic 3 preview build could have used some work. When you get close to an enemy, his name will hover above his head, and you click the left mouse button to instigate combat with him, holding down the button to increase power, or clicking furiously to hack away. Right from the outset, you're thrown into mortal combat with a group of orcs who are invading your town, giving you ample opportunity to test out the combat system. Right-clicking is supposed to block, but it doesn't really seem to do much. Most of the time, you'll find yourself on the ground without a weapon within seconds of starting a fight, at least until you get some experience under your belt. Even a lowly warthog was able to shame my character into making a hasty retreat. Perhaps this will be addressed in the final retail version, so that gaining experience isn't such a frightful undertaking.
Overall, Gothic 3 has a lot going for it; there is a lot to do, see, and like about this title. Building upon their previous efforts, Piranha Bytes has a franchise here that can become a venerable and beloved RPG series with just a little more effort. Let's hope that they had time to work out the quirks before release, and the problems that were evident in this build were ironed out before it went gold. With just a hint more polish, Gothic 3 has a real opportunity to become a great game.