The land of Khorinis is in turmoil. An uprising of the slaves -- long entombed in the iron ore mines of the valley -- has left it in disarray, with bandits and thieves ruling outside the town walls and the all-powerful militia in charge of the town itself. Evil is gaining the upper hand and only one man stands in its way -- guess who? Yep, you’ve got it -- you’re the hero in Gothic II, a third-person fantasy adventure game.
Despite your pivotal role in the plot you’re a man with no name, called only The Hero -- no pressure, you understand. The aim of the game is to gain skills and power in order to become strong enough to defeat your enemies and restore peace. But the path you take isn’t straightforward. Instead, you create the gameplay by making choices about which tasks to complete, which characters to please or annoy, which jobs to tackle and which areas to specialise in.
In common with games like Morrowind and Dungeon Siege, you develop skills along the way by practising various arts. The more practice you get, the better you become. There are several characters to choose from, such as thief, sorcerer or warrior. This gives Gothic II true longevity, because the speciality you choose will determine how gameplay progresses: a game played as a sorcerer will be different to one played as a thief.
Gothic II is complex and a demo would have come in handy to teach the basics. Instead, the developers provide a tutorial manual. It offers all the info and tips you need to get started, but it’s a pain to keep referring to it. Due to your untutored nature it’s therefore a good idea to constantly save your gameplay -- even when you complete the most minor task.
Creatures and men intent on your destruction meet you at every turn -- sometimes even giving a wrong answer can result in a good thrashing. Your own choices play a huge role in how situations progress.
Although it’s rather time-consuming, it is worth having a chat with everyone you meet along the way. They’ll often give you useful hints such as suggesting you ask for a certain person at a certain point. Ignore these pointers at your peril.
The need to retain so many facts can become tiresome, however. We found ourselves madly scribbling in a notebook to remember where to go, who to ask for, what to look for and which tasks to complete. There is a diary that records some of this information for you, but we found it quicker and easier to resort to pen and paper.
The keyboard controls are relatively easy to get the hang of, but they aren’t the smoothest I’ve experienced. And in the first stages of playing I kept finding myself drawing my sword rather than giving a jolly greeting, which didn’t go down well with the locals.
Gothic II will certainly keep you amused for some time, but it requires dedication. It’s not for gamers after a little light relief, but more for those who want to immerse themselves in Gothic’s rich fantasy world.
Developer: Piranha Bytes