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Gothic 1/2

one-armed dwarf

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Been playing this, beat it earlier today. If you've played Elex or Risen the past few years it's the first game made by Piranha Bytes, who made those series. This is the big one by them tho, this and Gothic II. I'm mainly interested in checking out Gothic II but as that game literally starts with the two main characters having a conversation about the final boss from the first game I felt I should check out part 1, also that I was pretty interested in doing so anyway based on how people talk about it.


It starts out with a really interesting premise, basically it's Escape from New York but with orcs and wizards. You get thrown as a prisoner into this mining colony shielded by an impenetrable magic barrier. The prison doesn't go according to plan though, and for some unexplained reason the mages fuck it up and trap themselves in with the prisoners. Over an unspecified amount of time (ten years I think?), the prisoners split off into factions and bring the mages along with them. So you all these different micro communities within one 'big' but still micro-community in the middle of this fantasy world where barely anything about the outside world is explained to you. I think there was a war with an orc kingdom, but again it's rarely brought up, but really the only world that matters is the prison colony. You've got the 'Old Camp', which work out an agreement with the king who is now dependent on their obedience to get the ore he needs, which leads to the creation of a new kind of landed gentry within the prison, the 'Ore Barons' who reap the profits of the digger's labour. The 'New Camp', who are like 'fuck this' and want to come up with an escape plan to blow up the barrier, and routinely raid and make life difficult for the Old Camp and steal their supplies (they also have their own mine). The 'Swamp Camp', who sell weed to the other camps and worship some demon, these guys are a bit weird. 


It does the Morrowind thing of making you follow directions in your journal to find quest locations, and learning the location of relevant areas (eg, you will eventually lock into your brain that Old Camp is in the center, and north of Swamp Camp, and the paths to the New Camp and the mine etc). There's some interesting social dynamics as even tho these three communities are sort of hostile to each other, there's also some interdependencies between them. The Swamp Stoners who smoke joints all day have to go into the mines to extract venom from the monsters inside, which has the side effect of protecting the other camps from them. Also they sell them really good weed, so they tolerate all the weird shit they do while remaining a bit suspicious. The mages in each of the other two camps act as a peace broker between the powerful figureheads as well, and it's interesting to see the tensions emerge in the game narrative as the game pulls you back and forth into making a decision about which camp to join. To even gain acceptance in each of the camps you have to ask local leaders within each community to speak up on your behalf, which means doing some chores for them but some of them can turn out to be pretty interesting. Some have paths within to betray them at the last moment to get some item or renown with a different camp entirely. 


Progression is also pretty interesting. You start off extremely weak at level 0, the fact that it is level '0' seems to be saying something. If you don't pay protection to the guards in the old camp they will mug you for far more than what they originally asked, and you even have a bully in the new camp who forces you to do boring repetitive work everytime you go in or he will beat the shit out of you and mug you. You have to do this every day, and he keeps his promise even if you're off doing sidequests and come back 2 days later. At one point I basically did not leave the new camp until the next day to make sure I did the boring task and didnt get beat up and mugged, and then stayed away from the camp for a really long time cause I was afraid of going back, pretty immersive lol. Eventually tho, you grow up and get a few bits of equipment yourself and return the favour. In general a lot of disputes are handled like this, it is a prison after all. If you want to sleep in that hut in the new camp you don't just ask nicely, you beat up the new guy who decided to take it. So long as you beat him up and mug him and put him in his place you've settled the matter, after all what are the guards going to do, put you in prison-prison? That said, some people are friends with each other and will jump in to sort you out if you beat their friend up, tho they seem to actually not do that if you beat them up previously. So the NPCs retain some memory of prior beatings which is cool.


You have to pay trainers to teach you how to effectively use weapons, the way the combat works in this is a timing based system. The best way I could describe it is imagine Dark Souls crossed with Tomb Raider crossed with Raiden's HF Blade combat in Sons of Liberty, it's a tanky, z-targetting based system where you have to use WASD/analog and the 'action' button to perform your swings and with correct timing. But if you pay the trainers you can get more easy to execute swings with better framedata and cool flourishes. This is a thing I like in RPGs, when they find cool little diegetic ways to express play progression, like beating up your bully and learning how to even begin using a weapon effectively. It's fun and original and makes progress feel more meaningful and earned than if you already start off with lots of cool abilities


However, this is just chapter 1, and for the next 5 chapters the game appears to lose interest in the inter-factional aspects a bit and sets you down an increasingly linear path through some dungeons to chase some magguffins and deal with a predictable ancient evil. There is some variance in progression depending on which faction you join and what type of magic you can get, and when, as well as the cosmetics of your armour pieces. But it gets more and more dilute and meaningless as it goes on, so it basically starts off as a really interesting setting with a unique thesis statement to how to approach player progression in a WRPG. Butends up a fairly routine slog through some very buggy quests (I had to enable god mode at one point as a follower would murder me on a perfectly timed loop every few minutes because his AI was programmed to be as hostile to me as the enemies we were fighting, and he was supposed to be there to make an unreasonably difficult section more easy https://www.reddit.com/r/worldofgothic/comments/qzrch9/wtf_is_wrong_with_gorn/). I'd say it starts off as a 9/10 and ends up more like a 5/10. Really the only interesting game design occurs in chapter 1. At the same time tho chapter 1 is most of the game almost, I was just short of 30 hours in my playthrough and around 14 of them was in chapter 1, I spent a long time trying to decide which camp to join. Chapters 2 and 3 are also still good and have good pacing from the first chapter, but it kinda falls apart a bit on 4, 5 and 6.


Pretty interested to check out the sequel tho, which is considered one of the best RPG ever and fixes a lot of the more glaring problems here apparently.




There's a few threads on here about other PB games I think, Shiny did one a few years ago about Elex which is a more modern take on this kind of game I think. Tho maybe that is just as buggy, I dunno


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I'm 15 or so hours into the sequel, which is called Gothic 2 (spoiler alert).


Setup is you've escaped from prison and are back in society somewhat, there is a supply crisis (huh) due to an ongoing war (huh) and the King is now requisitioning supplies from farmers to fuel the war effort against these pesky orcs. The two main factions are split along these lines, the King's militia (within which you can get promoted to a paladin who can use some weapons and magic) and the mercenaries, a group of ex-cons and ex-vets who have been hired by the local landowner to prevent the King from taking 'donations' from the resident farmers, while also putting pressure on smaller tenant farmers to keep paying rent to this big landlord whether or not they can afford to do so. So both groups are actually kinda bad in their own way, at least some of the time.


There's also a magician's guild which seems apart from it all, I did not spec for magic cause it seems you need an intimidating amount of meta knowledge of how this game's systems work to even consider a magic build, as it is the game's levelling seems quite brutal even if you don't. The idea behind it is you use 'learning points' to improve your STR/DEX and weapon 'skill' (the skill which changes your combo strings, like in G1, but also your crit rate). But the cost of levelling up increases dramatically over time like your character hits a plateau in their growth, which is where the annoying meta-gaming comes in as there are all these permanent stat buffs you can get in the world via potions, ingredients, prayers etc which ignore this system. The 'meta' is to delay gratification a bit and spend all the perm stat buffs at the end of the game. Don't think I'm going to bother with that tho but lets see.


I joined the mercs, which has a series of initiation tasks pretty similar to the ones in the prison colony in part 1. Before that even tho you've got to become a citizen and get an apprenticeship with one of the 4 merchants in the area. You go around doing tasks for each of them and a few others who won't hire you but will still act as a character reference. By becoming a citizen then it opens up the possibility of joining the militia if that's what you want, tho at one point I had an altercation with someone


where I did not want to do a task they had for me and they told everyone I was an ex-con and cratered my reputation with the local merchants, as well as the militia, which would make getting hired by them harder.

so the reputation system has more variables that act for and against you towards getting accepted into a faction, at least in the first chapter. Either way you want to become a citizen even if you dont want to join the king's guard just to get a job that pays well, cause the main landowner does not.


There is a main quest as well, it involves dragons, or something. It's difficult to care about because it's so paperthin, it's not a Morrowind level of world building weaved into sidequests. Still, it's a pretty interesting companion to the first one so far, it feels like your character is slowly getting rehabilitated into society after his incarceration. It's a very fussy game with its systems tho, as mentioned with the levelling. It's much harder and slower to progress. It's full of cool details tho, these games are always making gestures towards a sense of verisimilitude in their gameplay and AI. At one point I got caught out in the dark and found it really hard to see what I was fighting, reached a merc to activate a quest with him to clear a cave out of some goblins but he said 'fuck no, its way too dark to see right now lets wait until morning'. Oh, it was doing the Dragon's Dogma thing with the dark nights and I didn't realise, doh. NPCs also have a routine and go to bed, get up and do their work, sit around smoking shisha late into the evening. Elder Scrolls only started doing this in 2006 but these games were doing it in 01/02. They usually only have about 2 or 3 states depending on day/night but it works well enough to convince you with its illusion.


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Played a lot of G2 this weekend, beat chapter 2 and the 'DLC' (expansion pack back then). This is a very generous DLC, would compare it to Shivering Isles, maybe more beefy and in depth than that even. Adds in a bunch of cool new faction type quests and interesting social dynamics where you climb the social ladder of a camp. Gives the most similar vibes to the first game.


Overall the progression sort of feels like a MMO, it's very very slow and the power creep is like a drip feed. That can be frustrating at times, the way you are slowly funneled into greater power by the games systems and quest design. It's pretty hard to get the balance right where your slow progress doesn't feel like it is completely arbitrary and I think Gothic II bounces between feeling bad and good at times and honestly a lot it can feel pretty bad. The parts that feel bad feel bad cause it's maybe the hardest WRPG I've played. Even really far into the game there's stuff that just dunks on you past the point you would expect it to be an issue. I mention this cause it's nothing like that in Gothic 1, once you pass the 'I am weak' part of the game you're basically swanging and nothing can stop you really and it's a much shorter game than this as well. In G2 they've tuned it so you are still struggling for a really long time into the game, it's like Undead Burg in DkS1 for a really long time


But it does help lend believability to the game's events. It takes a lot of effort to feel strong so it feels earned when people start calling you a chosen one. The parts that feel good tend to feel really good and incredibly immersive (maybe the point is to feel bad first or something, I don't play many german games I'm pretty sure they usually just make games about driving trucks in the snow). It really feels like a massive deal the first time you even defeat a human enemy, even if all they have is a stick. If they have armour and a sword, Billy Big Balls moment right there. But it takes a while to even get there. There is also this cool thing which I meant to show with Gothic 1, but I'll do it here. I mentioned how you can level up your weapon skill to get basically more advantageous frame data and crit chance for your character. Here's what that looks like, first vid is 'Fighter', which is like amateur level, not novice, which I've spent most of the game levelled at.



Then the next one is 'Master', way faster and more generous hitboxes, easier to safely manage these two enemies. The system is timing based so you can't just press a button quickly without causing your character to drop a combo, so it probably isn't clear what's going on if you haven't played these games. But it's a very cool idea for reflecting your character's improvements, I can't think of any other game which has tried something like that. Weird that an idea like that didn't become popular cause while it's got pretty crude animations it's a cool enough feeling



Then the novice level is like, you can barely swing a weapon without fucking it up. The input acceptance is really slow and bad, it's the most shit feeling.

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Beat this. It's such an ambitious yet horribly flawed thing, I kind of admire it and hate lots of things in it but as a whole it's a really interesting construction.  Once you get past the traditional eurojank slow power crawl of the first 2 chapters it sort of takes on an epic quest feel. You're returning to earlier locations where enemies that were very threatening before are now... still very threatening but you can handily deal with a few of them at once, rather than having to scarper previously. The feeling of glow up in this game is cool, where once you stumbled around getting your ass beat now you are parrying groups of orcs and taking them down bit by bit.


There's not a huge volume of side content tailored to your faction, a few quests here and there but not much. It basically just boils down to a number of slight tweaks in what you get access to and how some characters react to you, but it works. There's a couple of subtle but unique distinctions like how the town blacksmith will not sell weapons to you cause they are reserved for the militia/paladins, but the mercs have their own blacksmith who will teach you (via XP which is finite because enemies don't respawn, you cant grind in this game) how to make those same weapons yourself if you do him some favors and look for the resources yourself as well. Mercs cannot learn magic permanently, only temporarily through scrolls. So you lose out on some level ups to learn smithing yourself and cant use magic. But there's other ways to make up for it if you are good at finding money making opportunities to buy the scrolls, which is a perk of the role as mercs always get haggling dialogue options both in sidequests but also main quests. If you aren't choosing these options every single time then you're not really embodying the class archetype, imo (pretend you're Geralt)


Characters always have something new to say each chapter. Becoming friendly with characters who initially wanted to beat the shit out of you early on is just another way the game convinces you that the world is real and lived in, NPCs aren't these static entities that just bark a few relevant lines at you, they react to what you are doing. Likewise you get unique interactions sometimes with other factions depending on who you are with. I wont say there's a dizzying array of choices to make, but they feel very specifically tailor made to your faction choice and make the implications of that choice more convincing even if it's often just flavourings on a largely linear storyline with just one ending. I enjoy ripping the paladin faction off all the time during the main quest asking for more money just to save the world. It's a selfish, dickish thing to do under the circumstances but fun (I think Cyberpunk 2077 tried to do something like this with the backgrounds for your character giving occasional unique dialogues, and CDPR have said Gothic was a big influence on Witcher, but I never saw it as all that effective there as in this even tho the story in that game is a lot better than Gothic's)



End game battles are fairly terrible tho, it's very easy to see where the time was spent and where they kinda winged it. The dragon battles. Pretty shit. Still a cool look at an alternative path that open world RPGs could have gone in tho, a more pared down but high in detail type of world, Shenmue style. Not the dragon bits, which are shit, but the other bits which are pretty good and innovative for its time (maybe most modern RPGs dont think that hard about their faction quests, I heard New Vegas does but I haven't played it)


After this they went off and tried to chase Bethesda with Gothic 3 apparently, which is a shite Oblivion clone (I heard) which lost Piranha Bytes the IP, then they went and did Risen. Will just read the spoilers for it I guess.



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Internationally it flew under the radar because the series was never really huge outside of Germany, but I still remember the Gothic 3 drama very well. Back in the day it was basically Germany's own little Cyberpunk story. It wasn't just only the new direction they took, but mostly the state it was released in: a broken, buggy and unbalanced mess that was borderline unplayable. To add fuel to the fire, the then-largest PC magazine gave it top marks after having been the studio's PR partner on the run-up to release which of course sparked its own controversy.


I never played any of the Gothic games, at least not properly. I borrowed 2 from a friend back in the day (remember when you could borrow PC games?) but he wanted it back after two days so I barely got into it. That game and its add-on (Die Nacht des Raben, I don't know the official English title) are considered bona fide classics over here. People criticize Piranha Bytes for basically redoing that game over and over again to this day with Risen and Elex, but looking back at G3, you can't really blame them for sticking with what works. At some point I will play Elex II as I rather liked the first one. Risen not so much, but that could have been the abysmal 360 port (if you don't know about that one, look it up, it's hilariously bad on that system). And I will of course check out the G1 remake when that comes out.

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Night of the Raven in English, which is exactly the same I think.


One thing about that, there's two versions of Gothic II. The DLC isn't just an addon it completely rebalances things cause people found Gothic II too easy or something. It heavily curtails what you can invest experience in and requires a fair bit of meta gaming if you want to be completely effective at end game. Which I only indulged in a little, and decided not to after a while cause I figured it would ruin the experience but as a result it was impossible for me to come close to wielding some of the weapons I found due to poor decision making early on (should not have tried to learn 2 hand wielding near the end of the game, was too late). Granted end game is literally just fight 100s of orcs anyway and you learn how to deal with them in chapter 4 (6 chapters total)


I had a look at G3 which is in my library from decades ago and it started with a weirdly glitchy feeling combat sequence with no sound effects for swords and lots of groaning and grunting set against an epic orchestra soundtrack. I'll probably try Elex or Risen at some point but I might also just instead look for something different, cause the thing that was interesting to me in these two games was the Shenmue style simulation aspect of its NPCs and the diegetic methods it uses to teach the player how to figure stuff out and level of agency it brings. The in-game directions (no quest markers), drawing on player's map, the 'i'll scratch your back you scratch mine' social clout system in every camp in G1, untrustworthy NPCs, the fact that you yourself can be a traitor as well, characters actually describing the combat system to when they train you* and so on, the game design framework there is really cool. After that it gets more and more routine, I think, probably formulaic in the spiritual sequels if I jumped into them at this point




Hopefully the remake figures out how to take that opening pitch in chapter 1 of Gothic and builds an entire game around it, I don't think the original was very successful at it. GII on the other hand was fully committed to making you embody your faction choice from beginning to end, but mercs protecting farmers isn't half as interesting as the choices in the first game.

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