In a time when games could still be crude and buggy and still find some fans, Gothic is a series that requires a lot of patience and goodwill, but it also is quite rewarding. While the third game in the series doomed the series forever, the first two games are as good as ever.
Having finished Gothic II a few days ago, I felt that now is the right time to share my thoughts on these two games.
Let's start with Gothic I, the game that started it all. Technically-speaking, it was the first 3D RPG to offer an open-world, being able to see as far as you can see. (The German version was released before Morrowind hit shelves in the US, so that's that).
It has everything: Dialogue choices with real consequences, different classes and factions, a traditional stat-based combat system and a great story with fitting music.
One could say that Gothic I was the Dark Souls of RPGs at the time, in both difficulty and setting.
Story-wise, the game is set in a low fantasy world: Nothing too happy, but instead lots of dangerous monsters. Magic exists, but is not available to everyone. It's a... well, gothic world.
The game takes place in a valley where mines are located – mines with magical ore. Only criminals are working in the place, and in order to prevent them to escape, the king ordered magicians to create a magical barrier around the valley. Stuff can get in, but no longer get out.
Yup, Gothic precedes Under the Dome by 8 years!
You play as a prisoner who has been recently sent to this prison colony and must find your way to survive in there. Only problem is: surviving in this place is freakin' hard!
This is truly a Dark Souls-like experience. Clunky controls aside, the biggest problem is that you are very, very weak at the beginning, and it takes quite a while to get somewhat strong enough.
The enemies are scattered all over the place, both weak and strong creatures are everywhere. Chances are, you'll run into a monster that'll one-hit kill you. So you have to be extra careful and save the stronger enemies for later.
Oh, and did I mention that there is no respawning of monsters? Your opportunity to level-up is quite limited, and you have to spend your stats carefully.
The game is just as harsh with its resources: All items, from the food to the potions and even the money, exist only in limited quantities. This further increases the Dome/closed environment feeling, as the shop owners only have a limited supply of currency as well. They do get new inventory at the beginning of each chapter, but whether you can even reach Chapter 2 is another story entirely.
Yet, despite all these harsh circumstances, it is possible to progress in this game if you're patient enough (and save as often as possible). It may be hard at first, but it is quite possible to beat the game. Just be sure to stick with one class/weapon type, as the game doesn't offer enough stat points to support hybrid classes.
The game received a decent English dub in addition to its native German version, and there exist mods to play the game in Full HD, so feel free to try it out yourself when you want to experience a different type of RPG.
Gothic II is a great sequel, I even dare to say it surpasses the first game in some ways.
It still is set in the same unforgiven, doomed world, but at least you get a change of scenery with a forest, some exotic ruins and a beach with the sea thrown into the mix. It now offers more than just one giant hub world, has more variety between the factions and how the story slightly chances depending on them (a few quests are different) and best of all, runs natively without any mods or tools and merely requires some .ini tweaking. There exist some HD texture mods for it, too!
And yes, it fully-supports the mouse, unlike Gothic I which has not quite perfect mouse support.
Gameplay is more or less the same as Gothic I, so if you've played the prequel you know what to expect in this game. Since it's a direct continuation from the first game story-wise, I won't spoil anything here either.
Being more of the same also means more of the unforgiving difficulty, though.
Originally, Gothic II was somewhat easy, but that was revoked with the add-on "Night of the Raven". Said add-on increased the difficulty a whole lot, in addition to adding a new hub world with new quests.
For players back then, when they already played the game, this add-on might've been a great challenge for a second playthrough. But if you buy the game today, you get the version with the add-on automatically included, which makes for quite the harsh first impression.
In fact, it was that harsh first impression of Gothic I back in my teens that I didn't touch WRPGs for the longest of time. Only Skyrim made me gave the genre another chance.
While I overcame my nightmares from back then and finally beat Gothic I myself (which is a huge achievement for me personally), I felt like I'm facing an impossibly-difficult game once again with Gothic II.
These games are not for the casual player. One has to be very patient, plan accordingly and save often to make the most out of his character build. But it rewards you with a great experience that is worth it.
In other words, Dark Souls Made in Germany. it is just as much a mess on PC at times. The resemblances are stunning now that I think about it XD.
Stay tuned for next year, as I'll give Gothic 3 a try over the holidays. I'm eager to see how the now patched game will hold up these days.