Released in 2001, Gothic belongs to the same generation of role-playing games as Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Baal, RuneScape, Arcanum, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Final Fantasy X. And just like these titles, the cult classic also brought it from Germany numerous fresh ideas into the genre, some of which were justifiably forgotten, but some also set a new standard that has not been achieved in this form to this day.
Gothic (buy now /€ 15.99 ) takes place in an original fantasy world in which a war with the orcs devours the resources of the kingdom of Myrtana. On the island of Khorinis, criminals are forced to mine magical ore for human weapons production. In order to prevent the prisoners from escaping or from a revolt, some powerful magicians were commissioned to create a barrier around the mining colony, which can be entered but not left. The spell failed, however, and both the magicians and the entire valley around the colony were enclosed by the barrier.
The entire area was soon taken over by the gangsters and claimed. The king has since been forced to negotiate with Gomez, the leader of the rebels and self-chosen archbaron, about the expensive mineral. We slip into the role of a new convict who gets the order from his captors to deliver a letter to the magicians inside the barrier. Once in the colony, we first get a rub from the other prisoners and are then introduced by Diego, a shrewd fellow inmate, into the world of the colony, where we can find our own path over time and even plan our escape.
The first thing that strikes you as a returnee to the world of Gothic is the game world, which is still extremely lively in 2021. As an old-school 3D open-world role-playing game, Gothic may be manageable in terms of size, but it is full of special places, secrets and encounters. The liveliness is additionally enhanced by the fact that all NPCs have an individual daily routine and react to them, for example, when you walk them through the hut and rummage through their things – a revolutionary feature for the time.
Although the story takes place under a dome and thus conveys a feeling of confinement and imprisonment, the mining colony never appears empty, unfinished or cut out of necessity. Firstly, this is because we only occasionally hit a piece of the barrier and the world is cleverly demarcated by other natural obstacles that just seem like a natural part of the landscape. And secondly, despite the dead ends, you never get the impression that you have already seen everything. There is always something new to discover in the other directions as well.
Source: PC Games
A significant part of the fact that the game world feels so extremely productive is also due to the way in which exploration and backtracking interact in Gothic. At the start of the adventure, we are instructed by rascal Diego to join one of the colony's three camps as soon as possible. The first camp on our way from the starting point is the old camp, where not only Diego is waiting for us, but also our destination, the fire magicians.
However, we cannot just walk through to the wise guys, as Thorus the gatekeeper demands a bribe or a test of our loyalty to the Old Camp in order to let us pass. So we look for tasks in the warehouse that we can take on in order to earn ore and increase our standing with the important people. We can then only exchange the experience points we have earned for new skills with certain teachers. In the search for NPCs who can teach us something, we gradually get to know all the characters. In this context, we also come into contact with representatives from the other two camps, who on request even lead us there, which opens the game world in a natural way.
On the way we meet numerous monsters for whom we are still too weak and against whom we would not have a chance without accompaniment. Those who explore on their own will quickly end up in the stomach of a monitor lizard, wolf or swamp shark. But we make a mental note to revisit the forests and caves when we are ready. The three camps and their individual quests lead us again and again near areas for which our equipment is too weak and our level is too low. Then one day, when we are powerful enough to stand up to the monsters there, it feels like a huge personal step.
Source: PC Games
Because we can't even harm a blood fly at the beginning and pretty much every slightly better equipped digger has the upper hand in a battle, we experience hundreds of such moments in the course of the game in which we triumph over an enemy type for the first time . Sometimes just the acquisition of 5 measly points of skill or strength can make the difference between winning and losing.
This system not only provides motivation, but also an extreme familiarity with the game world. Even after twenty years we still know exactly where which opponent was waiting for us, because back then we regularly came back to him after leveling up to try our luck again.
But Gothic is not only a prime example of good design in terms of personal progress – the game world around us is also constantly developing and motivating us to return to the same place more often. Once we have completed a chapter in the main quest series, this often has an impact on the lives of the other inmates. At first this effect is subtle – for example, new quests are unlocked and characters suddenly find themselves in other places – later it becomes more and more extreme and events happen in the background that completely change the game world. Because the developments are not necessarily brought about by the hero, but rather he is just one of many characters, one gets the impression that the world also exists apart from the decisions of the players.
Source: PC Games
This is where all the cogs in game design mesh: through familiarity with the world and its characters, we notice the differences immediately and we are directly motivated to find out what else has happened in the camps. Because some monsters stay the same throughout the game and do not level up, our personal challenges remain the same. Sometimes they even overlap with the new quests.
We may have made the acquaintance of an overpowering monster in an earlier chapter. Later in the game we are sent out to hunt it down specifically and may even receive support that will help us finally overcome the opponent.
All of this will still work damn well in 2021. When looking back at Gothic, however, it shouldn't be missing to complain at least once about the control that was not particularly intuitive and old-fashioned back then. And to rant that the hideous target system in hand-to-hand combat would drive even Buddhist monks to white heat. It must also be mentioned that Gothic shows its age and its undoubtedly existing quirks here and there.
The anything but optimal wayfinding of the NPCs and the numerous bugs and glitches were annoying back then. The unnatural, albeit charming, animations and the clumsy drawing of the few female characters as exactly the sex objects that Gomez and his men "ordered" them from the outside world are then simply a product of their time and would make a decent remake certainly received a little more fine-tuning.
But actually we don't want to dwell on the obvious negative points at all, but rather focus on what modern games can still learn from Gothic today.
And the first thing that comes to mind is the courage to be idiosyncratic that the development team around lead designer Mike Hoge showed when designing the game in detail. The world of Gothic has some special features and comes with memorable and cool monster designs, but the bottom line is actually just another fantasy world with the usual parties of orcs, people, gods and magicians that we have already seen in hundreds of other RPGs have seen. In contrast to the uniformity of other studios, the setting of Piranha Bytes exudes personal charm without end.
It starts with the naming conventions: The characters basically only call themselves by their first names, which mostly come from the English or Spanish language area or entirely from the field of fantasy. Diego and Gomez appear here alongside Blade, Whistler, Lee, Dexter, Gorn, Scatty and Raven. This was also retained for the second part and its expansion, The Night of the Raven. Combined with the direct way in which the characters communicate with one another, the image of a harsh world emerges in which no one has time for flowery language and everyone from mercenaries to trained magicians talks to one another like the regulars of a harbor bar. Despite orcs and dragons, this creates a grounded, low-fantasy vibe.
Source: PC Games
In addition, the dialogues, which were only set to music by a handful of speakers, are an absolute feast for the ears. The voices sound pithy like from an action flick from the late seventies and many of the sayings could also come from exactly one. If Guardsman Bloodwyn clears us up "Most of them who threw them in here are assholes", we have an adversary with an extremely sharp-tongued "Your mother does it with goats" provoke or our hero right at the beginning "I don't care who you are" Being driven over the mouth is not only rough and appropriate, but not least because of the emphasis it is also extremely amusing. In general, the humor in Gothic is wonderfully dry and extremely organically integrated into the dark story itself.
The soundtrack, which was composed entirely by developer and musician Kai Rosenkranz, is also atmospheric and varied. The background music makes you feel like you are at the medieval market in the individual camps and the threatening sounds in the various dungeons create an almost scary atmosphere.
Conclusion: An essential role-playing game even today
Even if the second part goes a step further in almost all respects, comes across as more colorful and with numerous useful detail improvements, we still enjoyed our time with the debut more than we thought before. Although it has to be said that with modern operating systems today it is actually impossible to play the old part at all without mods and patches. If you still get Gothic to work somehow and can overlook the strange gameplay aspects and the bugs that sometimes only arise due to compatibility problems with the current systems, the prehistoric German roleplaying art still offers some moments of fantastic entertainment today.
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