As you may know, a couple of months ago Loaded Inc was invited to Vienna for a presentation by the game developers Piranha Bites and 4head Studios. Our intrepid reporter had a rather ‘unique’ experience on the trip and if you haven’t already read about it you can do so here. The trip wasn’t just about the free food, promotional freebies and copious amounts of alcohol though; there was a genuine reason for being in Austria for those couple of days and that was to get a sneak preview at the latest in the Gothic series of games, Gothic 3.The two previous Gothic games have had relatively poor sales figure in the UK, which is surprising as the titles did particularly well on the continent and building an army of avid fans in the process. The main focus of the games was on creating a complete, believable environment with a strong emphasis on character and NPC interaction. Way before the likes of Morrowind’s in-depth character interactions or Fable’s good and evil system, Gothic was pushing the boundaries and redefining how the whole role-playing genre was perceived by gamers. The variety of tasks players could perform (aside from the usual quest fulfilling, creature killing activities a*ociated with RPGs) was unheard of before, such as the way a player could cook the raw meat that they had just taken from the wolf they had killed or even just relaxing and playing a musical instrument.The latest instalment promises to include more of the same content that loyal fans are accustomed to as well as complete overhauls to both the graphics and control systems. The whole game engine has been built from the ground up this time round, which has allowed the game’s developers to take on board the criticism from previous outings and address them head on. The amount of detail apparent in even this early version of the game is astounding with visual effects to rival those seen in the latest Elder Scrolls title Oblivion. The fact that all game objects are supposedly hand-rendered and all settlements in the game will be crafted from scratch (i.e. no generic building templates) is even more astonishing.Maybe one of the biggest differences from the previous two Gothic titles is the change in your environment. No longer are you confined to the prison island of Khorinis, your Nameless Hero now makes his way to the mainland where the orcs have managed to defeat the King’s army and enslave the humans. Three different areas of the mainland each have their own distinct themes with the harsh, cold Nord lands, lush, green Middle Realm and the unforgiving desert realm. Each promise to have their own cultures and customs, but still link together in some way so that they do not seem completely disjointed. So a pretty nice change in scenery then?From the brief play through we were shown by the game’s lead programmer, we were instantly made aware of the sense of scale within the game. Starting off in a small, bustling settlement, the nameless hero was guided up a steep hill just outside the village where he was greeted by a vast and detailed view that stretched all around him when he reached the top. A lens flare effect appears on screen as the hero looks up in the sky and although not overly impressive in itself, the saturation effect mimicking the effect of being dazzled by the bright light of the sun definitely was.Walking back into town, the presentation speaker then demonstrated the new and improved character interactions by simply leaving the controls alone and allowing the audience to watch the NPCs go about their business. Characters greeted each other and held conversations, guards monitored proceedings and periodically sharpened their blades on whetstones, orc oppressors stood watch menacingly and it all seemed very natural and in no way forced. Now I am unsure whether or not the scenes that unfolded at that time were scripted, but if they were not then they speak volumes about the level of detail the design team were able to achieve.As already mentioned, the graphics and AI were not the only aspects to receive considerable redesign. The unique control system that Gothic is noted for was also on the receiving end of some major tweaking. Gone are the awkward controls that required you to hold the Ctrl key whilst attacking, picking up items or sorting your inventory and although some found this system to be innovative, most were frustrated at its clumsiness. The new control scheme has replaced this with a more generic control system that seasoned RPG players will be familiar with. There are still aspects of the new scheme that allow the player a higher level of control (such as the way in which a player clicks the attack button determines what sort of attack the Nameless Hero performs) so that players from both control camps are kept happy.On top of all this we were also informed that the level cap, specialisations, perks and even the main HUD have be re-evaluated in order to present a more streamlined and efficient game. Players will be rewarded for trailing off the beaten path and completing optional side quests, thus gaining powerful and unique items; items that would otherwise be unavailable if the main quest was followed religiously. Gone are the days when you curse your poor foresight in regards to character traits too – you will now be given the opportunity to refund your skills points to be reused as you see fit. However, the developers did hint that this feature would not be as easy to utilise as simply talking to an NPC. It seems that a long and dangerous quest will be in order if you ever want to change your stats&h**ip;After a teasing glimpse of just what to expect when the game is released later this year, the main developer mentioned even more aspects of the gameplay that they want to address in later builds of the game before their final product is put out on the shelves. Talk of ‘gossiping’ AI and characters that bear grudges against your character and other NPCs was all very awe-inspiring, but we shall have to see how this is executed by the time the finished game is out for review.