Gothic Universe

NOTE: May contain spoilers. Don't read if you haven't played, even though the first two games are pretty old!

While I was up at Best Buy getting some new fans for the servers, I happened across the bargain bin. In it was a package called "Gothic Universe" which is basically the trilogy pack for the Gothic series of games. I figured for $20 I couldn't go wrong as it contained Gothic 1, Gothic 2 + the Night of the Raven add-on, and Gothic 3. That was more or less the case. Although it was not without some serious problems.

The three games have one common thread between them. You are the Nameless Hero, apparently some chosen savior of the people or something. The story unfolds around your actions, though in a very linear way. As a result the games have no true replay value other than choosing what side of the conflict to work for. The over all progression is the same either way. Your enemy throughout is the orcs. Your typical big brutish dumb clods who are bent on nothing short of all out conquest of the humans. Myrtana has been at war with them for longer than most people remember, with varying degrees of success. And of course, no series would be complete without the patron deities. Innos, God of Fire. Beliar, God of Evil. Adanos, God of Water. Innos and his followers are the good guys, usually represented by the Fire Mages. Beliar and his followers are the bad guys, usually represented by either the Orc shamans or the Black Mages. Adanos is in between, keeping the balance between the two. Usually represented by the Water Mages. There's an awful lot of story being told, and it's told very well.

In Gothic 1, the basic story is that you are a prisoner who is being sent to a penal colony in a region known as the Vally of Mines. The valley is home to the only place on the island of Khorinis where magic ore can be found. However the orcs were close to overrunning the colony and the Fire Mages cast a barrier spell, trapping everyone inside. It's up to you to deliver a message from the outside to the Fire Mages still trapped at the castle within. You then decide on which faction of prisoners you wish to join up with and set about making yourself into a powerful hero. Along the way you interact with the other two factions as well as the black mage Xardas in order to reach the ultimate confrontation with a dark demon known as The Sleeper.

In Gothic 2, the action picks up supposedly 13 days after you've defeated The Sleeper. However, you nearly died in the battle and Xardas, the black mage, had to pull you from the collapsed ruins of the Orc temple. In typical fashion, you have nearly forgotten your skills and abilities. So you once again set out to remake yourself into a powerful hero. Many of your friends and enemies from the Valley of Mines will be in the area now that the magical barrier has collapsed. Things have changed significantly and most factions will be willing to overlook your past actions towards them. You have run of the island and can venture between the island capital of Khorinis and the outlying farm regions. Once again you must decide which faction you wish to join up with. As things progress, you do battle with four powerful dragons and then pursue the ultimate evil. The Night of the Raven add-on also tacks on a sizeable jungle region dotted with ancient ruins. Apparently it also drastically alters the rest of the game as well.

Gothic 3 picks up after you have destroyed the undead dragon and unraveled Beliar's plans on the island of Khorinis. As you sail toward the mainland you and your crew realize the orcs have won their war and King Rhobar has been forced to isolate the capital city of Vengard behind another magical barrier to prevent the orcs from completely destroying the kingdom. As you arrive and disembark, you and four friends from the previous games liberate the city of Ardea from the orcs and once more your journey begins. Of course, you are somehow not as powerful or skilled as you were when you JUST LEFT the island, but at least your missing equipment is explained in game. Lame as the excuse may be. You can then decide whether to join the rebellion and retake Myrtana for the humans, or work for the orcs and crush the remaining resistance. Whichever side you should choose, Gothic 3 has plenty more to do than just triggering revolts in all the major cities. You are also tasked with retrieving 12 Fire Chalices for the Fire Mages, in order to restore the magic Xardas has taken away from the Paladins. This will take you throughout the midlands, into the icy north of Nordmar, and then into the vast desert wastes of Varant.

Technically speaking, the Gothic series has a lot to offer. The entire world in every game is one smooth and seamless worldspace. Caves open up and take you below the ground. Buildings have doors which open out into the wilderness. Cities rise up before you, and you walk right through the gates into town, and then through the doorways into the buildings. There isn't a load screen in site except in Gothic 2 when you cross between the three major regions. Graphic quality is surprisingly good for the first two games given their age. If you are familiar with Ultima 9, the first two Gothic games are at at least the same level. A lot of game companies could learn a thing or two about seamless worldspaces **cough**Bethesda**cough**. What seals the deal on this is that when storms happen, you don't get rained on when standing under cover. Whether that's a roof from a building or a cliff overhang. No getting wet in rain or snow. NPC AI doesn't appear to be an issue. Locations with dozens of NPCs and creatures don't seem to have a problem processing the data needed for it all to function properly. You can even get into some epic battles with literally dozens of opponents and the game doesn't seem to mind one bit. Frame rates are consistently high, even in Gothic 3 with supremely high detail set. And best of all, the Universe pack has NO COPY PROTECTION! Do you hear me people? None whatsoever. So the CDs don't need to remain in the drive to play the games.

It's not without downsides though. Gothic 1 and Gothic 3 are incredibly unstable when moving about. Both games can crash without warning, despite having been patched several times each. You will find yourself needing to save very often or risk losing progress. With Gothic 3, that's especially frustrating because it happens without warning and you can become engrossed by simply exploring and forget to save after finding goodies. It's especially frustrating when teleporting from place to place. Things seem to tear themselves apart most often when doing this. Gothic 2 was much more stable and is playable for hours at a time before the game begins to show signs of pending trouble. I think the work put into the add-on module for it must have included tons of bug fixes and memory leak plugging as well.

Combat in all 3 games sucks ass. Whoever designed the interface utterly dropped the ball on it and that alone very nearly drove me to shelving the series. You can die easily in combat not because you suck, but because the controls fail to respond when issued commands. Or you could swing at the wrong target. Don't do that. Allies forgive no accidents and will turn on you the second the threat is neutralized. Which leads to the even bigger problem - killing essential NPCs. Yes, you can do this, and yes, it *WILL* break the game if you manage it. Gothic 1 and 2 make it virtually impossible to kill essentials only because they tend to be surrounded by plenty of guards. But in Gothic 3, it's possible to have them be alone and easily killed. I found this out the hard way myself when I decided to kill Xardas shortly after I located him. I mean, after all, the bastard allied with the orcs and I was out to free the world of them. Logical thought - kill the head bad guy, right? Wrong. Only the game didn't tell me this until I'd spent several days playing forward, happily killing orcs with indiscriminate abandon. Until I needed to get into Mora Sul ( a big city in the desert ) and couldn't because all the orcs attacked on sight. Well, I dealt with that by luring them into the desert outside. Except then the people in town attacked me for having killed the orcs! And of course the city is filled with plot essential NPCs who were all laying dead at my feet. Being a level 71 badass has benefits. But breaking the game isn't one of them. The Mora Sul population was critical to getting access to the desert capital of Ishtar and without certain things happening I couldn't get in, even when I decided to fight my way in. So despite the bugs and my irritation with the combat system, I restarted and have been playing things a bit more cautiously. Like, not liberating every city I come across and NOT killing Xardas as soon as I find him. We shall see if it pays off in the end.

Normally I'd wait until having finished all of the material before writing up a review like this, but sinc Gothic 3 is glitch city and crashes 10x more often than Oblivion did, I figure I should at least have SOMETHING new here to talk about since it'll take a few more days yet to recover all the lost time I'm making up. I doubt very much the ending will be worth the trouble since both previous endings were cheesy compared to the effort involved in getting there. But hey, at least they weren't Fallout 3's ending :)
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

« Fire Season 2008
The Day the Earth Stood Still »

Posted on Dec 7, 2008 8:59 pm by Samson in: | 9 comment(s) [Closed]
As a bit of an addendum to this, I'll add some stuff specifically about Gothic 3.

What they got right:

Graphic detail. Not too much, not too little. Keeps the video card busy but doesn't overwhelm it.

Zero loading screens, except when teleporting. Because as previously mentioned, seamless worldspaces are where it's at. Oblivion, I'm talking to you dammit. And you too Morrowind, to a lesser extent.

AI - NPCs act in intelligent manners, pursuing you only so far if you elude them in battle. No dragging orcs out of the cities miles into the wilderness only to be dead at the hands of 50 rebels you hid away in a previously liberated city.

Archery that doesn't totally suck. Draw your bow, fire a shot. If you miss, you can recover the arrow. If you hit the target, they get knocked back a bit giving you time to line up another shot. With enough skill and a decent bow, you can fell even powerful orc commanders in two shots.

Magic system that doesn't totally suck. I for one am quite glad G3 dumped the stupid rune magic system of the first two games. It was cumbersome when you had runes, and they were extremely hard to come by.

The ability to assemble large combat parties. So far the largest one I've assembled is 5 people, counting myself. We're all about to go into battle with something like 300 orcs. The funny thing is, the computer controlled allies stand a decent chance of surviving the fight as long as I can deal with the orc shamans fast enough. This isn't something I've seen possible since Baldur's Gate. Even Fallout 3's one ally you could bring along was often easy to kill in a big fight. That said, I doubt very much that all 5 of us are coming through this next battle alive.

As I mentioned before, rain that doesn't fall through overhead cover. They've managed to improve the visuals by quite a bit on it so it's not so cheesy looking.

No matter how far away an animated visual is, it's always animated. Unlike Oblivion's LOD objects, everything in G3 that has animation is visible from miles away. So you can see the truly awesome waterfalls of Silden from a considerable distance out. The magic barrier over Vengard is also visible from a long way off.

A very engaging story line that would make sense even if you'd never played the two previous games. Even though it relies heavily on the previous events. It's pretty much the only reason I'm putting up with the game at this point.

What they got wrong:

Well. Oh MY GOD. Apparently the QA team was asleep, or had been fired prior to release. The game is full of bugs. Big mean nasty crash inducing bugs. You're virtually guaranteed to trigger one when moving from one major region to another. Even though the game is one seamless worldspace, it still needs to load the data as you get closer. Wander around a lot, get used to breaking play every few minutes to save or you'll have a hell of a time making any progress.

Pathfinding sucks ass. When you're being led around by NPCs to take you places, they seem to have no idea where they're going. I've literally seen them run forward, stop, run back behind me, stop, run back forward again, then come back to me, make a right turn, and dash off into the wilderness, only to then turn back toward the original place ahead of us. This leads to a ludicrous number of unnecessary battles. Though good for XP and all that, it's still annoying as hell to see.

Building on that, glitch city when NPCs approach inclines. Now you see him, now you don't. NPCs and creatures have a nasty habit of clipping through to whatever is underneath. They're still there, and yes, they're still able to attack you. Many a time I found myself under attack, with nobody around, only to die because the shaman was below the surface firing up through the landscape from some cave that turned out to be down below. Seems to me there's a massive issue with line of sight here. Not to mention a complete disregard for the Z distance.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a nasty tendency to get stuck in the terrain or on objects on the terrain. It's usually possible to jump away from the problem, but too bad for you if jumping out of being stuck means falling over a cliff. Acrobatics won't save you if you land with minimal health in a river full of angry Lurkers. All thanks to the rock up above that made it impossible to move.

Combat. When I swing my sword, I expect to land a blow. Instead, more than 80% of the time the enemy simply jumps back and I have to advance to get in range again. You have no idea how utterly irritating it is. Especially since the moment you stop swinging, the enemy is magically back in range beating the living shit out of you over it. So most fights become a drudgery of repeatedly swinging your sword at something until it backs into an obstacle and can't move. Only then do you usually get to kill it. Of course, in the meantime, 10 other beasts have joined in to surround you. Yeah, I'm sorry, but not fun. Really. Also see above about getting stuck on shit. Having this happen in battle sucks even more.

Archery. Shooting a bow is good for no more than 2 shots before the enemy is on you. Your character is going to spend more time drawing the bow string and firing the shot than necessary. It often leads to the above situation with several creatures rushing you while you're waiting on the animation to switch weapons. God help you if it doesn't complete, because you're in for a beatdown. It's worse still with crossbows. The firing animation for those is excruciatingly slow and you'll be lucky to get off one clean shot. I realize it was done for realism purposes but at some point you need to knock that shit off or it's just not fun anymore.

Magic. I can't really believe I'm saying this, but magic is much to EASY. Once you've learned the self-generating mana skill, you're a machine gun. You can fell even the toughest NPC or creature in no more than 3 shots, and they all fire off much faster than bows or crossbows, and don't come with any of the risks of sword swinging if there is a small enough battle. If the battle is larger, simply run around until your mana is back, then fire again. Between Ice Lance and Fireball, nothing can stop you. I guess it's payback for the shit melee system.

Blurred distant view. It looks terrible. It was supposedly added for realism, and also claims to be easier on the video card, but I fail to see how. I for one don't have an issue with seeing things miles away as nothing but a blurred mess. Or, well, a blurred vague image of what's really there anyway. Sort of makes those otherwise really cool waterfalls off in the distance a bit of a letdown.

Levitating trees? And here we thought only Bethesda could do that. Yeah. There are hundreds of trees, rocks, bushes, and even buildings which are simply not connected to the ground. I'm not talking about one corner where the land dropped out from under it. I'm talking entire stands of trees and such you can walk under, look up, and see the insides of. There's also an insane number of harvestable plants which are sticking partway up through the floors of buildings, rocks, trees, etc. And of course, even better, harvestable plants that are completely buried underground yet still clickable.

And one last big insult to injury. If you die in the same general area of the game you loaded in from, count on the game crashing to desktop with remarkable reliability. What's even better than that is if you DON'T die, but reload anyway, you'll find yourself standing there with things missing or with corpses of stuff you killed prior to reloading. If this sounds at all familiar to anyone, it should be. The very same kinds of bugs plague Oblivion if you try and reload your game from the same cell as your death. In fact, so much of the game behaves in such a similar manner that you'd have to guess they used the same underlying engine. Well, except for how Oblivion doesn't have nearly the same problems as listed above. But hey.

I also think it might be important to note than I'm playing G3 with the "community patch" which is supposed to address a large number of issues. I don't know to what extent the game can even be modified but it stands to reason that whatever bugs the community patch fixed were not the ones that truly needed it. Namely the massive memory leaks that lead to the all too familiar crash to desktop.

If there's going to be a Gothic 4, as some rumors speculate, I'm going to be unlikely to give a shit until it drops down to bargain bin pricing.

Well, on the bright side, at least it's not Ultima 9.

As in, "At least it's not such a bug-ridden POS they had to ship you a whole new install CD to fix it." Then again, at least U9 sort of worked after that. G3 sounds like maybe not so much.

Wow, your initial review made me feel like I should seriously consider rushing to get this one, your addendum makes me wonder if it'd be worth it at an even deeper discount. :(

Ironic, isn't it? G3 more or less ruins the whole thing with the buginess. And while they may not have shipped new CDs the thing surely is full of enough bugs even after the community patch that it should have had that done.

Further insult to injury. Get this. My hero took on 3 black trolls in what's supposed to be the hands down most difficult fight of the entire game. They never laid a fist on me. Worth a measly 1500 exp. Granted, 500 exp is the largest you can get from any kill, but still. Each one took nearly a full minute of constant sword swinging to drop. What's the problem you ask? The battle ranged into a goblin camp. Yes, the shitty little 50 exp goblins I can slice down in one shot killed me right after the troll fight. I never had the chance to save. When I tried to find them again ( Nordmar is a fucking bitch to navigate ) a single ice wolf jumped out of a bush and killed me again. A SINGLE WOLF. Consider now what should logically happen upon engaging an entire camp full of orcs with 3 shamans. I should be dead meat, right? Not so. I felled the entire camp without taking a single point of damage except one fireball from a shaman that got me. In total, something on the order of 5000 exp from the largest orc camp in the game. Yes, something is seriously out of whack when that kind of shit happens.

Um, so you're saying that G1 & G2 are worth it because all the problems are within G3? Or that G3 is so bad that it makes G1 & G2 not worth it because you more or less need to do G3 to complete the story?

G1 is full of just as many bugs and crashes quite a bit. G2 seemed to be relatively stable. G3 apparently made up for the lack of bugs. If you can deal with your game crashing every 10 minutes then by all means, go buy the trilogy. You may not need to have played them all to know what's going on, but they make continuing references to previous games that may not make much sense otherwise.

None of that makes up for the design mistakes of the interface in all 3 games. I can't call them flaws because they were intentionally ass. G3 mitigated much of that, but they didn't get rid of it entirely.

One other good thing I didn't mention before, but whoever came up with the visuals for water in G3 is pure genius. I've never seen a game with better looking water anywhere. It makes Oblivion water look like a plastic tarp.

Sounds like the game's probably not worth buying then, but a shame to be such since it's got a few redeeming qualities that really should be elsewhere too. At least, that's what I'm seeing in what you're saying.

You more or less hit it on the head. A number of redeeming qualities, marred severely by terrible bugs. The Community Patch people did what they could but I'd imagine without the source code to the game they can't fix everything.

And as of about 20 minutes ago, it's game over. I won, and according to the ending narrative I got, it would be highly unlikely for there to be a Gothic 4 if the other two ending path narratives come out anything like this one. But that's not to say it won't be done. After all, Bethesda is releasing DLC for Fallout 3 soon that allows for play past the end of the main quest.

Well, I'm sorry to hear that, you made the game sound pretty promising in the initial post, but it's certainly better to know rather than learn after spending money on a game that's not worth the admission.

Gratz. We've definitely seen our share of game series over the years that tried to continue to the next installment despite not being worth bothering and with story lines we all thought were already dead before, but they usually don't make it beyond adding one to the series that no one bothers to buy. ;)

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