Gothic 3 Review
|Release Date:||October 20th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Welcome to Gothic 3. Something of a cult RPG series in Germany, I've not actually played the first two games, so this was my first foray into Piranha Bytes' massive open-ended series. Gothic 3 sees you as a lone hero dropped in huge open-ended environment, with a choice between 1st and 3rd person perspectives. You'll have to fight your way through faction based quests and gain experience through good old monster bashing, all the while tailoring your free-form class to your play style. Sound familiar? There's no denying that Gothic 3 treads much of the same ground as Oblivion, right down to an engine capable of sumptuous visuals. This of course, is no bad thing.
When I first loaded up Gothic 3 I whacked the visuals up as high as I thought my crusty old rig could bear. I was duly rewarded with some gorgeous graphics. Truly the Gothic 3 engine pulls out all the stops, with heavy but effective use of post-processing techniques and some impressive vegetation. 'This,' I thought to myself, 'looks like a postcard.' And it might as well have been, because when I touched the keys I couldn't move. Not at anything over 3 frames per second anyway. Yes folks, Gothic 3 is far from an easy ride on your PC. After scaling everything down, the drop in visual quality was sharp, but the game became playable. It's a shame as Oblivion scaled much better on different PCs, and ran a hell of a lot more smoother. There's no sense in faulting quality, just be aware that if you truly want to see the best of this game make sure you have a beefy PC.
First impressions are important socially, and it's no different for games. Starting a game of Gothic 3 found me standing in the middle of a town, or more specifically, the middle of a battle. Struggling to understand what's going on I fumbled around until I found my draw sword button, and from there it was door to door street-fighting against Orcs, with the local baker and miller aiding at every turn. While I wish I could say that this is as dramatic as it sounds, it just feels so awkward and confusing. Clunky combat and poor path-finding only help in bewildering the new player.
Fighting in Gothic 3 has so much potential, but in the end falls a bit flat on its face. Sword fights are based on a real hit and block system, much like Oblivion. With a button for slashing, and another for parrying, the stage is set for some fluid duels. Power attacks can break through an enemies block, so you should have to plan your moves carefully. The only trouble is that it's far easier to just batter an Orc to death with a barrage of quick strikes than put any real consideration into a fight. And the enemy knows this too. If you're slow of the mark against a wild-boar, don't be surprised if you get stun-locked to death by a similar storm of strikes. It's a frustrating and somewhat dated combat system in this day and age. If I had to compare combat to anything, it would be more like Dynasty Warriors than any weighty RPG.
Much more impressive is archery, which features arrows realistically affected by range drop, and is indeed pretty satisfying. Good archers can considerably even the odds when faced with a group of enemies, and you're offered a range of arrows to go about your task. Equip fire arrows and you can enjoy setting your foes on fire. If you fancy yourself as a magician or alchemist too then you can quite happily dabble away in the mystic arts, blasting apart enemies or mixing up powerful concoctions.
Being an RPG you can expect to upgrade your skills and attacks across all areas. Experience is gained by traditional fare, through combat and quests. Upon levelling you're given points to assign across a range of areas. You can focus on everything from sneaking about and gutting people to fighting with shields and exotic weapons. It's certainly a more flexible system than more class based RPGs, and one which is generally pulled off pretty well. Learn the right skills and it's not long before your cutting down boars to the swell of an orchestral passage rather than fleeing in terror.
And what an orchestra. If there's one area which Gothic 3 executes flawlessly it's in its soundtrack. A diverse array of pieces that include everything from a female singer to a choir, Gothic 3 is a joy to listen to from start to finish. Add an impressive array of environmental sounds and it becomes clear that audio-wise no expense was spared for this game. I can't remember the last time I hear crickets chirp so vividly, or indeed a time when a boar has seemed so armour-wettingly terrifying.
Much of the game's real charm comes from progressing at your own pace, and by and large, if you want to be left to your own devices, you can be. There's an elaborate plot involving Orcs enslaving humanity, but you're by no means forced to follow it. With an array of factions on hand to work for, you're never short of quest-based work. Interestingly Gothic 3 gives you ample opportunity to work for the Orcs if you should so desire. Faction levels affect relations with others, and it feels much more dynamic than Oblivion, who's factions merely seemed to serve as different mission branches. One thing I did find annoying though was the game's crime system. It's often not clear what you can and can't take freely, often leading to some embarrassing situations. In addition the AI on NPCs can lean towards the dodgy side at times. I beat up a rebel scholar, who was standing in a room no more than 10 meters from an entire camp's worth of allies, to within an inch of his life. Not once did he raise an alarm, and never reported the crime afterwards. Of course he refused to speak to me for the rest of the game, but it did seem quite odd.
Still, the game is genuinely open-ended and quite exciting to explore. Unlike Oblivion which uses levelled monsters, Gothic 3 seems to employ a monster level range system, much like Morrowind if you played it. Instead of giving you the entire range of enemies at the start and simply levelling them as you progress, Gothic 3 gives you appropriate enemies based on your level. This fixes perhaps my biggest gripe with Oblivion, and is a much more sensible approach to such a huge RPG. There's no fun in a game if you can't outgrow a common bandit.
In the end, Gothic 3 emerges a solid RPG. While there's no denying impressive size and scope of the game, it just falls short of the current high standards in the genre. A good example of this is the UI. It's perfectly fine, and easy enough to use. But it just looks cheap. Too often bringing up the inventory screen made me feel like I was browsing through a workmanlike Microsoft Access database. Efficient, but ugly. Gothic 3 ends up full of such niggles - frustrations that stop you from enjoying what is essentially a decent and entertaining game; whether it's enemies running into walls or resorting to cheap spamming tactics in combat. If you're a big fan of RPGs, and have played through Oblivion to death, there's no doubt you'll enjoy this. Much like a fake Rolex from abroad, onlookers will be impressed at the mere sight of Gothic 3, tricked into believing that they're looking at a high-class, polished product. No matter how well it tells the time though, you'll always know it's not the real deal.
- Lovely visuals if you can handle them
- Beautiful soundtrack
- Nice open-ended world
Not so good stuff
- Requires a hefty PC
- Combat feels unfinished and awkward
- Lots of small frustrations that add up