Back in the ’90s to 2000s, a company rose through the ranks with its ambitious high fantasy role-playing titles. They’re still going strong today, with their latest game featuring Sci-Fi elements. Of course, dear reader, I’m talking about Piranha Bytes, developers of Risen and the aforementioned Elex games. Now, THQ Nordic has given us a window into their past with the release of a far less futuristic title, Gothic II Complete Classic on the Nintendo Switch.
Awaken The Sleeper
Gothic 2 follows directly from the events of Gothic 1 where our Nameless Hero defeated the mysterious entity known as The Sleeper, releasing the barrier containing all the Convicts of the island and, in traditional RPG fashion, paving the way for a greater, even more unknown evil. Nameless Hero wakes up weeks after his fight with The Sleeper, weakened but alive, and is set to task by the mage Xardas to try to unite the various factions that inhabit the island of Khorinis to prepare for the new evil.
This complete release of Gothic 2 comes with the “Night of the Raven” expansion pack. It adds the island of Jharkendar and includes a new pirate faction with a story focusing on a returning character called “Raven”. It gives a deeper insight into the world of Gothic and is seamlessly integrated into the core narrative of Gothic 2.
The main story of Gothic 2, whilst a good follow up to Gothic, is quite weak and cliché, something Piranha Bytes has never truly evolved from. It’s a traditional affair of building alliances and finding ancient artifacts to take down an ancient evil. It’s basic but effective stuff that has been around since the dawn of high fantasy.
Pick Your Poison
What makes Gothic 2 special, and maintains the cult classic following, are the stories told with the many side quests, how immersive and lived in the world feels. The the game allows you to achieve your goals in the way you see fit and allows the player to side with a variety of factions who all portray a delicate shade of gray with their actions and ambitions.
There are three religious sects amongst other factions such as the convicts, who used to inhabit the Prison Colony, and a selection of thieves, murderers, and liars, as well as some more morally positive people. You’ll find yourself thrust into situations that will test your morality and, despite the game not having a morality system, you’ll be so invested that some quests will be a bitter pill to swallow. An early example of this is either framing an innocent merchant to repay a favor or risking making an enemy of a powerful character who would like nothing more than to wipe your blood off of their face.
As this is a direct follow-up to Gothic, there are plenty of throwbacks, nods, and returning characters in the world. Whilst the main story is somewhat recapped over time, there are a lot of pre-existing relationships or prior knowledge that newcomers just jumping in could miss. Yes, you could in theory just start with Gothic 2, but I feel to get the most out of the narrative you need to go in fresh from defeating The Sleeper and escaping the Prison Colony in Gothic 1 Classic.
The Winds Of 2002
Gothic II Complete Classic is a 3rd person, western role-playing game or cRPG for those of you in “the know”. This Nintendo Switch port is the console debut for Gothic 2, shortly following the Gothic 1’s console debut a few months earlier under the title Gothic Classic.
The world is much larger than Gothic 1 and features many familiar locations, only you are no longer restricted by a barrier that contained you in the first title. After a very brief introduction you are free to explore the island of Khorinis and beyond at your leisure, only blocked off by higher-level nasties rather than invisible walls. Generally, if you can see it, you can explore it if you’re prepared enough.
As you explore you’ll meet a whole range of characters from all walks of life who will give you quests, usually involving you fetching them something or killing something. Once completed you are treated to experience points, sometimes items, and sometimes you’ll further the plot. It’s a rudimentary role-playing gameplay loop, but remember this game is originally from 2002, the same year Morrowind took gamers’ imaginations and ran wild into the mainstream.
The general idea behind the gameplay flow is that you pick up quests and learn about all the various factions before you choose which one to join and reach the end game, which culminates in a giant dungeon. It’s something that Piranha Bytes tend to do with every title. It’s a predictable but effective gameplay flow, that you can appreciate as you slowly learn more about the world and the motivations of everyone in it, rather than just steamrolling the main questline.
Every time you level up, instead of just getting upgrades, you need to track people down in the world and get them to train you in whatever aspect you’d like. Be it sword fighting, charisma, or thievery, you need to have a clear idea of how you are going to make your way to the finish line.
You can fight any character in the game, use various spells such as sleeping or charm, and steal anything in sight as long as you’re savvy enough to get away with it. Whilst your actions do have consequences, as mentioned there is no morality system in play. Don’t worry about locking any endings through your choices, it is more that you’ll lock yourself out of certain quests or anger a faction who will take great pleasure in killing you and looting your corpse.
There are books to read, the ability to skin animals to sell their fur, blacksmith work you can undertake, or you can even expand your culinary talents. For a game made in 2002, Gothic 2 was insanely ambitious and it’s the little things like the above that help immerse you in the world as the Nameless Hero and will keep you coming back through all the jank this game has to offer, and yes, there’s a lot of jank.
Making A Console Debut
Out of the gate, I would again like to remind you, dear reader, that this is the first time this game from 2002 has not only reached consoles, but has also been given a “controller friendly” control scheme. This should be factored in as I talk about how the game controls and handles.
The Nameless Hero in Gothic II Complete Classic controls like he’s the child of Lara Croft from the PS1 era and a bumper car. There is nothing nimble about this guy as he awkwardly stops to turn around, or has to deal with cumbersome camera and input lag. Fortunately, there are very few sections that require platforming or any intricate movement, but be aware there is an adjustment period much larger than if you were jumping into the recent Risen re-release.
Combat is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. It’s brutal and you’ll die over and over again, through your own fault or otherwise, and again it takes a while to truly get to grips with it. You have to draw your weapon with one button, then hold the action button, and then press another button to swing or fire. This requires some timing too if you want to be effective, as mashing will just freeze you up and make you the enemy’s punching bag. Magic is also used with a few buttons but fortunately doesn’t require the directional swinging to fling a fireball.
Quests are given to you throughout the game and stored in your quest log. There are no markers to your objectives, this means you need to read your log or wing it and hope you find where you need to go or who you need to speak to. It’s immersive, but can also be a point of contention trying to remember where people or locations are without a marker in sight. The opening few hours are rough in this regard and it can feel like you are trying to climb a mountain backward with odd shoes on at times, as you chip away at quests and level up your stats.
A curious side effect of this being the “Complete” version of Gothic 2 means that this is the hardest official version of the game due to including the “Night of the Raven”. When the game was initially released, the core fanbase complained about how easy it was so Piranha Bytes created the expansion pack and also tweaked the whole game to be much more difficult. Even seasoned veterans will be making liberal use of the quick save/load feature.
The game was mostly stable but there was the odd crash. Sadly, Gothic 2 didn’t have the biggest budget and often feels like it is barely holding together at times. It’s certainly more stable than trying to play the game on modern PCs without mods, but far from a bug-free experience.
Another curious addition is motion controls. It’s a bizarre way to play the game, a curiosity involving swinging the Joy-Cons with wild abandon while you swear at the screen with your umpteenth death. Not recommended.
There have been a few quality of life improvements included, similar to those that appeared in the earlier Switch port Gothic Classic. Quick use item keys can be mapped and you can quick save or load with the press of 2 buttons rather than get lost in the awkward menus. The user interface is also much easier to read than it was in the initial release.
Like A Window Into The Past
Visually, Gothic II Complete Classic looks fantastic, if not dated. The development team has given players 2 options, one that keeps it looking original while prioritizing performance, and another that focuses on new visual effects such as lighting and higher textures.
The game features an art style consistent with high fantasy. We are talking dragons, orcs, and gothic cathedrals. It has a very strong Western fantasy identity that it wears over its suit of European armor proudly. It’s all very clichéd but suits the world perfectly and makes it feel like a tangible and real location rather than set dressing.
The voice acting for Gothic 2 is a treat in that hammy early video game acting way. Everyone either sounds bored, has a strange accent, or is putting a little too much gusto into it, and I love it. It makes the game feel like a playable Dungeons and Dragons game where these bizarre personalities are just jumping out and coming to life for better or for worse.
Gothic II Complete Classic is the best way to experience an all-time classic “Euro Jank” RPG out of the box without mods. The new graphic tweaks look fantastic and it has enough quality of life improvements to make it much more digestible than playing the original Gothic 2 release.
Yes, the game controls are funky and you’ll die over and over again, in-game cutscenes might look daft because your character jumped on top of a chair as it triggered, and you’ll no doubt spend ages banging your head against brick walls trying to make progress. But, when it clicks, nothing hits quite like Gothic 2 and you’ll be growing dark bags under your eyes for nights as you get fully consumed by the role of the Nameless Hero.
Gothic II Complete Classic is a product of its time presented in the easiest way to play it. No mods are required and you can indulge in the convenience of console or handheld with the hybrid nature of the Switch. It’s a treat for any classic RPG fan so long as you’re willing to wade through the swamp before you reach the treasure chest.
GOTHIC 2 COMPLETE CLASSIC IS RECOMMENDED
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