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Default Retrospective: Gothic 2: NotR + vanilla

June 17th, 2013, 17:50
Gothic 2: Night of the Raven
Aah, Gothic 2, one of my favorite RPGs ever. Gothic 2 did what sequels are supposed to: Improve the original by making it better in virtually every way. Since my last retrospective thread (http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=20288), I’ve been quite busy playing all sorts of open world games, comparing them to Gothic 2. I’ve completed Gothic 2 soon-to-be-three times (2x NotR, 1x vanilla) and put a few hundred hours into Morrowind, Skyrim and even GTA4 just for the sake of it.

For quite some time I’ve felt Morrowind was superior to Skyrim due to the setting, but after playing them both in rapid succession I have changed my opinion: Skyrim is currently a far better game. Morrowind suffers from the same issues that Gothic 1 does: The gameplay has this sluggish feel to it. Moving, fighting, picking stuff up, inventory management and so on and so forth doesn’t feel as responsive as it should. Don’t get me wrong: If you put a few hours into it, you get used to it, but there’s no denying my first few hours of Morrowind felt as bad as my first few hours of Gothic, where I actually stopped playing once I reached the Old Camp. I needed a break before returning to the game.

Gothic 2 is different. It’s smooth. It still has this “old 3D” look, but it’s a considerable upgrade over Gothic 1. The controls, the overall feel of combat, the reactivity of the world: It’s all spot on. I was honestly surprised by how much of an upgrade it is over Gothic 1.

Everything is improved! Or so I thought the first few minutes until I bumped into Lester in the valley near the tower of Xardas. What did they do to the translations and voice overs? Psionics? Really? I think he’s talking about the gurus of the swamp camp, but he’s referring to them as psionics. He also mentions “meeting you at Xardas’” like it’s a bad sitcom, or maybe he’s referring to a pub. I can just imagine Gandalf heading to Isengard, saying “I’m going to Sarumans’”.

Also, a lot of characters have additional conversation options due to NotR, and while they used the same voice actors they still didn’t manage a seamless integration, as the added stuff tends to stand out a bit. It’s not a big issue though, and certainly nothing like Oblivion’s massive voice bloopers. Well, except Diego, whose voice actor got replaced and he’s now sounding like a cowboy from Texas. No idea why.

And while I’m whining: What did they do to Lares? He was a rough, tough, rogue leader in Gothic 1. In Gothic 2 he’s had some sort of epiphany. He literally says: “Adanos, preserve the balance of this world.” He’s sounding like a priest all of a sudden! At least Diego still has the same personality, even though his voice actor has changed. Lares is a completely new character.

Other than that, everything felt excellent. The world in Gothic 2 is actually surprisingly small, but it feels huge due to the way it’s crafted. There’s something to explore around every corner. Let’s look at an example: The area outside Khorinis on the way to the inn. What do we have here? Let’s see, there’s a path going along the mountain side, under a bridge, to the inn. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Well, in addition to that you’ll find the following:
  • A valley with a small pond, a cave (loot!) and a bunch of beasts of various kinds.
  • A cave with a wolf, an orc, some loot and a teleporter stone.
  • Yet another cave with a few molerats and some loot.
  • A farm with a bunch of people on it, including five quests in total.
  • A small, hidden platform with some good loot, including a rather decent magic ring.
  • A pack of bandits.
  • A potential merchant and strength trainer once you’ve done a quest for him. He also gives you +1 strength for free for doing the quest.

I might even be missing something! Bottom line: In any other game you’d need a huge area to hold such a high amount of content. In Gothic 2 this sort of thing is all over the place. The content density is extreme, yet they manage to hide it well by crafting the world in different layers, so it never feels unnatural. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed exploration more than I did in Gothic 2, as there’s not a single place that feels copied, re-used or generic.

As I was exploring the world I came across Saturas and a phenomenon I’ve come to dislike greatly: The incompetent main character. The conversation with Saturas:
  • Saturas: Accusing the main character of stealing the power of the ore mound and generally being a complete idiot.
  • Nameless hero: It worked out, didn’t it?
  • Saturas: Luckily the barrier simply collapsed one day.

What kind of nonsense is that? It would take 30 seconds to explain what really happened at the end of Gothic 1. This reminds me greatly of Mass Effect, where the Council constantly tells Shepard that the Reapers aren’t real, and his only reply is “you have to trust me! BELIEVE ME!” Why should they? You’re acting like a moron. Just explain what’s really going on, how many witnesses there are and present the data and footage captured by the Normandy.

I really dislike my main character suddenly turning into an idiot, especially when the story is based on such failures (e.g The Witcher 2 where you flatten the bald guy and then the cut scene shows him winning). Luckily, the conversation with Saturas is nowhere near as bad as some examples, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with it.

After acting like a moron for a while it’s finally time to explore the unique NotR area: Jharkendar, one of my favorite areas of any game I’ve played. It’s simply fantastic. Like the area I mentioned near Khorinis, the content density is exceptional. There’s a ton going on here, a lot of places to explore, yet it won’t take you more than few minutes to go from A to B once you know how due to the way it’s crafted. I especially like the area near the pirates: The beach, the valley and the nearby caves and ruins.

Unfortunately, the NotR world also makes a certain bug very noticeable: Skipping when you’re near certain animations. Basically, whenever you’re near active teleporter stones, the character will start “skipping”. This also happens near certain fires, but it’s nowhere near as annoying in vanilla as there are fewer spots where this happens. In Jharkendar you will start skipping around like crazy every time you go near the water mages once you’ve activated the teleporter stones there. The easiest way to avoid it is to use strafing instead of walking forward, so you don’t actually look directly at the teleporter stones. It’s no game breaker, but it is annoying.

After completing the NotR world it’s time to explore the valley of mines again. Why aren’t more games, especially sequels, doing this? You get to cater to people’s nostalgia while re-using assets. It’s a special feeling to see the world of Gothic 1 being under attack of the dragons and orcs. I feel the destruction is a bit too wide spread, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing a few more the old places in their original form, but all in all it works out very well.

Once all that is said and done, you get to the point where you gain access to teleportation runes. Combine that with the Claw of Beliar and the rest of the game is a breeze, with the possible exception of dragons. However, in chapter 3 you’ll come across another improvement in Gothic 2: Each faction has unique quests that pop up from time to time. This really adds to the replay value and makes you feel more as a member of the faction. That feeling of being a proper member of a faction is something most RPGs are lacking, and even the Elder Scrolls have been missing it since Morrowind.

All in all I found a few annoying issues and one bug (the skipping), but I have to say it really is a great experience. Gothic 2: Night of the Raven is well worth replaying, far more so than Gothic 1, and holds up better than most open world RPGs out there. Of the open world games I played recently, only Skyrim was able to compete with Gothic 2 for my attention, and that’s a game I haven’t played nearly as much as Gothic 2.

Gothic 2: Vanilla
Once I completed Night of the Raven, it was finally time to try vanilla again. I don’t think I’ve played it since Night of the Raven was released, so I was fairly excited. Without reason I might add. There’s really nothing to be excited about, Night of the Raven improves the game a great deal.

I was well aware of the quest and dialogue improvements, but what really surprised me was the fact that even combat had been improved. For some reason I kept thinking Gothic 2 was rather easy while Night of the Raven super hardcore. That’s not really the case, Gothic 2 actually starts out harder – the first bandits I bumped into whooped my ass, but ends up being so easy you can kill dragons without breaking a sweat. Night of the Raven is a more even experience. That being said, both vanilla and NotR has one case each that is horribly balanced:
  • Vanilla: Paladins. They’re better mages than mages. They are completely overpowered.
  • NotR: Mages. They’re terrible. In Gothic 1 and 2 (vanilla) you could, at least, rely somewhat on your spells. In NotR that is not the case. Mages are basically poor melee characters supported by healing and ice block. Even if you put everything into mana and do everything right (wait with stone tablets, max mana potions, mushrooms etc), you can still only cast a few offensive spells. Enough to kill one, maybe two orc elites. Tops. Three? Out of the question, go find a bed. Basically, playing a mage in NotR means finding a bed and then using it as a base of operations. Tactic: Kill a few enemies and then head back to the bed. I think NotR mages are the reason I remembered vanilla as being much easier. For the two other classes NotR simply offers a better balance.

At any rate, I was somewhat disappointed by vanilla compared to NotR. It’s still a good game and all that, but NotR is a massive upgrade. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an expansion that made such a big difference overall.

I still have a few more days of NotR playing before I’m done with it, after which I will start Gothic 3. At this point I am really looking forward to it, as Gothic 2 has pumped up my enthusiasm quite bit by now. Time will tell if that enthusiasm lasts.

Oh, by the way, sorry the whole thing was structured a bit oddly, but it’s based on notes I took while playing so it’s more or less in chronological order. As always, feel free to comment, ask questions and what not. If anyone wants me to add something or expand upon something, just let me know and I’ll do it.
Last edited by Maylander; June 17th, 2013 at 18:15.
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