Although medieval fantasy is supposedly the most common aesthetic employed by RPGs, how many recent ones are there, really? Probably a lot, but most donít hold it to the same level of importance that Gothic II does. The direct sequel to Gothic, this game has stuff that really happened in the middle ages Ė peasant revolts, insecure crowns Ė with the stuff that happens in medieval fantasy RPGs Ė orcs, magic, dragons.
The situation is looking grim for the Gothic kingdom. The farmers, furious over the war tax, are plotting revolution while the enemy orcs are sitting back and laughing. Itís obviously up to the player to set things right, butÖ what is right? Well, thatís for the player to decide. The story line progresses as the player chooses, with each possible thread forming an engrossing scenario. Whether the player chooses to be a loyal Paladin defending the throne, or a nefarious Thief liberating funds for the revolution, it is the goal of the developers that the player is a key figure and in control of the situation. Of course, this is how it should be Ė it is a one-player game.
For the most part, Gothic veterans should find themselves in familiar territory, and will probably be happy to make the divergences that are forced upon them. The monster and character AI in the sequel has been improved so that enemy Non-Player-Characters will be more challenging and require more strategy to defeat. The new NPC news system will track the playerís accomplishments and adventures, so everybody will know the player. No more of this "are you new in town?" after youíve spoken to somebody for the twentieth time. Also, Gothicís notorious pick-pocketing system (notorious only for its lameness) has been reworked for this game. Oh yeah, and the game area is three times as big.
One thing that sets the Gothic duo apart from the many, many, many other non-linear PC RPGs out there is that the character isnít created, but rather he is customized through direct and indirect action throughout the game. Players who built up their Gothic character to perfection get to do it all over again; the poor warrior suffered a blow to his head and forgot all he had learned over his previous adventure. It should be interesting for Gothic veterans to see whether or not their character ends up becoming the same as last time. Although many players enjoy the process of creating their character, Gothic II is geared towards those who want to get into the action and let the rest slip anyway. The game uses action-based combat, and makes a deliberate attempt to cut down on menus. Many have categorized this game as "adventure." Gothic II allows players to build their own runes, potions, and weapons now, as well.
The magic system has also been reworked. Now there are seven levels of spells that can be bought or found. Whatís more interesting than that (well, everything, but anyway) is the ability to morph into different creatures. This Paladin or Mage ability is useful for stealth. If one needs to pass a field undetected, one only needs to change into a sheep or a wolf. Of course, if one changes into a wolf, then one will certainly be noticed by the sheep.
The graphics in Gothic II are impressively realistic, but nothing that hasnít been seen before. The characters are a bit muddy and provide a bit of a contrast to the sharp backgrounds. The music, at least, is inspiringly orchestral.
For those who are tired of the endless onslaught of MMORPGs, Gothic II is likely the choice PC game. It may not be terribly original, at least itís well realized. For those who are tired of one-player action games, get ready to hide on the 27th day of 2003.