SummaryChallenging, beautiful, open-ended, smart, long; class gaming
The GoodThe game begins where Gothic 2 ended, with a recap of events in the first game for beginners. The enigmatic Xardas the necromancer is the first character you meet, one of a plethora of colorful people who will play parts in the surprisingly long main quest.
The dialogue and interaction with NPCs really stand out immediately. All the dialogue is voice acted and there's loads of it, thousands of lines; in the first main game area, the city of Khorinis, you'll find dozens of characters with their own personalities and unique branching conversations, and every one of them is involved in at least one quest or job which you can take up or turn down. This isn't just for show, either; unlike linear 'RPG's like Neverwinter Nights, the things you say to people will really have a big effect on how the game plays.
The NPCs aren't just believable when you're interacting with them, though; they each have schedules which they will attend to, carrying out conversations with one another, sleeping, eating, working, et cetera. They react realistically when they encounter hostile NPCs or wild animals, sound the alarm if they see you committing a crime, and refuse to talk to you if they don't like you. The priest in Khorinis preaches to a crowd of citizens that gathers, and if you want you can stick around and listen to his lengthy prose as well. It's overall among the most lifelike, immersive game worlds yet brought to a computer screen.
The main quest is pretty slow to pick up; you have to gain several levels and complete a load of odd jobs before you'll be powerful enough to start on the road to the second chapter. This is a blessing and a curse, because while it introduces the open-endedness of the game world well, it's also pretty slow-paced.
The graphics are beautiful. Textures are of low detail in some areas, but this is more than made up for by the excellent character animation, lifelike creatures which inhabit the world, and most of all the verdant world itself in which you can see for miles around if you turn the view distance up high enough. Other fancy effects such as particles blowing in the wind, leaves falling off of trees and (semi-) reflective water are thrown in for good measure, but it's the artwork and level design that really stands out.
Sound is excellent, the best in any RPG I have played. Hitting a creature makes a meaty thunk or a bony crack, feet crunch on pine needles, swords clash off of each other with sharp retorts, and trolls let out fearful battle cries with vivid clarity. The voice acting also stands out; it is flawed because the foreign actors don't always get English inflection right, but all of the actors have character and most are skilled, which really brings the characters to life.
Gothic 2's nonlinearity really stands out. It manages to have a complex main plot and lifelike characters while still allowing you to do pretty much anything you want in the game world. There's a vast world to explore, over a hundred side quests to take care of, creatures to kill (and skin), plants to collect (and turn into potions), swords to forge, dungeons to loot, books to read, et cetera.
The BadGothic 2's difficulty level is very steep for beginners. It actually gets easier in the last third of the game, as some of the creatures are pushovers and a wise player will have saved up enough gold to buy anything by then, but before then, novices will have a hard time getting by.
As mentioned, the voice acting's inflection is off at points. This is rarely a problem, but when it is it damages the immersion.
There are also a handful of glitches in the scripting, messing some quests up if you approach them the wrong way. This is an unfortunate issue, although it never, to my knowledge, gets in the way of the crucial quest.
It also bears noting that Gothic 2 does not manage to evoke the spooky, mysterious atmosphere of Gothic. Since you're playing in a more civilized area, the game just doesn't have that same dark, creepy mood to it. It's a small step down from the first game, but still superior to most others.
The Bottom LineWhile Gothic 2 certainly isn't a game for everyone, it is one hell of an RPG. It's slow to pick up, very difficult at the beginning, and marred a little bit by glitches, but is otherwise a largely flawless gaming experience.