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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Gothic II

Gothic II (Game release date: 2003)
An immersive CRPG with memorably open-ended problem-solving, weighted down by interface glitches and a main character you have little control over.

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Highlights: Plentiful and flexible quests, fun exploration, immersive gameworld detail Lowlights: Uncustomizable PC, poor controls, slow pace

First things first: anyone who loved Gothic is going to love this sequel. It's very much more of the same, only with better graphics, more interactive NPC's, and richer quests with multiple solutions to each. Unfortunately, despite building on some of its predecessor's strengths, Gothic II hasn't addressed any of its weaknesses. You're still saddled with a single character you are unable to customize or even name. (The character having no name isn't even a plot point, a la Planescape Torment; the game designers just didn't want to bother with it.) Forget gender and race, you can't so much as change the color of his hair... and he has no discernible personality, nor any way for the player to imbue him with one. You can choose different courses of actions for him, but not different conversational options-- his lines are all bland and neutral and all you can do is click your way down the dialogue tree until they've all been delivered.

And then there's the controls. The 3D environment is fine, but the movement mechanism is rudimentary at best. You basically use the arrow keys to run Mr. Nameless German Ponytail Man around the room until he's looking directly at something, at which point its name will pop up on the screen and you can click on it to take/use it. Sort of Morrowind-meets-Grim-Fandango. It doesn't work. Combat is realtime and there's no easy way to pause the game. This is something that annoys me under the best of circumstances--if I wanted to commit to a realtime shooter with no AFK tolerance, I'd be online, you know--but in Gothic II it's excruciating, because the inventory screen is very difficult to use, monsters jump on you and kill you while you're futzing around with it, and the gameplay forces you to futz around with it frequently. You die a lot in this game, and it's rarely because you did something stupid. The interface kills you, repeatedly. Overpowered monsters drop in and kill you a lot, too. Gothic II is constantly pitting you against opponents that are way out of your league, giving you no way of realizing you ought to be fleeing other than getting killed and reloading.

If you can get used to the awkward gameplay and the off-putting main character, though, there's an excellent game in here. Gothic II just feels alive; people go about their daily life, gossiping in the streets, farming in the fields, sleeping in their beds at night. If a wolf wanders into town, it may attack a sheep; the shepherd may run over and beat it to death with his staff, or the wolf may kill him and flee back to the forest. Things happen in this game whether or not you're driving them, and that's a rare pleasure. NPCs react appropriately to your actions, too, and remember things you've told them in previous conversations. And nearly every quest has more than one possible solution in this game--more than any game in recent memory, Gothic II anticipates all the possible responses you could have to a simple problem like "How can I get into town without a pass?", allowing you to try locating a pass, bribing a guard, disguising yourself, scaling the walls, and probably one or two things I haven't even thought of yet. It's doubly unfortunate that the main character is such an uncustomizable block of wood, because this is a game it would have been fun to play through four or five times with different characters.

Style: Gothic II is a 1st-person hack-and-slash-style CRPG. You control and develop one character. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy themes. Combat is realtime.

Series: Gothic II is the sequel to the earlier 1st-person CRPG Gothic. The two are very similar in look and feel. Though there is continuity between the two games, it's very tenuous and based mostly on the reappearance in Gothic II of a few NPC's from Gothic I. Your character is supposed to be the same, but since he's been returned to first level by a blow to the head, and being as how he never had a name or personality in the first place, there's no need to play the first game before you play the second. If you like one of them, though, you're very likely to enjoy the other as well.

Finding Gothic II: This game was recently re-released in a new Gothic 2 Gold edition bundling the game together with its expansion pack, Night of the Raven.

Getting Gothic II to Work: Gothic II has rather demanding system requirements. The box says it'll work with 256 meg of RAM, but I wouldn't try it with less than 512. I also found that I needed to reinstall my sound card driver before the game could recognize it. Once the game started running, though, I didn't have any problems with it at all.

Pitfalls In Gothic II: This game relies heavily on realtime combat, cannot be easily paused, and requires a certain amount of manual dexterity on the player's part.

Game Length: 50-75 hours, depending how many side quests you pursue.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated M (for 17 years old and up) due to violence, gore, and a suggestive cutscene at the requisite brothel.

Lora's Gothic II Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is basic and has some pacing problems, but the quests truly shine--there are multiple ways to solve every problem presented in this game, and I almost never thought of a possible approach the game hadn't prepared for.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There aren't a lot of puzzles in Gothic II. Most of the interesting challenges come from solving the game's plentiful quests, which is highly satisfying. Lateral thinking is encouraged in this game.
Characters: You control only one character in Gothic II, and he's a completely uncustomizable blond man with no name, no personality, and no character development. NPC's are quite interactive and react to your behavior in interesting and reasonable ways, but the generic unlikeability of the main character keeps the interactions from reaching their full potential.
Gameworld: Gothic II is set in a standard fantasy world, but the detail and interactivity of the environment set it apart from the average sword-and-sorcery game. Not only do guards and townsfolk come to your aid against wandering monsters, but monsters beset each other in realistic ways (I saw one beast chase, kill, and eat a goblin.) You can cook meat in a stove if you care to, or skin a wolf and sell its hide. NPCs go about their daily lives, and you can plan moves around their sleep schedules.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): The player has no input into character creation and little input into character advancement. Leveling is a rather dull affair, and it takes forever to earn enough learning points to actually learn anything new. Once you get into the middle game, though, the magic system and guilds are very interesting.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Gothic II has a generally tolerable 3D interface, but the movement controls take a lot of getting used to and inventory management is wretched.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): I really enjoyed the look and feel of this game. People are rendered a bit blockily, but otherwise the graphics are well done. Most of the voice acting is high quality, the music is good, and the overall feel is immersively gloomy.

Lora's Recommendations: The interactive gameworld and plethora of flexible quests make this a worthy CRPG, but if you have an aversion to realtime combat or have little patience for cranky interfaces, you might be better off waiting for Gothic III, which is due out in late 2006 and is said to have a greatly improved interface.

If You Loved Gothic II: You would probably enjoy going back for the original Gothic, which uses the same engine. If you like this style of play, then you're bound to enjoy the expansive role-playing powerhouse Oblivion, which has a similar scope and feel to Gothic II but a far superior interface. Other excellent CRPGs you may enjoy include Baldur's Gate 2, a 3rd-person (Ultima-style) adventure with an even better array of quests to be solved than Gothic II; Planescape Torment, a macabre and brooding first-person CRPG with incredibly interactive NPC's; or Arcanum, a glitchy but highly original steampunk adventure fusing magic and technology.

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