Gothic 2 came as a pleasant surprise. I have never been a particular fan of RPG games, especially single player ones, and so I was not expecting to enjoy myself in this game at all. I wasn’t altogether keen on the long story driven narrative approach to the game either, where the plot unfolded in a series of interactive, but limited, conversations with characters within the game. The graphics, however, were very detailed and pleasing to the eye, and the land of Khorinis appeared vast and inviting. It was these two things that drew me into the game, and got me hooked.
The setting for Gothic 2, carries on from the first outing, and there are many references to “your” exploits in that adventure. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t played the original, however, as the people you meet are more than happy to fill you in on the details, should you not remember their names or faces. Thus builds the plot that is the main thread of the game, a plot that is quite engaging and deep, at least for the first couple of chapters. From your first conversation with Xardas, you encounter a number of different people from different backgrounds, and from these people you can choose your path through the story, joining one of the guilds of Militia, Thieves, Mercenaries or Magicians.
One of the great aspects of the game, is that even if you decide on one path, it doesn’t preclude you learning skills of another. For example, playing as a mercenary, I learned the skills of lock-picking, pick-pocketing and sneaking. These are all skills of the Thieves Guild, and allowed me to rob every house in the town in the night, and pick-pocket all of my mercenary comrades back at Onar’s farm. It is also possible for the mercenary to use magic spells, and runes of the Paladins, but only of a limited level. For the most part, you concentrate your skills in the one area. For a mercenary that is strength and swordsmanship.
To become a member of a guild, you must first impress the members of that guild enough that they accept you. In order to achieve this, you are given tasks to accomplish, some of which come with moral dilemmas and multiple endings. Your responses to these quests can have long reaching effects. For example, to get into the city, you need a pass. The pass is given to you by a merchant outside the city gates, in return for a promise of a favour once he meets you again inside. When you meet him again, he asks you to plant stolen goods on a woman trader who has taken his spot at the market, so that she is arrested and ends up in the slammer. If you refuse, he isn’t happy, and later on in the game, you find that he has told everyone in the town that you are an ex-convict, and none of the market people will sell you anything until you pay him off.
As you can see from that one example, the plot is quite complex, and I found myself becoming engrossed in it. The game achieved this by giving me multiple, varied, and rewarding, tasks to complete, all of which I could complete in any order, or skip completely, except for the core quest, of destroying the evil which threatened the land. For a while I completely lost myself in the immersive story line, and found one of those rare qualities in games, the time warp effect, where hours and hours disappear without you realising. That to me is a sign of an excellent game.
However, not all is roses and chocolates in the land of Khorinis. I found the game hit the zone only temporarily, before slipping into dragon, orc and lizard soldier killing slog. The game starts out very hard, reaches a nice level of challenge, and then becomes almost too easy. The four dragons were built up to be as hard as h** to overcome, and in the end went down quicker than an Orc Elite. You can save the game whenever you like, but this was usually only necessary in the latter stages of the game, when facing groups of lizard soldiers, which come at you in swarms as you search out the dragon eggs in Chapter Five. Still, even in groups, it is easy enough to simply run away and around obstacles, and take them on one at a time as their pathing causes them to get stuck or lost.
Once the first couple of chapters were complete, I only died a few times. In chapter four you are given a*istance in killing the dragons, which go down easily enough on your own, so the challenge is even further reduced. Most of the challenge in the group battles, is in not attacking your own team members. The fight system, which works like a dream in solo battles against a single opponent, become an utter frustration when you have multiple players in the battle. The targeting system seems almost magnetised to your own team members, and you have to develop strategies such as running around in circles while your team mates finish off the enemy, or else you will find yourself killing your friends while the monsters kill you.
That said, you don’t need to fight in groups, and if the frustration becomes too much, you can just kill off your compatriots, or refuse their help, with no consequences. While irritating, the group fighting is not central to the game, and when soloing it really excels, especially when engaging one-on-one in a sword fight. The slash and parry of two swordsmen fighting for their lives on a precipice overlooking the gorgeous and expansive landscape of Gothic 2, is fantastic. For the most part you will find the combat very enjoyable and satisfying, and quite probably the best part of the game.
Another aspect of Gothic 2 that adds to its engrossing nature, is the way in which each of the characters in the game have their own lives. Unlike some other RPGs, the characters go about their daily lives, working and sleeping. You even have to plan some of your quests around their life-cycle. They get very annoyed when you invade their privacy, and are likely to kill you if you try and steal anything from their houses. They all have memories, and even if you beat someone up after stealing from them, you will pay for it later, when the authorities discover what you have been up to.
The complexity and realism does have its incongruities, however, such as being able to sneak around and rob the entire city by night, without being caught. One would think that a tall, effeminate looking man, dressed in bright red Dragon Hunter armour would cause alarm bells to go off when city guards spotted him sneaking in and out of houses all through the night. One would think that the next day a warrant would be issued for his arrest, when all those same houses reported being stripped of every gold coin, silver plate and bread loaf during the night. The oddities don’t stop there, either, so don’t be surprised to have your dragon hunting team take time-out in the middle of a death battle with a flame spurting beast from h**, to re-negotiate the terms of their contract with you.
Gothic 2 is a great game, all told. It offers a long and involving storyline, lots of beautifully rendered and detailed graphics, and masses of re-playability through its multitude of plot line paths and side quests. The down sides to it are its pacing, which goes from too tough to too easy over the period of the game, a few annoying bugs and interface problems, and a lack of scope to make the fighting challenging. If you want a game that is engrossing, without being overly difficult, then you will find that Gothic 2 will entertain you for hours on end. You won’t find your grey matter taxed to the limit, but sometimes that is exactly what you want.