Gothic 3 needs a lot of machine to run as intended. The game has some absolutely amazing visual elements to throw at the player, but bit by bit, many gamers have to tweak and switch off these features until the game runs smoothly.
There are also some major technical glitches that can hinder gameplay, the most serious of which is your player becoming stuck under an object with a low ceiling, or on top of something you accidentally climbed. Thankfully, there is almost always a way to wiggle yourself out.
Finally, amidst rumors of memory errors and crashes on Dells, I tested and was sad to see that the game would not run on either of the older Dells we have lying around. On an old Dimension 3100 and a Latitude D610, a memory error prevented Gothic 3 from starting at all.
Seriously though, keep reading.
Notwithstanding shortcomings and bugs, Gothic 3 is actually one of the best open ended adventure games I’ve ever played. It’s a bloody shame that even the most dedicated gamer might get turned off before even swinging a sword, because there is a good nonlinear game under the hood with a barge full of replay value.
The game begins with a staple adventure game cut scene; the king is under siege and the mages scramble to channel their power on the defensive. The mighty orcs have conquered and enslaved most of the human race in the land of Myrtana. You, the unnamed hero, are one of the few free humans left, and with that freedom comes choice. Do you rebel against the orcish oppressors or stand with them against your countrymen? Or do you say “the hell with it,” and go off and live by your own rules?
The action begins immediately as your comrades arrive in the occupied village of Ardea, and the orc garrison immediately attacks you. The true nature of this game becomes apparent very quickly. When you engage the orcs, the human slave population rises up with you. If you’re good, and you pummel the Orcs quickly, most of the human slaves will survive and praise you as their liberator. If you get knocked down a few times and fight a long, bloody battle, almost all the slaves can be killed and you’ll be left with a barren wasteland of a town with a few people here and there. Fortunately, the population will replenish eventually.
The hero has the chance to interact with his group after the battle. They all plan to go their separate ways, and this is your first chance to make a choice. One of your comrades was supposed to stay and guard the ship, so you can go check on him. Another member of the band wants to go meet up with the “Rebels,” a group of free humans fighting the orcs wherever they can. Still, another choice would be to walk away right here and explore the land.
There are three main landmasses to explore, and you are free to go anywhere, at any time. You start in the wooded, temperate region of Myrtana. There is also the hot Varant Desert to the south. Finally, Nordmar, the icy land of hearty clans and ore-filled mines, lies to the north. Most players will find it easier to follow some form of linear path, because monsters and enemies become harder to defeat depending on where you travel. If you can get past that fact, you’ve already uncovered one of Gothic 3’s better features. Following a path closely, you’ll spend a lot of time exploring Myrtana, then Varant, then back north to Nordmar. However, you can simply walk around or swim across a channel to get to Varant, even at the very beginning of the game and get into a whole new series of adventures.
Your personal path
The unnamed hero can become a well-rounded warrior or specialize and focus on one or two variables. Unlike most other role playing games where you pre-pick your archetype, in Gothic 3, practice makes perfect. You will encounter others willing to show you their paths and artifacts and herbs that will boost your skills.
Your overall strength allows you to wield different and better swords and axes. Teachers and mentors in different lands can help you improve your skill, learn new techniques, parry with shields and eventually you’ll even be able to swing two swords at once.
Hunting skill allows the hero to be more deadly with a bow and arrow. Fellow hunters are often willing to part the tricks of the trade with you. Your overall hunting skill lets you use better bows, while specific techniques let you go for kill shots on big game and extract teeth, hides and claws from wild beasts.
This is where the skill of smithing comes into play. Most towns have a blacksmith hammering away to keep the soldiers and hunters armed. Befriend them and, for a price, you’ll be able to learn to forge your own weapons that are stronger than ones you buy.
You might want to take a naturist perspective on things. You can hone your alchemy skills and learn how to brew cures, healing agents or deadly poisons. Flowers, plants, mushrooms, roots and herbs grow all over and you can turn these into a more potent form.
Then there’s magic. You’ll need to find artifacts and teachers that can educate you on the ways of the ancient ones. If you’re sick of swordplay and bows and arrows, a fireball or ice lance can take its place. Moreover, the hero can use magic to transform into a monster, make himself invisible to enemies, enchant all the wild animals in range to attack your foes and cure yourself after taking a hit.
All that hard work got you down? You can also follow the path of a thief. You’ll encounter thieving brethren in almost every city, and they’ll show you how to pick locks and sneak around at night, robbing towns blind. But be careful, if you get too greedy, or if you’re seen, you’ll have a very hard time doing anything else in town because the guards will constantly attack you as the no-good thief you are. If you get good enough, you can effectively bribe the guards or talk your way out of their accusations.
If you play long enough, you can become quite good at each skill, so don’t worry about missing out.
You’ll next want to establish relationships with one or more factions. You can get in the good graces of the orcs by traveling around Myrtana, arena fighting and performing tasks and errands for the orc gentry. The rebels will also have smaller tasks to perform, but their main goal is clear: kill all the orcs and free the slaves in the name of Rhobar, the human king. Eventually, you’ll also encounter the third main element, the Hashishin, slave trading desert dwellers who have forged an uneasy alliance with the orcs. All the while you’ll be hearing about the black mage Xardas, who helped the orcs conquer the humans by taking magic away from the paladin knights.
There are also minor factions like the rangers, bow fighting wilderness folk; nomads who roam the desert attacking the Hashishin; and barbarians in Nordmar.
Another interesting twist in Gothic 3 is that no faction represents the pure “good guy.” The orcs seem to be the clear enemy, but they constantly speak of honor and pride and many will befriend you depending on your course in the game. The rebels may seem like the obvious choice if you want the hero to be on the light side, but you’ll quickly hear of atrocities committed by some of their ranks. King Rhobar is a brutal conquerer who previously subjugated the Varant and Nordmar peoples. The Hashishin may seem like heartless slave traders, but they come off as the most “human” when you travel to Varant and see their vulnerabilities and hedonistic tendencies.
If you’re able to take advantage of the visual features, Gothic 3 has a stunning world. There are hundreds of animals and monsters to kill or avoid depending on your skills. Most will leave you with something to pick up, like meat, hide, weapons or potions, depending on the type of being you just killed. Gothic 3 mixes real life (pigs, cows, boars) with fantasy (ogres, trolls, and massive blood flies.)
I was really struck by the beauty of the landscape, especially the waterfall detail deep in Myrtana. When you’re not looking to hunt or kill, you can go cliff jumping and drive off a waterfall into the lake beneath. It’s about as big a rush you can get in a non-action sequence of a video game. Just don’t miss the water.
You could easily wander around the dessert or wilderness for a half hour and encounter a rebel encampment, a ranger cave, packs of wolves or herds of bison.
There are dozens of side tasks that you can perform, whether it’s a hunting expedition or a great thieving heist. None of them necessarily relate to any of the main quests, which are also different depending on if you are taking the Orc, Rebel or Hashishin path.
The soundtrack is one of the most solid features of the game, and the music is really going to bring you into the three very different parts of the world.
Technically, you don’t have to finish the game, but eventually, and by eventually I mean after 200-300 hours of playing time, you will finish all the small tasks, and you might find everything there is to find. The main end games depend heavily on the path you end up taking. Each path means killing the other two factions’ leaders eventually. The third path, the one of the Hashishin, is the most deadly.
The game has a lot of replay value, but I think there are a few things I’d like to have seen added. More wild animals regenerating faster would be nice and more “life” aspects could be nice. The main gameplay problem with the game is that once you finish the tasks for a particular town, there is rarely any reason to go back there. Some industry and more active trading could be nice. As it is there are no “stores” or thriving markets in the game, just individual vendors, usually on the streets.
You can also grab a variety of tools and trinkets during the game, like saws, hammers, knives, meat cleavers, etc. Some of these items are used for side animations–like you can saw a log but all you do is continually saw forever; nothing actually happens. It would be nice to be able to do more with your unlimited inventory of goods.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of detail in the game. You can sit by a campfire and roast the meat from your catches. You can sharpen your swords at a whetstone. You can lift heavy objects to gain strength points. The only thing you can’t really do is find a sense of permanence. There’s no “home base” or house you can really call your own and store some of your treasures. You can carry an unlimited amount of items, which is nice though unrealistic.
Overall, Gothic 3 is good, as long as you can get it to run right. Several hundred hours of good gameplay await in a beautifully rendered world that’s yours to conquer.