JoWood – Gothic 3 review

not your average sword and sorcery fare
Photo of JoWood – Gothic 3

They have a “gothic” night at our local nightclub. However, if you’re a fan of Piranha Bytes’ RPG series and turn up in your full live roleplaying clobber – wooden sword and shield, mock chainmail waistcoat – you get some pretty strange looks. And that’s off people wearing thick layers of black eye makeup, with ten facial piercings.

It’s also probably a bad idea to stroll up to the bar and announce loudly: “Prithee, barkeep, what sayest thou to the rumours that vampires stalk this tavern? And wilst thou pay to have them vanquished?” On considered balance, you’re much better off getting your quests in the virtual realm of Gothic 3.

It’s just as well, then, that the vast game world is stuffed with quests. As with most RPGs, many of these are the usual “kill some wild boars” or “gather some healing plants” tasks, but there are more interesting missions alongside these. Decisions and morality sometimes come into play.

For example, an orc-employed mercenary slaver gives you a contract to track down one of his missing slaves for a wedge of gold, but when you find the chap in the wilderness, it turns out he’s a human rebel who hints that he might teach you a new skill if you can escort him to friends. Whether you plump for the quick buck or do the right thing is between you and your conscience.

The storyline centres on the orcs, who have taken over the lands of Myrtana and enslaved the humans, who are only left with pockets of rebel resistance. Initially you’re on the human side, of course, but as the game progresses it becomes clear that matters aren’t quite as black and white as they first seem, and the orcs do have their reasons for the invasion.

Unusually for an RPG, this overarching storyline is genuinely absorbing (it’s only a shame the developer didn’t manage to conquer the hammy dialogue beast that plagues the genre). There are other factions aside from the orcs and humans – such as a race of desert people to the south – and the choices you make and quests you complete all affect your standing with one group or another.

The huge world seems more like a living place as a result, and this atmosphere is reinforced by some excellent attention to detail. Stroll into a rebel camp and the guys won’t just be sat around. The blacksmith will be forging tools, another fellow might be repairing a wooden shack with a hammer, then when evening comes he’ll sit down at the camp fire, cook himself a meal and then eat it.

Deer scatter when you approach, and if you’re hunting you’ll definitely need to be quick and accurate with your bow. Wolves attack other creatures and will actually feast on the carcass if they get the kill, ignoring the player. Myrtana definitely feels more alive due to these touches of realism and the fact that your decisions have an impact on how different factions react to you.

All that said, there are chinks in Gothic 3′s armour. Character development is a little slow to begin with, and even when you acquire some decent fighting skills and upgraded equipment, you still feel quite weak compared to some of the low level foes. This is partly due to the combat system, however, which is rather flawed.

Essentially, it’s a simple action system which uses both mouse buttons to access both powerful and quick slashes, and a defensive parrying move. The problem is the quick slash is generally the best attack, so the temptation is to repetitively hammer enemies with that. Parrying doesn’t seem to work half the time, as you get hit anyway, and when you are bashed by a monster they can often attack again and again in quick succession while you’re off balance, which can mean you’re very dead, very quickly. Not much fun.

Visually the game looks impressive, but this comes at a pretty heavy performance price. We could run the medium detail settings on our slightly above average PC, but the frame rate juddered quite badly at times, which was disappointing. Game loading times are also somewhat sluggish.

And then there are the bugs. A game of this size and scope is bound to be afflicted by the dreaded bugbears, but Gothic 3 has more than its fair share. There are visual bugs, such as characters falling through the floor and strange lens flare effects which occur when it’s dark, problems with some quests and AI failures whereby monsters just stand around instead of attacking.

So, it truly is a case of the good and the bad. As for the ugly; well, we didn’t see a single woman during our adventures; it was all a load of less aesthetically pleasing blokes. C’mon, where are the chainmail bikinis? In all seriousness, it seems very odd that Myrtana’s population consists entirely of men. Men with one bicep bigger than the other, and serious repetitive strain injuries, probably…

Company: JoWood

Gothic 3 is a quality RPG on several levels. The world is massive and imbued with a sense of life, and it's very open ended in terms of the freedom to explore and the choices the player can make to support one faction or another. The combat system isn't very well balanced, and there are definite performance issues and plenty of bugs, but hopefully at least some of these problems will be addressed with patches in the near future.