I love Dragon Age Origins. I really do. And Mass Effect too. They are slick, engaging games that hold my attention, more or less through to the ending sequence. BioWare has delivered the goods recently, ladling out Mass Effect 2 and threatening to release a followup expansion to Dragon Age.
What is there not to like?
Well, a lot of things. The silly dialogue with its stilted choice system. And the story. Snort. Right. But I go to games to tap keys, not find the meaning of life so I’m good with that. But after a while, I realized I’m missing something in my RPG fix and that is freedom. For all their savory goodness the above mentioned games are not what you would call open worlds.
And that is what I wanted after three months in Hotel BioWare. Freedom to jump the rails and roam. Jump and fall to my death. Climb, scurry, crab, hop, run and walk. For wide open exploration and direct manipulation of my player character I went back to the one of the greats, Gothic II. More specifically, I went to the 2005 English language expanded version with extra content, Gothic II: Night of the Raven, also known as Gothic II Gold Edition.
Piranha Bytes, the developers of the game did things a little different when they released an expansion. They folded the new content into the original release, made some changes, including upping the difficulty level and released the whole thing as a new game. You could not start Night of the Raven with the uber character from the end of Gothic II. You had to start over in rags, with only a stick for protection. You had to start all over again. At the time, having just finished Gothic II, I was ready to move on. I was Gothic-ed out, over the orcs. Done, done, done.
But that was then and this is now. Now I’m back at it, re-experiencing this 2002 game anew in 2010. Sure it looks like roadkill, like the graphic lovechild of Daggerfall and the original Halflife but I don’t care because I’m realizing how much I missed the control this game gives you. Okay, you can’t customize your character. You can’t pick your gender, race, class or shoe size. You only have a choice between Fighter, Paladin or Mage. You are a nameless, somewhat haughty male set loose in a colorless, lethal world populated with people who want to cut your throat and loot your corpse. But reconcile yourself to these restrictions and you’ll find an engrossing game you can play far into the night with amazing immersion. Think Morrowind except with a tighter story and no elves. Once you get the hang of the combat controls, the sword combinations and the timing you’ll find yourself seeking out monsters to test yourself against with each new level or shiny new weapon. Each animal you fight has it’s own style. Some dart forward, some lumber, some circle you. Some you can outrun and others will bring you down in the blink of an eye. Like all the Gothic games the world does not level up with you. There are places you will not want to go until later in the game lest you become a mid-morning shadowbeast snack. You have to use the muscle between your ears as well as the one at the tip of your mouse finger.
The story is a labyrinth of crossing plot threads and the game does not take you by the hand. That careless decision you made earlier can easily come back to haunt you and though I’m not aware of any game breakers I’ve read on the forums that they exist. I tend to look away at spoilerish posts so I don’t know. I’m only into the first of six chapters and have been playing on and off for a week now. I expect to easily get over a 100 hours from this baby. For 19.95 14.99 from Steam that is a pretty good deal.