Review by Old
Gothic, a European-developed RPG/adventure/action single-player
epic journey, elicits a range of descriptive phrasesincredible
character interaction, eerie A.I., sprawling game world, complex
and involving story, difficult control scheme, extreme length, lack
of initial orientation and direction.
Most of these descriptors would be superlatives; some refer to
warts and minor to medium flaws (idiosyncrasies?) in an otherwise
"I Have a Letter for the High Mage"
You, the player and hero, are literally dropped into the Barrier,
an otherworldly prison about the size of a county, being run by
the inmates. With little background, you are simply instructed by
a helping hand to find the Castle in the Old Camp, be wary along
the way, and deliver an important sealed letter. Simple enough,
But what is the Old Camp, and where are you? Gothic takes
place in the land of Myrtana, a society engaged in a bitter war
with Orks. Precious materials needed for the war effort have been
enclosed within a protective shield called the Barrier. Unfortunately,
the Mages who created the shield have been inadvertently trapped
inside, along with the resident prison population. A barter-oriented
and fractionalized society has evolved among the convicts, who have
taken over life inside the Barrier.
Indeed, there are three distinct societies. The Old Camp consists
of the original revolters, who generally accept the fact of the
Barrier and have set up an uneasy trade of ore for goods/services
with the King. Separating from them was a smaller group, termed
the New Camp, dedicated to trying to blow up the Barrier in order
to get free. And, finally, some religious extremists formed the
Brotherhooda sect growing a hallucinogenic weed, fostering
visions, developing and selling magical scrolls, and praying the
Barrier will come down. Tension among these three groups runs high,
with even the original Mages splitting into Old and New camps.
How Is Gothic Set up and Managed?
Although installing and running fairly well on my system, which
is just above the minimum specs, it's clear that one should look
to recommended specs, or higher, as the best way to go with this
game. I was able to play it but did experience considerable slowdowns
and CD accessing, as well as having to turn the graphics down to
a minimal level800x600, 16-bit. Gothic takes about
700 MB of hard drive space, not bad by today's gigabyte+ standards.
Gothic's manual is sparse, perhaps deliberately so. The
Barrier is described, as are character types, weapons, skills and
talents. Keyboard commands are outlined, and here is where we encounter
the most controversial and criticized aspect of Gothicthe
controls. No doubt about it; they are different! Third-person movement
(with finely done following camera) enables mouse-look for direction
and 360-degree panning, but that's all the mousing you can do. Left
and right mouse buttons mean nothing, even with menu selections.
Instead, you have two-key combinations for virtually everything
you desire. Ctrl+arrow up is used to perform actions (pick up, speak,
open doors), while Ctrl+arrows are used for combat and spell casting.
It's initially a bit discombobulating, even angering to some. But,
if I may use this analogy: it's as if Helga gave me a new BMW with
manual instead of automatic transmission. I may not be used to it
and may have a learning curve, but it's still a BMW and will drive
excellently once I get it going. So, too, with Gothic; give
it time, it's well worth it!
A special note: The primary web site dealing with Gothic is
run by the good folks at RPGDot.com, specifically at this
link. Dedicated players have gone to extraordinary lengths to
answer questions and generally embellish your gaming experience.
Even very useful maps of the Barrier are available, as well as hints
and other kinds of advice. Using this site is a needed component
of playing and living with Gothic. I wish all such fan sites,
or even gaming homepages, had this level of depth and helpfulness.
How Does Gothic Look and Sound?
As mentioned, I could only minimally run this game on my system.
Nevertheless, the depth and richness of the world was still in colorful
evidence, despite the resolution being set to 800x600 or even 640x480.
Storms, as well as day/night cycles, enrich the huge landscape.
With my rig, Gothic isn't as pretty or as fluid as games
using the Quake 3 engine, but I'm sure more powerful systems,
able to run the available 1280x1024, 32-bit option, will provide
quite a higher-level graphical experience.
Since the game is conversationally driven, the most important aural
concern relates to the acting and translations from the original
German. With very few exceptions, the work is finely done, contributing
to the believability of your experience in Myrtana. Subtitles are
available, if you wish to turn off the sound. Ambient sounds (crickets
at night, etc.) are satisfactory, and the mood-sensitive music is
"Don't You Have a Plan of Where You Want to Go?" Tagalong
Initially, Gothic plays more like an adventure than an RPG.
Your character is a tabula rasa who, upon arrival to the Old Camp,
is equipped with little but a pickaxe. Considerable time needs to
be spent building inventory and skills, especially since you are
initially quite defenseless.
So your tasks become twofold: discover more about the Barrier,
and perform a few odd jobs to build your "character."
It is in the discovery and building process that Gothic reveals
its gameplay distinctiveness. Conversations, responses, decisions,
alliancesall become pivotal in your journey. Multiple paths
may be taken, as well as "personalities" assumed. Character
building isn't done by selecting from a bunch of stats at the beginning,
but rather is a dynamic process running the course of the game.
From the broad decision of which group (Camp) to join, to other
possibilities, Gothic offers multiple paths and different
endings. The choice of Warrior or Wizard, and variations in between,
is yours to make along your journey (the direction of which is also
yours to make!).
As you may imagine, Gothic is potentially a very long game,
claimed by the developers to have over 100 hours of play possibility.
I can well believe it. After about 40 hours, at a point I guessed
was halfway, I became determined to move quickly to some kind of
conclusion in order to pen this review. This took another 25 hours
of play, even with advice from RPGDot.com. I'll be reentering the
Barrier as soon as we're done here, in order to make some different
choices, explore, and go other directions. The story outcome, at
least with my ending, was rather weak; but it's the process, the
joy of the journey itself, that is key to Gothic's fun.
"If You Want to Join the Camp, You Need People to Speak
up for You!" Sly
Having just joined FFC, I knew the wisdom of this advice! But this
is a game, isn't it? Even more than The Sims, Myrtana seems
populated by NPCs (nonplayable characters) with personalities and
even agendas. It's not only critical to take notes during direct
conversational trees, but also helpful to listen and learn from
background dialogues among Castle guards, for example. You may overhear
this kind of exchange: "There must be something true about
that." "But, I thought it was cleared up ages ago."
"No, that wasn't very clever." "Yeah, it's the same
old story every time." If these stimulate your curiosity, you
can approach one of more of the NPCs to expand. Of course, depending
on your loyalties and status, they may or may not be friendly and
receptive. When you do have occasion for combat, the control difficulty
initially rears its ugly head, but not in such a way as to be a
serious detriment to the fun of the game. Indeed, those action-deprived
readers will be pleased to discover that combat can often be avoided
and occurs rarely. When it does, it's not so badespecially
if you have taken skill training and are properly equipped. Run,
don't walk, when near creatures in the game's beginning!
"If You Want to Join, You'll Have to Earn Some Brownie
Much as we may expect of a prison world society, the NPCs in Myrtana
are wary, skeptical, sometimes unfriendly. Loyalty is critical,
and it affects your status, skill development, and ultimately your
quest. If you choose smart-ass comments (my natural inclination),
you'll get responses like: "Hey, this guy's funny; I don't
like funny guys," followed by a sound thrashing (but not
killing, at least from guards and prisoners). Further, NPCs
remember what's occurred, they talk to others about it, and
your reputation follows you! That almost bears repeating, since
this "aliveness" of the NPCs is the single most remarkable
technical accomplishment of Gothic. You'll have comments
made to you like this: "There's Throws over there; you've already
met him," as well as references to previous conversations and
whether you impressed that NPC as friendly or hostile. I diddled
about with this, during my first 40 hours, went back to save games,
selecting different NPC encounters and conversation tree choicesevery
time with a differing outcome. Other games claiming to give "two
different branches or solutions" to a story pale in comparison
to Gothic, with its complexity and almost infinite variation.
Although there are endings, and some necessary funneling, Gothic
is still the least linear story game I've ever played. It's
the nearest, in my experience, that a single-player game has come
to rivaling the depth and complexities of an MMORPG such as EverQuest.
Is Gothic Fun and Recommended?
If you've plowed through my wordiness above, that's clearly a rhetorical
question. Yes, indeed, Gothic is fun and recommendedas
a Gold Star, Creme de la Creme, must-have, essential purchase.
With a novel, large and intricate set of societies, coupled with
excellent graphics and sound, as well as the best A.I. this side
of Black & White, Gothic becomes one of the most immersive
and believable single-play adventure/RPGs ever. The story (teen
rated) is gritty, rather dark, not really upliftingit is a
prison society, after all. But this is a game where the intricacies
and marvels of the journey (the "who," more than the "what"
or even "where"), regardless of outcome, are well worth
the price of admission. Try it out.
Games Gothic Brought to Mind
- Black & Whitefor the learning quality of the
- Omikronfor the attempt to create a living, believable
- Baldur's Gate IIfor the sheer length of the story.
- Outcastfor the initial strangeness and ambiguity
- The Simsfor the lifelike interactions of NPCs.
What I Liked the Most
The socially large and complex world; the A.I. and consequences
of interactions with NPCs; the quality (even at a reduced level)
of the graphics.
What I Liked the Least
Controls take some getting used to; the game is demanding on my
system; the story is dark and gloomy.
Release Date: Fall 2001 (U.S. version 108j)
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 400 (PIII 600 recommended)
128 MB RAM (192 MB recommended)
16 MB 3D video card (32 MB recommended)
700 MB free hard disk space
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).