Sometimes, one might wonder if the constant upgrading of his machine in order to keep up with the latest titles is worth it. Maybe it is, maybe it's not, however if you have any doubts, play Gothic 3. If not, and the wallet is screaming "empty" in your pocket, get a Playstation and play Guitar Hero: it's more fun.
For some reason, the Gothic series has always been more popular in Europe than in the US. With that in mind, a few "intro thoughts" about Pyranha Bytes' creation should be in order; however, I'll just say that the nameless hero took off from the island where the first 2 parts of the series took place, and landed on the mainland, with a few of his buddies from previous adventures. The mainland is swarming with orcs, who in the meanwhile took over the entire kingdom, as the first sequences of the game clearly suggest.
Now, if the initial fight might raise a few question marks, the first wild animal you'll encounter in the forest will quickly make you realise the game is still Gothic. Here, unlike most RPGs, the mobs you'll encounter won't be level 1 just because you're level 1. Each monster has it's own strength and level, and they exist as such regardless of your power.
If you're starting the game first the first time, wondering around in the "noob area" doesn't mean the monsters there will also be "noobs", and the powerful ones will be conveniently placed "further away".
So, this essential feature is still here, together with the ever present feeling of danger, and the quick wake up call you get when you realise you're cannon fodder for most of the creatures in the game, running through the forest in the middle of the night, feeling uneasy, paying atention to pretty much anything that moves...ready to run. And, because it had to come this sooner or later, I'll say it: way better than Oblivion, in this category at least.
So, where do I go.
The Gothic universe is huge. The feeling of "crap, this is going to take forever to explore" is also accentuated by the fact you don't have a quick way of traveling around, such as a horse or similar beast of burden. Also, add the perpetuous hunt for information of any kind, which is basically the main thing a Gothic player does, regardless if he's level 2, or level 62. This is a good feature, as far as I'm concerned, because it forces me to explore. And you should see the quests: "My lord", says the quest giver, "some bandits are stealing our...stuff, please help us get rid of them. They're in the forest. Go east". And you're like "say what?". What do you mean, east !. "The monsters are raping my animals". "Ok, i'll help". "Great, the coastline is full of the beasts". Not even a hint, a vague pointer, anything. So you check out the map, and you slowly make your way towards the coastline. It's near the farm, so it sounds logical the location might be there. Or even worse, "The infidels have stolen my talisman, and now they're heading towards the next city. Please, bring my talisman back". And boy you got your work cut out for you. This system is, as I was previously saying, realistic, and adds to the overall feeling of the game, especially when, exploring, you bump into some pissed off beast, and then you'll be exploring the hard way, with the shift button squashed, watching your stamina bar decrease...and decrease...
What I don't like, however, is that while making a realistic quest system, the producers have overlooked the fact that the game they're working on is, in fact, an RPG, and an RPG needs a few more things other than the quests themselves. It needs a feeling of accomplishment, it needs to stimulate the player somehow to search for the location so vaguely described in the quest, it needs a proper reward after finishing the damn thing. Granted, money and experience are important, but, as I was saying, you need to feel you've acomplished something, and a random figure symbolising the amount of money you got doesn't exactly help the feeling department. Not to mention the fact that the quests in Gothic 3 don't have descriptions, just a poor transcription of the dialogue you had with the quest giver. And that sucks.
So, we have a system which, for the most part destroys Oblivion, with it's idiot proof location finder system, and then fails miserably when you realise that you might as well could have left that quest unsolved; the reward, and the feeling of acomplishment you got from it were kinda not there anyway. Unlike Oblivion.This doesn't mean Gothic 3 doesn't have any interesting quests, but must of them are...blank. Too bad. On the other hand, while showing the game to a friend of mine, i clicked the "completed quests" button (at around level 25) and I was shocked to see how many quests this game has.
Finally, the quests don't give the impression of a grand master story which eventually comes together. It doesn't have any story arches, guild quests, or something you keep solving until you get to the final "mistery". There is no epic story, with dragons, princesses and blonde heroes saving the world. The storyline is horrendously slow, unfolding at an alarmingly slow pace, until you pretty much forget why you're there, and keep playing around in the huge and beautiful sandbox the developers created for you. Still, the end is not that bad, and there are 3 different ways to finish the game.
Give respect where respect is due
Reputation is extremely important in this game. If you want the best armors, weapons and recipes for your character you have a lot of work to do, gaining the trust of the different factions in the game. Solve enough quests until the reputation bar (which isn't exactly a bar, but anyway) goes up, you hear a "ding" (ok, there's no ding either) and you can buy that blasted paladin armor you've been drooling over since level 1. You can also play with the orcs, if you want, getting their stuff, and kill the rebels who want their country back. It's possible.
The veterans of the series will also recognise more familiar features, such as the "full option" type of armors this game has. Here, you don't gather boots, and gloves, and all that jazz. No, If you get the "heavy militia armor", for example, you'll get the full package, without the headpiece (which are rare and don't belong to any set) and 2 free slots for rings, and another for an amulet. That's it. Obviously, the best armor sets are very difficult to obtain, requiring an obscene amount of money and rep to get. And, again, I really don't like the fact that, although the "armor system", and the way you get them is realistic, their variety and number is really, really low. And that also sucks, because, again, this is an RPG, and an RPG without the hunt for better loot isn't exactly cool. The same applies to the weapons, which are, I'll admit it, more numerous, but you'll still spend most of the game with just one damn sword, and later, where you are so powerful you don't really need weapons anymore, just a well aimed spit towards the mob, you're assaulted with choices. Which could have made your life easier a few levels back.
The skill system behind the character isn't particularly complex, but it feels natural, and logic. There are a few main categories which you "level", such as strength and thieving, with the help of a trainer, and skills, which are organized into categories, such as warrior, hunter, or mage. Of course, the best trainers, who teach the most advanced skills in the game are particularly hard to find.
During the game, I've noticed that this skill system, combined with the available armors, is extremely dependant on your hit points. Sometimes, you feel like reloading the save just to fight the same mob again, with a weaker armor set, to see if there's any difference. And, quite frankly, there isn't. That doesn't mean the best armors are useless, it's just that i would have liked to see a a larger difference in your general resistance when you're wearing end game armor sets.
And, if this feels familiar to the veterans of the series, the fighting system is completely reworked. With successive clicks of the mouse, the hero attacks. Hold the mouse button pressed for a little longer, and the hero will perform a power attack. Click the right button, and he will block. This translates in a vaguely interesting combat system when fighting humanoid enemies, and a completely dumb and quite annoying system when fighting wild animals, mainly because you can't stand still when you attack. And the beasts in this game are _tough_, the last thing you want is to lure more towards you, and that is a problem, because after 3 or 4 hits you've advanced enough to get the interest of half of the wildlife around you. So, the main thing to remember is to not get hit. Seriously. Stun lock is the way to go in Gothic 3. If it doesn't work, retreat, and try again. Otherwise, you're quite dead. So, while not particularly great, or involving, the fighting system isn't particularly disturbing, either. Sure, it can cause a few headaches, but overall it's not that bad. There are many fighting specialisations, such as dual wielding, and that also helps a bit.
I also like that, in order to be a mage, you have a lot of work to do. In Gothic 3, not every "peasant" can become a mage, and that is really, really cool. I mean, it's magic, after all. Right ?
If you had the patience of reading this far, you might think the game is bad. It's not. Quite the contrary, actually, and that's because of the universe you're playing in. The graphics are downright gorgeous, but not in the "eye candy, Oblivion way". I'm talking about style here. This game looks gritty, and tough, and a bit dark at times. It's not called "Gothic" just for the fun of it. The graphics might look a bit rough around the edges, but that really helps in creating a believable athmosphere. The colors are a bit washed out, and some vistas look like they've been sharpened a bit in Photoshop, but others are warm, and bright, but still menacing when you're looking at the gloom forest in the background, and you see the yellow leaves on the ground, and that ruined tower near the road, surrounded in an excellent depth of field effect, creating the illusion of "hey, I can see really far away, but still, what's there, I can't really make out the details". This way, you also don't see the background popping out like in Oblivion that often. The forested part of the world is a small masterpiece. As a buddy of mine said, it feels "german", with the castles on top of breathtaking high cliffs, with their dungeons stretching down towards the valley below, suspdended bridges over chasms cutting the countryside in 2, torches which surround the populated areas in an amazing, amazing color and light show during the night...absolutely stunning.
And there's variety too, 'cause the forested area of the world is not the only thing you'll see. There are the frozen wastes of the north, and the scorching desert of the south, which aren't so detailed as the mainland, but musting with athmosphere and style nonetheless.
Oh, the bugs...they're everywhere.
Any title of Gothic's magnitude is bound to be buggy, but this game is downright shameful when you start counting the anomalies you encounter during your adventure. The game's beauty is is filled with a truckload of small graphical errors, bumps and glitches in the scenery, floating objects, ugly flickering shadows, or even entire regions where the rocks which should lie on the damn ground float 2 meters up in the air. The visual anomalies in Gothic 3 are noticeable regardless if the player has an eye for this kind of stuff, or not. Also, the crappy collision system applied to the rugged terrain in Gothic 3 creates some laughable situations at times, where the hero is desperately trying to fight some mob, an he can't, because he's stuck in a slide animation, over a 1.5 centimeters long "valley" in the area he's in.
There are hundreds of areas where you can block the enemy AI in invisible collisions, which can really make your life easier when you're low level and can't really fight anything with some degree of success. Basically, everything can be killed in this game if you have enough arrows, and you get the monster to reach a problematic area, making you the real Superman of the game, at level 2, killing a shadowbeast which would totally dismember you even at level 30 in a fair fight. Of course, the braindead AI really helps in this matter.
Why is this game any good then ?
It's so damn good because you don't feel how the time passed, and it's 4AM, with a busy day following in a few hours. It "fills" you with it's atmoshpere, it fascinates you with the ease it kills you, in such a natural way you nearly hear some PB developer laughing somewhere in the background, making you wonder how the quickload button didn't die of stress yet...
It keeps you glued to your chair, showing you the most amazing vista when you reach the top of the hill, leaving you breathless in your chair. It doesn't let you go, because you HAVE to get the money to buy that kickass armor set, because it's so damn fun to see your character sharpen his sword at the smithy, or sitting in front of some campfire, making roast meat, while the NPC's around you talk about stuff, one of them is singing, and another is just standing there, on a chair, in such a natural and cool way you start wondering what he's thinking about.
It's so damn good because you can't stop questing. You run around doing things for hours and hours, until you forget the game's story, because it really doesn't matter, when you're working your ass off to gain access to the secret capital of the Hashishin people.
And then there's the music, which may quite possibly be the best i've heard in a game, yet. It completes the game, it fills you with heroism when it has to, it flattens you in your chair when you first enter a desert city, with that lady singing in the background. It's devastating, really, you don't want to move an inch, just to make the music stay there.
The voice acting is ok, for the most part, but I really can't shake the feeling the actors recorded the lines of dialogue between some serious sessions of uncontrolled laughter. The texts, the dialogues in this game are way to relaxed, for a serious game like Gothic. There are way too many jokes, and references to presumably funny situations in previous games. Granted, some dialogues are really, really funny, but in this reviewer's opinion they would have been better of working on the mythos of Myrtana. To the weight of the story, which unfortunately is just as light and uninspired as the previous titles of the series. Myrtana fails again when it comes to showing it's history, and that's a shame.
The really tricky part is to own a system powerful enough to run this game the way it was meant to be played, with absolutely no connection with Nvidia's slogan. And the way it was meant to be played doesn't mean a generic "directX9 card", as most readme files point out, but a monster like the Radeon X1900XTX, or the Geforce 7900GTX, or even the GX2. 2 gigs of ram aren't enough for a stutter free experience: you need a dual core CPU, because the game's engine is multithreaded, a rather neat technology which loads the game much faster, instead of hitching from 10 to 10 seconds loading stuff. You need a fat hard drive, properly defragmented. You, my friend, need a killer system to run this game in all it's glory.
But is it worth it ?
Easy question. You just have to see the game running on a widescreen, 20 inch monitor, at 1680x1050, with all the details up: visual orgasm. Sure, you felt like a nerd when you emptied your pocket for that expensive upgrade, but now it's all worth it. Sure, it would have been nice if people with only 1 gig of ram could have savour the game without waiting 38 days for the game to load. Sure, it would have been equally nice to not to see the game crash while saving. I have no objections to the fact that the game looks horrendous on low details, and quite bland on medium details, this making most of the middle end machines out there kinda unfit for this game..but hey, what can you do.
Gothic 3 can really be savoured on a ninja PC from Nasa. Truth.
This game is an unpolished gem. It should have been released in december, to squeeze some extra polishing time. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to see how it performns on less powerful systems. Some deep thinking about some features of the game wouldn't have been unappreciated, either. And, unfortunately, patches can't fix everything.
My advice: avoid this game if you don't have a powerful enough PC, you don't appreciate a difficult, but realistic game, and, quite frankly, you're to damn blinded by Oblivion to see something else on the horison, or, why not, something right in your damn face. Even though Gothic 3 will unfortunately receive a lower score than Oblivion had.