Gothic 3: Forsaken Gods – The Gods Must Be Crazy!

I enjoyed making some in-progress notes for Fallout 3, and decided to continue this by taking a first look at the recently released expansions for the Gothic and Neverwinter Nights franchises. I will start by looking at the just-released expansion to 2006’s Gothic 3, called ‘Forsaken Gods’. The original game met with significant criticism due to poor performance, long load-times, and general bugginess. There were also issues with combat that were generally worked out in the patches, but all of these left the game with a terrible reputation. Since then there has been soap opera-level drama between developer Pirahna Bytes and publisher JoWood, resulting in a parting of ways – JoWood hired another studio to work on the expansion and next game in the Gothic franchise, and PB was free to pursue new properties. Despite the loss of the original team that brought us the Gothic universe, many fans were cautiously optimistic that this expansion would not only deliver a thrilling new chapter, but also help redeem the franchise in the eyes of gamers. So how did they do?

Let me be clear – I am a big fan of the Gothic franchise. I wasn’t around for the initial release of the first two games: I had just gotten back into role-playing games after several years away with the Mac release of Neverwinter Nights, which I played in preparation for the PC release of Knights of the Old Republic. After working through those games, I was engaged in a number of discussion on the USENET RPG group, and a game that kept coming up as uniformly excellent was Gothic 2. So I bought a copy on eBay since I couldn’t find it at retail and very soon I was completely enthralled with the Gothic universe, and swallowed up the original game and bought the ‘Gold Edition’ with the ‘Night of the Raven’ expansion when Aspyr released it in the US. There was no doubt that Gothic 3 would be a ‘day of release’ purchase for me. Fortunately I am patient … wading through the issues and bugs and patches, I found a very good game with a complex moral system and faction system, and loads of interesting quests to complete and choices to make. Despite the lack of polish, it was one of my favorite games of the year.

Fast forward two years, and we are treated to an expansion that claims to answer many questions left from Gothic 3 and provide a direct step towards Gothic 4. You start with an introduction that shows how the lands you spent 80 hours liberating and uniting in Gothic 3 have quickly fragmented and are on the brink of war. And just as the leaders of the various areas of Myrtana cannot agree on a path to peace, neither can the Nameless Hero and Xardas agree on the proper course of action. This results in a battle between the two, ending with a weakened Nameless Hero waking up on a cot in Silden, broken and exhausted but ready to begin the work of reuniting the land.

Sounds great, eh? Too bad that the reality of the implementation is, in a word, dismal. The introduction is a grainy cutscene that is difficult to read and follow, and then you are treated to several minutes of watching a sword-shaped progress bar fill as the game loads. You are then unceremoniously dumped into a room in Silden where the leader, Anog, is standing around. The Nameless Hero is angry, and asks questions and tries to get Anog to join him on the quest for peace. Anog is wary, but after some discussion says he will support peace if …

… wait for it …

… you do some mindless tasks for him. That is right, after all you have done in Gothic 3 you need to reestablish your reputation from the ground up. And these are not tasks you would expect – nothing like brokering peace between certain areas or taking care of some massive beast or other pressing problem. No … in fact I could hardly believe it at the time.

To get started on your quest to reestablish peace, you need to do minor tasks for the people of town and get five letters of recommendation.

I know, I know – a daunting task and you can see the significance! But sadly, when you wander around town and try to find people to help, most are named generic things like ‘Citizen’, ‘Hunter’ or the like and have no desire to speak with you. So you wander through town having people say ‘surely you have something better to do’ or ‘leave me alone’ or ‘can’t you see I’m busy’ (when in actuality the person is standing alone doing nothing) until you encounter someone to give you a lousy job.

I am not yet far enough to render an opinion of the game as a whole, but my first hour or so has not impressed me. As was true with the original, the opening area performs poorly, so you start off with stuttering graphics, but fortunately it is not as bad as being dumped into Ardea like in the original. The tutorial elements are sparse and pop up at odd times and aren’t always helpful – if I didn’t already know how to play for just replaying part of the original game I would have found starting out quite frustrating.

Once you wander out of town you will encounter dangerous beasts as always, and getting off the path will mean near certain death. I really like that as a feature of the series, and am glad it is still there. Sadly, in my first encounter I had expected to be rewarded for getting past some scavengers that nearly had me for lunch with at least some scavenger meat to help my health situation. But there was nothing. Encountered a few wolves, no drop from them. I thought I might have found some bugs, but fortunately my next encounter with some scavengers gave me plenty of drops. And I do appreciate that scavengers drop scavenger meat and perhaps eggs … but never +4 Vorpal Swords or Chain Mail or the like …

Graphically the game looks wonderful as shown in the screen above. I haven’t seen any glitches in the graphics yet like the floating trees and items and characters stuck in walls and awnings as I did in Gothic 3 … but I assume that is just a matter of time. The one thing that has warmed my heart has been the music – KaiRo’s soundtrack sounds every bit as good as it ever did, making the lands of Myrtana feel friendly and inviting, and helping me be patient.

I am being patient in the hopes that the depth, complexity, and wonderful storytelling found in the previous three games and expansion pack will eventually reveal themselves. I am hoping that the bread I found scattered around outside Silden will lead to some humorous discovery down the road. I have a long way to go, but I know I will persevere. Hopefully there are more patches and fixes forthcoming that will handle the bugs, and I anticipate the content patch JoWood has promised. Fortunately hardcore PC RPG fans tend to be a patient lot, so as long as they deliver they might be forgiven.

But for now, I would have to rename this expansion to Gothic 3: Forsaken Fans!

… and I’ll check back when I have made further progress.

2 Responses to “Gothic 3: Forsaken Gods – The Gods Must Be Crazy!”

  1. Mike,

    I too played a bit of FG and the first thing that came to me, besides what you already mentioned, is the voice acting. They got a different actor for the Nameless Hero and after all the time spent playing Gothic 3 twice, it just doesn’t work for me. What makes it worse is that there are some lines they used the old voice for, so the hero has two *very* different voices. I’ve only played about 45 minutes so far, so I don’t have much more to say.. yet. 🙂

    On the other hand, I am for the most part enjoying Swords of Zehir expansion for NWN2. The overland map takes a little getting used to and it has been so long since I played MotB that I have to re-learn the game and tweak my settings, but so far so good.

  2. Yeah, while I can deal with the new voice actor (though he isn’t as good as Crispin Freeman), the juxtaposition of two voices is quite jarring. It reminds me of Xardas being re-voiced by Aspyr for the added stuff in Night of the Raven Gothic 2 expansion.

    I was writing up a ‘first impressions’ for NWN2″ SoZ as well … just ran out of time. It will get there …

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