We have finally arrived at the third and final retrospective in the Gothic trilogy. I delivered retrospectives of the previous iterations in my favorite video game trilogy of all-time, Gothic and Gothic II: Night of the Raven. Gothic 3 was released in 2006 by JoWood and developed once again by Piranha Bytes. For context, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion came out the same year. Gothic 3 is a divisive game among fans of the first two as Piranha Bytes used a completely new engine. The look of the game changed dramatically as it the mechanics and voices of the returning characters. Despite the changes and the flaws Gothic 3 has, it is still a quality game and one of my favorite games to play to this day. Spoilers for Gothic 3 ahead.
At the end of Gothic II: Night of the Raven, the Nameless Hero defeated the Undead Dragon to vanquish the beast of Beliar, eliminating the leader of the enemy which had been terrorizing the Valley of Mines and Khorinis since the first game. Xardas, a magician in exile who the hero has allied himself with, absorbed the soul of the dragon, granting him the power of Beliar as he promptly disappears. The war on the mainland of Myrtana against the orcs is still raging on where the hero and his friends sail to attempt to bring peace to the country.
When our group arrives a few weeks later, they find the Orcs have already won the war, conquering Myrtana. Xardas used his power to destroy the rune magic, rendering the magicians and paladins unable to effectively battle the orcs. The orcs then took most of the cities as the king of Myrtana, King Rhobar II, created a magic barrier around the capital of Vengard to hold off the invading orcs. After taking back the village of Ardea, the hero learns his ship was destroyed by pirates, leaving he and his friends stranded and without most of their equipment. They must decide what to do next as the future of the world hangs in the balance.
Before I discuss my thoughts on the game, I must establish an important aspect to understanding its flaws. JoWood pushed Piranha Bytes to release this game before they wanted to, causing it to have a very buggy release (similar to Assassin’s Creed Unity). Because of this, the story of the game was not what the developers, causing the overall story to take a backseat, leading to multiple endings.
Due to rushed development and the many changes this game contained compared to its predecessors, there are many issues such as the overall gameplay mechanics, lack of characterization and unsatisfying endings. In the first two games, combat was one of its strongest aspects as the fighting animation changed as your character learned how to fight better. The swings would become quicker on top of longer combo opportunities. It gave a sense of realism and a satisfying character progression system.
In Gothic 3, the motion is always the same, and while I like adding stab moves and a shield, you can just tap the action button repeatedly to win most fights without any problems. Button-mashing being the main way to kill enemies is unsatisfying, taking away the incredible growth in combat the first two games presented. With two-handed weapons, you can just use a spin move to destroy packs of enemies and button mash when out of stamina, another aspect which makes fights less exciting.
Throughout the first two games, many different characters had distinguished personalities such as Gorn, a mercenary the hero befriended, and Saturas, the leader of the Magicians of Water. Gorn was a brutish but kind-hearted fighter who appreciated brotherhood but was always willing to fight when needed. Saturas was a passionate and blunt mage who the hero betrayed in the first game. When the two met again in the second game, Saturas was understandably displeased to see him, acting angry and bitter toward him.
In Gothic 3, Gorn now has a calm demeanor, wanting to help the rebels rebuild and defeat the orcs, a complete change in character, while Saturas is a wise old man who is emotionally bland. These two examples show how most characters in the game act as quest givers and followers. There are very few characters who stand out and the ones that do are very over the top, such as a stoner Hashishin named Sibur Narad in Lago. To put the cherry on top, you can interact with the orcish and Hashishin (desert people in Varant who worship Beliar), and outside of voice changes and several catchphrases, they are not much more interesting than the human characters. This is a shame as prominent voice actors portray many people in this game. Crispin Freeman (Code Geass, Eureka Seven, Durarara!!) is great as the hero but isn’t given the writing to make the role memorable. Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, The Legend of Korra, Star Wars Rebels) also plays many different characters, but isn’t given much to work with.
The story boils down to collecting the five ancient artifacts of Adanos (the neutral god of the sea that the Magicians of Water worship) and the hero must decide the faction to use the power for. The three options are: Innos, Beliar and Xardas. For Innos, you can use it to destroy the orcs, becoming King of Myrtana. For Beliar, you can become the leader of the Hashishin with his power, destroying all opposition. For Xardas, you can destroy the artifacts, kill Rhobar and the leader of the Hashishin, Zuben, and leave the world to rid it of the god’s power.
There are multiple issues with these endings. The hero is a wanderer and would never settle down and rule a country and choosing the Beliar ending completely contradicts the entire story of the first two games. Leaving the world with Xardas makes no sense as the hero would lose all his friends and adventure. I wish Piranha Bytes had the time to tell the story they wanted as it would have likely been much better than the result we got.
I have been negative toward this game in this retrospective, but the fact remains that I still love this game dearly and the positive aspects can help me overlook them while playing. It has my favorite soundtrack in any video game ever, exploring the world is a fantastic experience and some of the action sequences provided me with some of the most incredible moments in gaming I have ever had.
Kai Rosenkranz returns to compose the soundtrack in this game and I love every second of it. Unlike the first two games, Rosenkranz had a full orchestra to work with, using it brilliantly. The exploration music, especially in the icy mountains of Nordmar and the desert of Varant, are breathtaking and I get easily immersed into the environment on top of feeling a level of epicness. Two other pieces I love are “Ishtar” and “Showdown”. Ishtar is the capital city of the Hashishin and it is based on cities from the Middle East in the Middle Ages. The folky and old school instruments help represent the atmosphere well, making every trip to Ishtar memorable. “Showdown” plays during the end-of-game battles and the epic choir and bombastic instrumentals escalate the tension effectively during the fights. While the complaint of the soundtrack taking away the darker atmosphere of the game is valid, I feel like the dialogue and story do that to a bigger degree and the soundtrack makes up for it.
The glorious soundtrack amplifies my second point of exploring the world being a tremendous experience. There are three countries to freely explore, Varant, Nordmar and Myrtana. The music is incredible, but what makes them so memorable is the geographic features and differences between them. Myrtana is the in-between country with a mild climate, some open spaces and mountains, and thick forests to traverse. I enjoy this contrast as the two other worlds provide insane experiences.
Nordmar is a country filled with ice and mountains (like a more extreme Skyrim) and navigating through it can be challenging, especially during blizzards. Even after playing the game nearly nine times, I still get lost there. It is a place filled with dangerous creatures, tombs filled with undead and orcish camps, making it a journey not for the faint of heart. The dangerous area, combined with the extreme conditions, make it a memorable place to explore.
However, my favorite area of the game is Varant, the vast desert. The developers did a great job creating a vast wasteland with nothing but sand for big sections of the map. All there is to see outside of the cities are ruins and several temples which contain several of the five artifacts of Adanos. Exploring the ruins and the vast wasteland creates amazing immersion I have rarely seen in video games. Nordmar and Varant also have temperature effects, having your stamina replenish much slower until you learn to deal with the elements from teachers.
Lastly, some of the action and exploration sequences have left me with some of the most memorable gaming experiences of all-time, gameplay issues aside. There are three which were particularly outstanding: freeing the Hammer Clan mine, fighting through orc camps in Vengard and exploring the ruins of Al Shedim. In the Hammer Clan in Nordmar, there are smelters which make blanks from pure magic ore. They need their mine to do this as their forge is unique, but the orcs took it from them. Liberating the mine with a group of allies is an action-packed sequence as orcs come in many different waves, making it a tough endeavor which requires a lot of healing, patience and focus. Every time I play it, I feel accomplished when I win.
When the hero gets behind the magic barrier in Vengard via a teleportation rune, you must team up with the paladin Georg to fight through the remaining camps trapped inside the barrier to reach the king. This sequence is challenging and makes you feel like a part of the war you have heard so much about. Finally reaching the king and defeating the five orc commanders is a very satisfying moment.
I will never forget exploring the ruins and temple of Al Shedim with my dad and later on in my own playthroughs as not only is the music epic, but the quest is grand. An artifact of Adanos is in the temple and you must prevent the orcs from getting it along with killing the undead in the temple who are attempting to stop you. Finding the temple keys to get inside is challenging in the vast and creature-infested ruins. Once inside, you and your friend Lester have to battle three very powerful undead high priests to get the artifact. It is a fun and challenging mission, but the feeling of accomplishment when it’s over is fantastic.
Overall, Gothic 3 is a very fun game with many flaws. The soundtrack, world design and action sequences make the game enjoyable despite the lack of a satisfying ending, poor characterization and gameplay mechanics. If you love open-world games without a heavy focus on story, this is a game I recommend.