The chance to go to beautiful Vienna and grab a first look at Gothic 3 was as exciting as defibrillation with a full English breakfast Vienna: a city so steeped in the arts and so filled with opulent beauty that you can barely catch a bus without writing a lovely Waltz. Gothic 3: the latest game in an unfeasibly popular (on the continent at least) series of free-form roleplayers. Being released in the wake of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, however, can Gothic hold even a +1 candle of flickering to Bethesda's might?
Publisher JoWooD think so, and in their exuberance, they laced our Viennese surroundings with an array of medieval gubbins and period what-nots. There was swordplay from a pair of hulking beasts and a man who couldn't seem to stop playing the hurdy-gurdy, all while we tried to eat lunch without screaming at him. It genuinely felt like being in the third floor of a 18th century Viennese building in medieval times, only with more free lasagne. Perhaps 1 should tell you about Gothic 3. It's an epic, third-person RPG from German developers Piranha Bytes. You could be forgiven for having missed the first two games, despite a reserved but hot clap in the UK. People went dappy for the depth of gameplay and attention to detail, but were forced to acknowledge the alienating interface and slow pace of the early game. On the other hand, even those who hated it acknowledged that there was a damn good game hiding in (and especially behind) the first dozen hours. Everyone also agreed that the whole affair was very, very German.
Tlie plots of Gothic and Gothic II didn't stray too far from the traditional goblinland plot directory. What impressed wasn't the storyline, so much as the depth and openness of gameplay. You could have many side missions on the go, and there was rarely a guest with only one method of completion, To take a basic example, when you were asked to prove you'd killed an ore, you could go for the grinding, level-up tactic and waste good hours getting strong enough to take on the beast' or you could nick a weapon from an ore statue and lie. It saved the messy process of confronting an ore in the pub, when there's ore ladies around and that.
Like the prophecy in Oblivion, the main plot of Gothic 3 is the big thing in the background that you can put your head down and aim towards, or ignore for as long as you like. You play the same character as before, but you've escaped the island of the first two games to a mainland dominated by ores. Beyond the manifold missions dealing with that, there's hundreds of side quests if you love to explore, and Piranha have tried to make sure they're not simply the letter-ferrying quests of yore.
Tlie Gothic series is absolutely huge in Europe, especially Germany. Despite that, Piranha Bytes are proud of their small team - they've grown to only 19 members. They live and breathe the worlds they create (the core members have worked on the Gothic series for nine years), and are hailed as erratic, obsessive heroes who hand-place every bush in every forest, and are loved by a public whose gaming tastes are, perhaps, simply more patient than our own.
Gothic 3 producer Michael Paeck says that the small team allows them all to feel a sense of craftsmanship: "With teams of 200 or more, with someone making the objects, and someone somewhere else making the textures, there isn't a sense that any one person has created something."
The different demands of the European public are illustrated perfectly in the Q&A after the presentation. No "how does this game extend the themes of Gothic If?" or "how does this fit into a rapidly expanding RPG market?" here. Instead, a man with a semi-matted ponytail asks: "Can you set fire to things and people?" His methodical delivery makes it clear he wants to set fire to things and people, one after the other. "Yes, there are fire spells," answers the developer. "No! I mean with a torch!" comes a brittle reply. With this hunger for realism, he presumably wants to be able to piss the fire out too, so long as he's consumed enough liquids in-game.
The Divine Nein
With Gothic 3, however, the developers are making great efforts to fix the aspects of the game that dogged sales in the UK and US, without disgruntling the existing fans. These frustrations included the length of time spent before you got to any real action or character development. Spending a dozen hours to get anywhere interesting was off-putting to anyone with a job or witljout an alcohol problem. 'Those slow, frustrating hours of difficult strengthbuilding and frequent death are a small price to pay for the sense of immersion say the fans just got murdered by a sheep, for Christ's sake,' reply the impatient That's not even mentioning the fact that you were forced to squirm through the first ten minutes of, erm, unpoetically translated dialogue. In Gothic3 the long exposition has gone, more effort has been put into the localisation, and thankfully, you don't start the game as an unjustifiably feeble demon-killer. Your reputation and magic have gone, but this is all explained in plot terms far more sophisticated than 'you got hit on the head and your skills fell off'. Be assured, though, that you won't spend your first hours kicking ant hills and miming away.
Isn't It Cute?
Even if you loved Gothic II, meanwhile, you had to concede that the interface was special - special in a way that only a forgiving mother with a strong stomach could love. On top of that, the combat system was ill-at-ease on a PC. The game was originally developed for the PS2, and barely changed when the development moved over to PC. Piranha Bytes hold their hands up to this, and promise that their latest oeuvre's interface will be quicker to use and more intuitive, with more traditional short-cuts.
"The combat is mouse and timing-based, so you leam the actions of your enemies continues Paeck, explaining that the statistic calculations are complemented (or sabotaged) by the your own nimble hands.
Yet another issue with the earlier games was the trial-and-error frustration of hunting. Easy kills would share a paddock with monsters who could tear your arms off, and there often weren't many clues to what you could handle. You'd be regularly and randomly killed for a large part of your earlier levels. Now, creatures of similar power will lurk in similar areas, allowing you to plan excursions away from the paths.
In a sense, Piranha Bytes are fortunate; the complaints that might have stopped the other games taking off over here have nothing to do with the core gameplay that made them so popular in Europe, so they can address them without angering the men with semi-matted ponytails, fire or no fire.
Ores and magic aside, Gothic 3 is going for that grand sense of realism - like the clouds that blend and coagulate before rain has been called in, while needless levels of research have gone into the buildings and village structures.
Realism, though. It's a tricksy lady. While Oblivion allows you to find quests by overhearing conversations - a trick as simple as it is genius, tricking you into suspending your disbelief and giving you a crafty tingle - Gothic 3 is going for a similar pervasive level of 'touches' that encourage you to give up the cynic.
For example, there's a physics engine, but it's ambient They don't want you walking around town firing barrels into the air, because that would require an aghast reaction a la Black & White from all witnesses to make it seem realistic.
Instead, when we attacked a blacksmith at work, he let go of the sword he was sharpening and it dropped to the floor in a completely believable way. It was a tiny, tiny touch, but it was understated enough to get under your skin. True to say, however, that when we sorted out our differences, the blacksmith picked his sword up and resumed work two metres away from the sharpening wheel. "That will be fixed for the final version," Paeck confirms.
Games reviewers, having been forced to play through to the great bits, have given the Gothic series higher scores than the sales figures reflect; in this very tome right here, the first two games received 74% and 80%. Them's unshabby scores, considering the acknowledged faults.
Considering Gothic 3, as far as we can see. has a bigger world, a deeper plot, dinosaurs and that cool thing with the weather that people seem to be doing at the moment (Just Cause is at it, too), there's no reason it shouldn't do even better. And far more importantly than that with the more accessible interface and combat methods, the wonderful British public might even decide to buy it too.
The other games were unarguably hopefully Piranha Bytes are edging townuls greatness - albeit greatness not quite complemented by a dated graphics engine. That is unless Oblivion hasn't raised the bar to 'unreasonably brilliant' and killed RPGs forever.
Download Gothic 3
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode