Gothic II is a superb sequel to Gothic, one of the best RPGs in recent years (and also a resident of our Hall of Belated Fame). As great as the first game is, Gothic II is even better: it is prettier, longer, more immersive, and gives you an even wider array of choices. The game begins right after the cliff-hanger of the original game's ending, in which you successfully beat the demon and collapsed the magical barrier that surrounded the penal colony the game took place in. However, this heroic deed left you near-dead in the process, so you start Gothic II after weeks of being nurtured back to life by Xardas, a necromancer from the first game. Xardas solemnly informs you that besides the Orc invasion, dragons are now roaming the lands, and that the task of saving the world once more rests on your shoulders. So off you go to the town of Khorinis in search for a magical artifact called "The Eye of Innos" that Xardas believes can combat this new menace. |
There are many great things to gush about in this game, so let's go through the potential divisive aspects first, so that you will know what you are getting into. First of all, you will die a lot in this game. And I mean A LOT -- I must have restored well over a thousand times before beating the game. Contrary to most RPGs, the difficulty level in Gothic II does not grow with your character's experience: even in the first 1-2 hours, you will come across numerous monsters that are much tougher than you can handle. And since it takes a long time to gain a level, this means you will have to avoid some monsters right to the end, especially if they attack in groups of three or more. Not a big concern for die-hard RPGers (yours truly included) who cut their teeth on Wizardry and beat Wizardry 8 in one piece, but anyone looking for a newbie-friendly or even just a "reasonably difficult" RPG should steer clear of this game. It is extremely unforgiving.
The other major complaint that most reviewers of Gothic II I was reading on the Internet had is the "bad" user interface. For example, the game is NOT paused while you bring up your inventory (you will automatically sheathe your weapon to do this). This means that the monsters you are fighting will continue to bash you until you find what you need, close the inventory, and unsheathe your weapon again. Since you can have over one hundred items in your inventory, finding what you need can require a lot of frantic scrolling -- you'll be lucky if the monsters don't kill you in the meantime. The game automatically groups each type of items together, and the latest patch adds a handy shortcut key that automatically lets you quaff the strongest healing potion you carry, but that's a minor comfort. Also, the game lacks automapping of any kind. If you want a map, you have to first buy or steal it, then look at it in your inventory. In the game's defense, I must say that I rather enjoy this nod to realism, as painful as it may be. After all, one can imagine that a fantasy hero in real life won't have the benefit of "pausing" his enemies while searching for something. And of course, in real life we won't see ourselves marked automatically in a map (without global positioning, which surely was not yet discovered in a fantasy world of axes and swords). In Gothic II, anything that seems like a bad interface design is, in fact, designers' conscious choice to emphasize realism. So if you like realistic RPGs, Gothic II will captivate you like no other. But if you prefer a user-friendly interface over realism, you will no doubt uninstall the game in rage after you die a few times.
If you think you can tolerate the game's two biggest caveats I mentioned above (unforgiving difficulty, and realism in expense of user-friendliness), Gothic II is simply a must-play -- because everything else is so good. The game world is "alive" in ways that is much more than a lot of background animations. Hundreds of people go about their business, and similar to Ultima 7 have their own daily schedule and agenda. They remember errands you run for them and grievances you cause them, and will react appropriately. City guards will attack you immediately if they see you steal something, and you will not be handed some quests without a high enough reputation. While 'linear' in the sense that there is only one ending, Gothic II is extremely open-ended. For example, early in the game your goal is to get an audience with Lord Hagen, acting town commander. There are several ways to do this, all of which are realistic and in keeping with the game's plot. The number of choices you have to accomplish this quest depends on which of the three 'guilds' you decide to join: the Militia, which leads to the Paladin class; the Mercenary, which leads to the Dragon Hunter class; and the Novice, which allows you to become a Magician. The guild you belong in, in turn, affects people's attitude towards you and gives you access to guild-specific sidequests. Speaking of sidequests, there are literally several hundreds of them in the game, all of which are optional but most of which are crucial to your gaining enough experience points (and levels) to handle tough battles in the main quest. These sidequests are fun, and add tremendously to the very detailed gameworld, giving you insights into people's opinions, different factions and their agenda.
While die-hard RPG players might bemoan the lack of detailed statistics (the choice to emphasize player immersion over detailed stats was, after all, a conscious design choice that made the first game so addictive), Gothic 2 does offer a much wider range of stats than the first game. You still cannot choose a class a la traditional AD&D games, but the concept of guilds is a good substitute -- you will have a much harder time fighting melee combat if you are a Magician, for example. Gothic II also lets you customize your skills further with "Learning Points" (LPs). You gain a few LPs each time you level up, which you can then spend at a trainer to raise your basic attributes and skills, which range from weapons to useful secondary skills such as lockpicking, stealth, and alchemy (which lets you create potions given the right ingredients).
In terms of eye candy, the graphics detail in Gothic II rivals any other modern RPG. The transition between day and night is very smooth and subtle: you will be able to tell dusk from early morning, and dawn from noon, for example. The game world is huge, and full of secrets and surprises.
It was the moment I discovered an alternate way into the city -- jumping off a high cliff at one point and swimming to shore, only to be greeted by a surprised friend from the first game and rewarded with 500 experience points -- that I realized Gothic II is one of the best RPGs I have ever played. The sense of immersion is incredible, created by a masterful blend of realism, astounding range of sidequests, and a detailed and intriguing plot. If you love the first game, you will love this one even more, but if you dislike the first game or unforgiving/cumbersome games in general, stay clear of Gothic II. For others -- and I daresay all die-hard RPG gamers -- this is simply a masterpiece that will keep you occupied for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. A must-have.
Reviewed by: Underdogs