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Gothic (PC) artwork

Gothic (PC) review

"I hope you're prepared to download a few patches and some unofficial tools..."

Gothic (PC) image

I was constantly torn while playing Gothic, an old school action-RPG for PC.

Part of me begged to give up and put the game away for good. I would occasionally run across a new feature or facet and think, "Dang, the industry truly has come a long way since they made this one!" Sometimes it was a horribly disfigured enemy or character model that elicited that response from me. I know I especially felt that way when I met the game's version of the goomba, which appeared to be the lovechild of an ostrich and a bed of jagged rocks. When you aggro this creature, it emits a cartoony CA-CAAAWWWW, similar to the cry of a distressed chicken heard in a Foghorn Leghorn short, which doesn't mesh well with its dated design. Common environmental fixtures like trees are similarly grotesque, appearing as though they have been plucked from a PlayStation-era game. Sure, they have clearer textures, but that didn't prevent me from flashing back to the abominable arboretums from Tenchu: Stealth Assassins when I would enter a forest.

Do you want to know what was more cringe-worthy than Gothic's visuals, though? Its voice acting. With few exceptions, the actors either read their lines with misplaced enthusiasm, a toneless yammer, or what sounded like inappropriately casual interest. The worst offender of all was the protagonist's voice talent, who tended to place improper emphasis on words, sometimes transforming rhetorical questions into serious inquiries or lines meant to express shock or awe into detached observations.

Unfortunately, my early struggles weren't limited to AV issues, but also encompassed play control. Gothic originates from a time when "WASD plus mouse" was not quite the standard control style for 3D PC titles. Rather, the game stubbornly insisted upon forcing me to grip my keyboard as if it were a massive controller, using arrows for movement and utilizing the left Control key for interactions. I leave that last word vague because nearly everything--from chatting to using a grindstone--requires you to hold left Control whilst pressing the Up key. Why the developers didn't assign all common actions to a single key, as PC games have done for ages, is beyond me. Sadly, these complaints aren't my worst control-related woes...

Gothic eschews banal click-foes-to-death combat. Unfortunately, it features a battle system that doesn't feel like any sort of improvement. In order to damage an opponent, you must hold Control and press either the Left or Right arrows to swing your weapon in a corresponding direction, or Up to fire an arrow or crossbow bolt.

Early conflicts were the worst for me because the game's hero doesn't start with any kind of martial training. He swipes his sword as if he's never held a weapon in his life, which made toppling even the earliest adversaries an unnecessarily stiff challenge. Sadly, the only way to acquire battle skills was to level up, which meant having to kill baddies, and I think you know where I'm going there... It also didn't help that my evasive maneuvers were pretty much useless. Blocking was unreliable, as it often initiated too late. I would press the required keys for a block, but my character would stand there and stare into space, only putting his arms up once my foe had commenced pouncing. Side- and back-stepping did nothing to help matters, either, because said maneuvers didn't place a great enough gap between me and my opponent.

Initially, I planned to award Gothic a score of 2/10 because everything from its awful visuals to its antiquated control scheme was downright nasty. Not long after I reached this decision, though, something completely unexpected happened: I began to enjoy my time with the game and the other half of me insisted that I stay the course.

Gothic (PC) image

As I leveled up and honed my warrior's abilities, combat went more smoothly. So much so, in fact, that I discovered repeatedly alternating between the Left and Right arrows was more effective than timing my strikes. Again I ask the question: why didn't the developers just use the left mouse button for basic offensive maneuvers and combos? It worked for Risen...

Before long, I was slaying villains with no problem, accruing loot, and realizing what Gothic is all about: pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. I began the quest without weapons, items, abilities, and possessed only the shirt on my back. By the end of the game, I was carrying an enchanted sword, had donned an impressive set of magical armor, was carrying scores of healing items, holding a fat stack of cash, and I qualified as a master of hand-to-hand combat. The final boss honestly didn't stand a chance against me, mostly because I learned how to survive in Gothic's unforgiving world. The hours I spent offing everything that moved and selling scores of mundane objects had paid off.

Because of that, I was able at last to enjoy the game's well-crafted open world. Regardless of the aged visuals--or perhaps because of them--I was in awe of the terrain the game showcased. It was impressive to see the number of regions an old school title like Gothic could boast. I charged through deserts, delved into dungeons and caves, and even fought my way through an abandoned monastery, all without so much as a hint of lag. I loved scouring every nook and cranny for specialty weapons and armor, and even advancing into certain territories long before the campaign called for me to do so. I was slicing up theropods in the north before I had to check there for a quest item, and putting the blade to goblins prior to a mission that revolved around a particular cave.

This is, of course, assuming I didn't run afoul of a glitch, as I often did during the twenty or so hours I logged with the title. The game constantly crashed, usually while loading a save. There were ways around this problem, but finding them required me to spend nearly an hour Googling Gothic websites and translating a couple that were in German. After locating an unofficial patch and a tool, I then had to search around some more for instructions on how to install them, because their setup interfaces were, again, in German. Even then, I couldn't completely prevent the game from crashing, though I did greatly reduce the number of instances. There were also numerous occasions in which the protagonist became lodged in a piece of the environment and I would have to reload the game. There is no fix for that bug, though.

Gothic (PC) image

Regardless of the many rough spots along the way, I mostly enjoyed Gothic in the end. I just can't say that I would give it a full recommendation. Your own level of appreciation for the game will most likely boil down to how much nonsense you can tolerate before the experience picks up, and whether or not you can look past its bugs. Gothic is worth playing, though, assuming you're extremely patient and you want to get into the series and its spiritual successor, the Risen brand.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 04, 2015)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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