Gothic 2

Developer:  Piranha Bytes
Publisher:  Atari
Year Released:  2003

Review by Eric Hartford (October, 2003)
This is a great game. It's played in either first person or third person perspective and it's a single player game; you don't have the option of controlling a party.

You start off as a weak hero in a new land, with only a few familiar faces to be seen. Your starting skills and attributes are preset (after your last journey in Gothic). The first character you'll meet is Xardas, the necromancer. Xardas was a sort of mentor in the original Gothic. He summoned you from beneath the rubble that fell on you at the conclusion of the first game. After being summoned, with your strength spent from the rubble that trapped you for so long and most of your skills forgotten, your journey begins...

The story seems straight out of a book. It's split into chapters and, as with a regular book, each chapter has a different "main quest" or "key event." Since you live out the story, it would be difficult to explain it without dampening the experience of playing the game. Just take note that Gothic 2 starts off where Gothic left off. This means that if you play Gothic 2 without playing Gothic, it will be much like picking up a book and starting from somewhere near the middle. Fortunately, the book is so good that no matter where you start it is bound to entertain. The game itself will have no lesser value without playing the original first, but sometimes the story might seem somewhat vague. You'll be left asking questions like, "Where did I meet this guy" or "What did the barrier have to do with me." However, these questions aren't enough to deter players from enjoying the story in Gothic 2.

There are three major types of quests in the Gothic series. There are main quests, which usually take one or more chapters to complete. There are the mandatory small quests, which take a shorter amount of time to complete and are fairly uncommon, but are necessary to introduce the next stage or turn of events. Lastly, there are optional quests which vary in length. The main quests and mandatory quests are the ones that are directly connected to the storyline. The optional quests sometimes offer multiple solutions and they are never mandatory. They are the ones that bring the freedom because they allow players to make choices and express their individuality. Most quests are unpredictable and allow players to create a personal connection to the NPCs. This is usually according to how players choose to handle the quests offered to them.

Quests are imaginative and diverse. They include trying to get accepted by factions, beating someone up merely to test a new spell on them, betting gold on a previously rigged drinking contest, or even solving a conflict in a couple's relationship. There are also plenty of "rescue" missions and plenty of "fetch this" quests, but no single quest-type is overly used. The quests usually have stories behind them and offer several alternative solutions. Most quests begin with a choice. For example, you may choose to help a farmer in his field and you may then choose what reward you want to receive.

The classic controls are simple, easy to remember, and very unconventional. Where many role-playing games assign a different key for almost every task, making it difficult to get into the zone, the Gothic controls are effortless because relatively few keys are used. Many of the commands and functions are programmed to the same key.

The classic controls are those used in the original Gothic. However, in Gothic 2 you also have the option of using non-classic controls which are more like those used in other RPG titles. To someone who didn't play the original Gothic, the classic controls might seem awkward at first, but after an hour or two you'll find them as natural as breathing. It's only a matter of repetition, until you've grown accustomed to using them. The non-classic controls are less awkward to a first time user, but have the same long-term benefits. Having played the original, I personally prefer the classic controls.

Gothic 2 is primarily a keyboard controlled game. The mouse can be used for some things such as changing the direction you're facing, and for looking up and down but there is no cursor visible on screen. The mouse buttons will also control some actions by default, however, as with the keyboard controls, they can be customized to perform whatever function you like. The entire control scheme can be customized to fit your personal preference.

The Gothic series uses real-time combat. For close ranged combat you have the option of using swords, axes, hammers, staffs, daggers, and much more. You can become skilful in 1H combat and/or 2H combat. When untrained, close combat requires timing. With the awesome camera angles, timing is easy to master. With an increased skill level, your attacks will be so fast that timing will no longer be much of an issue. The more you train in either 1H combat or 2H combat, the more strategies and combinations become available to you. For example, a master at 1H combat can hit three arrow keys in the right order to do a fast and extremely lethal combination. 1H weapons allow for faster swings and more combinations. 2H weapons allow for more damage.

For long-ranged combat you have the option of using two types of weapons and several types of magic. You can train in a crossbow or a bow (archery). Crossbows allow for more damage. Bows allow for faster shooting. Training in either of these skills will improve your accuracy. For magic there are kinds that do direct damage or area of effect damage, you can summon creatures to do damage for you, and there are kinds that transform you into creatures with other abilities and factions. Transforming into a creature can be useful, especially when you're trying to get past a similar hostile creature. For example, if there's a swarm of bloodflies nearby, you could transform into a bloodfly and go right past them without being harmed.

You can use scrolls or runes. Scrolls can be purchased or found, and have a onetime only use. Runes can be used as often as your mana permits. You can also train to increase your mana. Magicians focus primarily on runes for combat. They have the ability to learn circles of magic. Each circle contains a new set of spells which can be created as runes. The higher the circle of magic, the more powerful the spells become.

Armor and Skills
Throughout your journey you'll come across many types of armor with unique properties. Whichever guild you decide to join will have its own set of armors you can earn or purchase as you progress through the game. You have the ability to create your own weapons, runes, or even potions. Maybe you'll seek training in looting skills which enables you to cut off or remove certain parts of creatures and take them with you as trophies. These trophies can later be used to sell to merchants for gold or to assist you in quests. If you are wounded or have no mana left to cast spells, you can sleep and wake fully rejuvenated, or consume special herbs or foods/drinks. Basic looting skills, such as emptying an NPCs pockets after killing or beating them up, are not learned skills. Everyone starts off with this basic ability. Skills include, take trophies, create runes, alchemy, forge weapons, thieves' abilities, and combat.

You'll also come across many hidden objects, items and NPCs which can increase your abilities or attributes. You can go through the entire game without even discovering half its quests or mysteries!

The world is much larger than the original Gothic, which means you've got more mysteries to uncover, more creatures to slay, and more of all the other things that brought the wilderness of the original Gothic to life. Since the game is based on a time before compasses, you're left to choose between memory or cartography to guide you when you're lost. Since the vast land in Gothic 2 is so memorable, I chose to rely on memory to find my way around, but a handy map doesn't hurt. When looking at your map you'll see a small, white arrowhead which indicates your current location. This makes recognizing where you want to go very easy and convenient. Unfortunately, you do not have the option of writing on maps. (We don't even know if our hero knows how to write!)

Statistics and Information
The Gothic series offers a stat menu that displays your character's attributes, what skills you've learned, your skill percentages, your current experience, how much experience you need in order to increase your level, and the current time of day.

It also offers a separate screen for your journal entries. Every time you receive a new quest, complete a quest, or learn new information, it is recorded in your journal. Your journal is conveniently divided into different sections. Most importantly, you have a separate section for completed quests, quests in progress, and failed quests. The entire structure is simple, easy to access, and easy to read. There is also a section that lists all the vendors and trainers you meet on your journey. This makes remembering which NPCs are important very easy.

Graphics and Sound
The graphics are simply amazing. There is more detailed plant life than any other game I've played. In some areas you can easily get lost in the forest. They really bring the world of Gothic even more to life. The sky and weather effects are beautiful. You will find yourself pausing on a cliff or a hill just to watch the sunset or sunrise. During stormy weather, you'll feel as though it's really storming. You'll feel an urge to find shelter, and you'll find comfort near a warm fireplace. You might feel like reading books or going for a swim (don't tell me you've never gone swimming on a rainy day! The water always feels warmer. It's the best time for a swim!). You'll find yourself feeling, and wanting to do whatever it is you do in real life, as the weather changes.

The sound, too, is very good. I was playing the other day and my friend just happened to stop by for a visit. He heard the in-game music/sound and commented on it. This coming from someone who doesn't even like computer games; he said he was amazed at how clear and powerful it was. From the birds chirping and the creatures roaring, to the gentle tunes of the music, it all fits perfectly.

This is where the Gothic series makes its mark. Perhaps one of the greatest things is the actual speech. Unlike most games, you don't have to read until your eyes hurt. In fact, you rarely have to read at all. Every single NPC speaks. When you choose something to say you will literally say it, and the NPC you're talking to will talk back. You can have real conversations. Gothic 2 does offer subtitles for those who prefer to read. However, subtitles don't feature in cut scenes. Since there are very few cut scenes throughout the game this is not too much of a problem. NPC's also sleep, eat, chat, work, celebrate, etc. There just isn't enough space here to list all the things they do throughout their daily routines! AI realism is so amazing you might even be so unfortunate as to see a man peeing in the corner of the castle walls or on the trunk of a tree.

Another factor contributing to the realism of the game is the in-game time scheme. You've also got to be prepared for the darkness of night. You have the option of using a spell which provides light, using a torch, turning the gamma up in the options menu, or simply finding a bed to sleep in until the next morning.

You can play this game over and over again, exploring new possibilities and quests each time. You can play the role of a ruthless, a merciful, or a neutral character. You can kill NPCs at will or let them live in the hope that they might serve you in the future. You can communicate with multiple options of personality to which NPCs will respond accordingly. You can explore a world, large and memorable. You'll quickly discover which creatures to avoid until later when you've grown and developed your character, and you'll never grow tired of slaying the creatures vulnerable to your wrath. You'll connect to some NPC's and you'll develop a personal disliking for certain others. You choose your own path! You choose your own allegiance! You decide your own fate!

The only thing worthy of complaint is the voice acting. There are so many NPCs it is understandable and forgivable, but, nonetheless annoying no matter how hard I try to overlook it. Due to a limited supply of voice actors the same voice is used for several different NPCs. I was especially saddened by the change in the voice actor for the NPC, Diego. In the original Gothic, many players, including myself, made a personal connection with NPCs such as Diego. In Gothic 2, hearing a strange, new voice assigned to the same NPC is almost heartbreaking. I went from feeling like Diego was a dear friend, to feeling like I didn't even know him anymore. (Wishful thinking, maybe, but it would be better if the voice actors were to sign a legal agreement obligating them to stick with their characters for the duration of the Gothic series.)

Also, in the version I played there were a few minor and uncommon bugs (there are always at least some bugs in every game). One of the more common bugs is associated with getting locked inside the 'action' screen. This usually only happens if you press the command keys too fast, or end up trying to use an object such as a book when there's something blocking you from behind. None of the bugs are too drastic, and they don't spoil the game.

Finally, this game deserves the highest score I can give. The things that really matter are here. The Gothic series is one we can look forward to; it's proved reliable thus far. For those who enjoy this type of RPG, this game offers an experience you shouldn't pass up. Furthermore, if you play the Gothic series from the start, the experience is bound to be even more rewarding. rating:  

Copyright © Eric Hartford 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Requirements: Windows 98/2000/XP, 256 MB RAM, DirectX 8.1 Graphics adapter with 32MB RAM, Pentium III 700, (1.2Ghz for 3D-cards without T&L), 2.2 GB Hard Drive Space, DirectX Soundcard

Recommended: Windows 98/2000/XP, 64 MB graphics card with T&L and 24 Bit ZBuffer, 512 MB RAM, Pentium III 1.2Ghz or better, 2.2 GB Hard Drive Space, DirectX Soundcard

Attention! Win 95 and all versions of Windows NT are not supported