Unless You're a German or a role-playing-game fanatic, the chances are you don't know very much about the Gothic series. Huge in the land of sauerkraut and sausages (we're talking Hassclhoff-esque levels of popularity here), the first two Gothic instalments also won praise for being among the first RPGs to successfully create a convincing world. Yep, years before Bethesda released Oblivion, a tiny German developer had produced an open-ended game where the inhabitants ate, slept, went to work, shot the breeze with their mates and, on occasion, strummed away at a lute (well, we've all done it).
Gothic 3 follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessors. You play the same bearded, nameless hero, again arriving in a new world and essentially left to do whatever you like. Whereas the previous games were set on the island of Khorinis, you've now made your way to the mainland, Myrtana. And it's in a huge mess: orcs have conquered the country, besieging the king in his fortress city and subjugating the rest of the population, forcing them either into slavery or into the arenas to fight as gladiators. Other humans have either joined the orcs as mercenaries or fled to the forests to join the realls. Thanks in part to this unrest, the bordering nations of Variant and Nordmar are also in flux.
Dropped into this chabs, you're free to approach the situation however you see fit. You can simply wander through the gigantic world (it's around four times bigger than Gothic 2), hunting creatures and getting your hands dirty with various side quests, or you can sink your teeth straight into the main plotline by siding with the rebels, the orcs or both.
Unlike most open-ended RPGs, Gothic 3 presents no obvious good and evil paths. The orcs, for instance, aren't just a bunch of savage killers, but a proud martial race with a fierce sense of duty and honour; the mercenaries that serve them are simply trying to make the I jest of a bad situation; and the rebels are striving to throw a hostile occupying force out of their homelatxl, but are also plagued by greed and infighting.
These factions, along with the others in the game, will offer you quests and other work, rewarding your successes with gold, experience and increasing respect. Clear out the nest of bandits troubling the village of Cape Dun and you'll earn favour with the orcs; continue doing jobs for them, or prove your prowess in the arena (orcs respect a tough guy), and eventually they'll grant you an audience with their leader. Even if you've decided to side with the rebels and chuck the orcs out of town, this comes in handy: you can now get close enough to the orc boss to slip a dagger between his ribs.
Eventually - around two-thirds of the way through the game, which should take at least 50 hours to complete - you'll have to make a final choice and join one of the main factions, but until then you're free to work for whoever you choose. It's a nice system, but nothing that'll surprise Gothic fans.
The gameworld is a huge, beautiful thing; it's not quite as eye-caressingly gorgeous as Oblivion's Cyrodiil, but it's not far off, particularly if you happen to possess the kind of processing monster that'll allow you to turn all the graphics settings up to 11. It's certainly more varied in its environments than Cyrodiil: grasslands, forests, cliffs, mountains and deserts all put in an appearance - and that's just the stuff above ground. Naturally, there are cities, towns and camps dotted around, and plenty of inhabitants, some friendly, some... Not so much.
Which brings us to combat - never one of the Gothic series' strong points. Taking place in real-time and involving only the mouse and the movement keys, it's something that requires a period of adjustment - during which you'll find yourself laid low by any enemy that doesn't resemble an oversized chicken.
There have been a few tweaks, but the system remains similar to that used in the previous games. You now block by holding down the right button, and can use jabs, swings and devastating power attacks to break through your opponent's guard. The idea behind it is clearly to add a tactical, fencing-like element to the combat, but much of the time you find yourself simply hammering the fast attack to put your target under a withering hail of weak blows. If you don't time them right, you get smacked up faster than you can say, "Please don't kill me." An improvement it may be, but for us, it's still not quite there - though it gets better if you decide to develop your melee skills (more on that in a moment).
One Gothic staple that remains is the 'killing blow' mechanic. When you beat a human or orc, they don't die outright. As they lie helpless on the ground, you have the option of either allowing them to live or delivering a final thrust that'll finish them off. While the latter is always tempting, it's worth remembering that murder is a crime in the game: if someone sees you killing someone, you're going to get in trouble.
The character-development system has undergone a rather substantial revamp. Some things are still the same: you gain experience by killing tilings, eventually accruing enough to level-up. Each time you do so, you're handed ten learning points' to spend on improving your attributes or on learning new skills. With no character classes, you can pretty much mould your bearded, nameless avatar (the ponytail's gone now, thankfully) into anything you like. Fancy turning him into a bow-wielding hunter? Easily done. How about a sneaking rogue? Or a badass mage? No problemo. You can mix and match these abilities, but it's wise to concentrate on one or two things only, unless you want to end up as the living embodiment of the phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none'.
New to Gothic 3 handy skills such as Murder' (stab enemies from behind to kill them instantly) and 'Fighting with Two Swords' (yeah, you can probably work this one out yourself), which basically give you even more freedom in the way you develop your character. You'll still be a funny-looking bloke with a goatee, mind.
There's no level cap, so you can keep developing skills and abilities all the way through the game, and, unlike in Oblivion, enemies and other characters don't level-up with you, meaning you're not going to slay a dragon and then get iced by one of the aforementioned oversized chickens on your way home.
Instead, each type of enemy has been given a minimum and maximum level, and where they are when you meet them depends on whereabouts in this range they are. This means that certain foes are going to be impossible to beat till you get further in the game, while others will soon become mere fodder for your sword edge. A wise decision by the developers, in our opinion: it ensures there's a reason for you to level-up (so you can get to certain places and complete certain missions) and makes the world more believable. In Oblivion, bandits end up toting eguipment worth many thousands of gold coins, which doesn't make sense - that doesn't happen here.
If it all sounds a little too good to be true, that's because it is: while there's nothing particularly wrong with the game concept, the execution could be much, much better. We can accept small quirks and bugs, such as poor path-finding and bodies floating 4ft above the ground, with a bit of a chuckle. We didn't find the frequent crashes to desktop quite so charming, and we hope JoWooD has a patch in the works to sort this out.
Technical issues aside, though, Gothic 3 is definitely something any self-respecting RPG-lover will want to get his or her teeth into. The game manages to blend just the right amounts of combat NPC interaction, character development, exploration and epic, save-the-world storytelling into the sort of potion that your typical beardie will gulp down with wild-eyed abandon. It'll keep said beardie occupied for days (and that's just the first play-through), so it's pretty good value for money as well. To top it off, it's got bags of eye candy if you've got a beefy PC.
On the downside, the danger of spreading your shill-base too widely and unforgiving combat will make it a bit too challenging (nay, frustrating), as you can't 'do an Oblivion' and simply explore the entire world at level one. That said, it's still the most accessible and the best-produced of all the Gothic games (yep, the other two could be even more frustrating and prone to crashes), and deserves to win an audience outside of Germans and RPG fanatics. With the technical hitches ironed out, it just might get it.
Download Gothic 3
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Gothic 3 starts out well enough but where it ends up probably isn't going to thrill too many. The story begins as you come back to your homeland only to discover it's been overrun by orc armies. Those not killed in the initial attack have been enslaved but there are those who still put up a strong resistance. Gothic 3 allows you to decide which side to take and the choices you make effect the outcome of the game. So you set out to either side with the orcs or support the resistance, which isn't a bad start. Unfortunately it heads down hill from there.
The first thing that Gothic 3 has going against it is Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Not only did it take action RPGs to a new level, but it looked great while doing it. It also raised expectations of action RPGs and Gothic 3 just doesn't keep up.
Although the role playing elements work well and the story has plenty of potential, the action part of it is terrible. It's bad enough to significantly reduce the desire to play all together. My primary compliant is attacking an enemy. Not only is it difficult to tell if you made contact, but the motion lacks any feel that you hit something solid. Other issues like repetitive side missions and the game crashing on occasion make it challenging to appreciate the world created and really dig in and explore it.
My computer also seemed to struggle with producing the graphics and forced me to back off on the graphical detail to even run the game. Now my computer isn't cutting edge and I haven't had difficulties on other games. The background score worked however and had a Lord of the Rings feel to it but other effects were often less then interesting.
Gothic 3 is loaded with potential but missed on executing it. The setup is great, the role playing elements work well, but it's hampered by less then rewarding gameplay features and bouts of mindless side missions.