Gothic 3 is the trueborn successor of this series' uninterrupted bloodline of audacious system requirements, die-and-die-again combat ethics, and penciled-in queues of Post-It Note mission objectives. While free-range gameplay has strode ahead confidently in every gaming genre, Gothic'slineage has always been unfocused somewhere in the backdrop, shoulders slumped in a constant game of catch up, offering a mumbling array of fixes and apologies but generally losing its bearings in this post-Oblivion world we now live in.
On paper, it sounds like the Piranha Bytes production team gets everything right: An enormous and seamless world to explore, classless character development, and one helluva fork-in-the-road choice regarding the story's outcome. But when it comes to execution, Piranha Bytes look like they're recreating gameplay mechanics assembled from rumors and hearsay. Its ambition outstrips its resources at every overreaching turn. Since fantasy fiction (ironically) relies so heavily on established archtypes, getting those archetypes right and utilizing them effectively becomes that much more difficult of a task. And -- in Gothic 3's case -- since the game designers and story writers share the same credits, I suspect they're now just realizing that designing a game and writing a story require two dissimilar skill sets. They fill out differing (but not necessarily opposed) lines on a resume.
Keeping your sense of humor intact is the number one rule of survival in Gothic 3. Finding out what your character is and isn't capable of doing allow for moments of unintentional hilarity and/or head scratching. Can I pilfer this chest or help myself to the goods displayed on that table? I didn't mean to draw my blade -- will the mage never talk to me again for that infraction? And I can understand why his guard kicked my ass for unsheathing my weapon, but did he have to pick my pockets while I was unconscious, too? Never mind, he seems okay with me sleeping until noon in his bed so I can heal.
This level of experimentation will cull several reloads out of you, but the load screens are so long that you can also finally make significant progress on your third rereading of the Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy. The Gothic 3 story sidesteps a few typical RPG tropes by not making your basic orc horde a shapeless threat … they're actually society's ruling class in the land of Myrtana. And you, our nameless, unskilled, and death-prone hero, have a cliff-hanging decision to make. Do you rally with the orcish empire, or dig in with the human resistors?
Whomever you choose as an adversary, combat plays a ubiquitous role over every square kilometer of the map. Fights are furious and endurance draining, though enemy health and the overall damage-dealing model seeps into nebulous territory. The "free-range" aspect is only a thin and unsubstantial veil over the escalating ferocity of your enemies; you'll know the exact moment your overly-courageous antics have stepped beyond their level boundaries.
Even if you conquer an encounter, superficial methods are in place to invite you back needlessly to old locales, namely with treasure chests that are too difficult to unlock considering your current skill level. But it all pans itself out as an unnecessary exercise in rote memorization. What could possibly be so fantastic in that admittedly unremarkable chest that would entice you to solidify its map location in your brain to return at a later chapter? Can collecting on these past-dated goods ever be worth the time and effort in a game already taxing all of your time and effort?
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