After a very long wait, Aspyre has finally released Pirahna Bytes’ Gothic 3 in the states. Jessica and I picked it up last Saturday and have been playing it every evening since then. I would say we’re about 20% of the way through the game at this point, so I thought I would post my first impressions on it.
First, the map and the world itself is gorgeous. Perhaps even a bit too much… The topography is a bit confusing because of the level of detail on it. We are playing at 1024×768 on high detail, so everything looks great, but things are a bit too overgrown and it makes finding things like huts, caves and things a bit more difficult than it should be.
From what I’ve read they used the Oblivion engine as a starting point for Gothic 3. In my opinion, that was a mistake. The game stutters and pauses way to often. Not enough to make the game unplayable, but it does detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. The engine they were using for Gothic 1 and 2, while a bit dated by comparison ran far better, even on slighly older hardware. We had no trouble running Gothic 1 & 2 on my older Windows box which was an Athlon XP 2400 w/1G of RAM and an GeForce 6600 in it. After reading the required specs, I upgraded my Windows machine a few months ago to be able to handle it. I upgraded to a P4 3.2GHz w/2G of RAM and a PCI-E 16 based GeForce 7600GT with 256MB of RAM on it. The game stutters and pauses a lot, whether or not its loading something from disk. I also upgraded the disk from an ATA-66 drive to a SATA-150 drive. Since I’ve got 2G of RAM in the machine, I was able to find some tweaks on the forums to bump up the caching of certain things, which helps. On Friday I ordered a Dual core P4 3.4GHz and a slightly faster 7600GT. We’ll see if that helps. The machine I’ve got, while not the fastest and most powerful system out there is faster than what the majority of people have on their desks at home. They should have tested this a bit better on slightly older hardware.
There also should have been a way to use strictly the keyboard for movement. An option to “use Gothic 2 controls” or something would have been a big help. Moving to the typical first person shooter style “WASD”/Mouse combo without an easy option to switch back was quite irritating.
My next big gripe is that they changed the way that all of the characters look too much. Perhaps it was changing the engine, perhaps it was by choice, either way its distracting. In the previous versions, the NPC’s that we interacted with and that have carried over from game to game were always somewhat distinct from the other NPC’s in the game. Not so now. Now they look like the other un-named NPC’s. Not really a big deal since its what they do that is the help, not what they look like. Part of the storyline of Gothic 3 was that it was a continuation of the previous two, and the characters have changed just a bit too much.
Speaking of characters changing. Where did his pony-tail go? That should have stayed. As silly as it looked (like a little tassle on the back of his head), it was part of the character and it should have stayed put.
The documentation is also really lacking. A tiny 58 page booklet that is mostly screen shots and graphics. Major things are missing from it, like the default keyboard map. While its true you can get to a lot of this stuff in-game, they have a section on how to move around with the default keyboard/mouse controls but leave out major things. The two biggest things that they left out were quick-bar related — Use F1 to enable or disable the quick-bar. The other big thing was using different types of arrows or quarrels. To do that you have to arm your bow or crossbow then pick the different type of ammunition you want to use from your quick-bar. It makes sense after you figure it out but its not obvious enough to leave out of the manual.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t all bad. In fact its mostly good:
The map, while perhaps a bit over done is huge. As I said before, we’ve been playing every evening for about a week now and we’ve seen *maybe* 20% of it. That may even be an exaggeration. This is one of its greatest features. You can play for hours and discover new things in each area you go to. Three distinct “continents” each with different creatures and inhabitants make a very realistic world. Moving from one continent to the other is pretty seamless and realistic. The Hero reacts differently in each continent as well, which is another nice realistic touch. In the desert his endurance depletes faster and regenerates slower which is a nice touch. We haven’t been up to the cold north yet, but we were able to learn the “resist cold” attribute before hand, so I’m sure the climate there effects the Hero as well in some way.
Combat takes a bit of getting used to and doesn’t always work as you hope. They did do a pretty good job of making the keyboard/mouse setup handle combat but in close fights it does end up being a click-fest at times. There are some good weapons that can be found fairly early in the game so the Hero isn’t constantly dying. The fights are pretty even most of the time if you think about it and use a bit of strategy.
The main focus of Gothic has always been the quests that you do. Gothic 3 is no different. There are typically quests for each group of people you encounter. The main story line makes the quests a bit more challenging than in previous games and quite a bit more enjoyable since you have to think about how completing a quest will impact the Hero’s repuation and standing in the different communities. Basically actions have repercussions — very realistic. Its one of my favorite aspects of the game.
Trading went back to more of the style used in Gothic 1, which was much better than the style used in Gothic 2. You trade goods and gold for goods and gold. The style in Gothic 2 was less bartering and more supermarket checkout style. You can also learn skills to haggle better, though since we don’t have them yet, I’m not sure what they do yet.
The AI is much better in this version than any of the previous versions. Characters really do change their daily routines just enough for you to notice. Someone who was one place on one day doing something may not be there doing the same thing the next day. Its another one of those nice touches.
One of the coolest new things is hunting. There are herds of animals roaming the plains that you can practice hunting skills on. Heards of 10-20 bison or 5-10 deer on a plain, each of them yeilding 200 experience points, 2-4 pieces of raw meat, horns/antlers and a skin. Its a great way to get learning points by leveling up as well as cash when you trade your skins and horns. There are also lizards, snakes, hares and vultures that give 25 experience points each that are roaming around through the country. The hares even give you raw meat. Adding this gives the game a very nice bit of realism — not all creatures will attack on sight, in fact creatures like deer will run when you get too close because you spook them. Very nice touch.
I will say that it took me two evenings of playing before the game became immersive for me because of all the differences between it and its predecessors. There are bugs and its crashed a few times, the different look and feel to the game, the different voice actors all lessened my initial enjoyment of it. We’ll still be playing it to its conclusion, but its not quite as enjoyable as Gothic 2 was for us.
I’ll post again on this after we’ve played a bit on the new hardware when it gets here.