Friday, September 24, 2010

Preview part 3: Demo hands-on.

More than I’d feared, less than I’d hoped.

What? More? Oh ok :P

I went in fearing that they had massacred Gothic (from the demo comments on the Arcania forums) but happily I came away with no such impression.

Firstly, the pitfalls:

1. Some bad voice acting.

Both the female voice actors in the 3 hour game demo came off as either over-the-top (the witch) or bland (girlfriend), the latter being much more disconcerting because she is the first NPC you come across in the game. That first conversation left me both stunned by the graphical detail and taken out of the experience by the somewhat awkward exchange.

2. High system requirements.

This is the highest requirement level I’ve seen for a game of this type:

* Windows XP/Vista/7
* Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.8 GHz / AMD Athlon II x2 @ 2.8 GHz
* 2 GB RAM
* GeForce 8800 GTX

* Windows XP/Vista/7
* Intel Quad Core / AMD Phenom
* 2 GB RAM
* GeForce GTX 280

With that said the optimization is VERY good. It ran extremely smoothly on barely above the recommended system requirements with full settings enabled.

 High system requirements? Yeah.. but worth it. 

3. Turned off features.

It seems--I dearly hope--that crafting and alchemy were turned off except for an ‘all the time’ crafting that was always available through the crafting menu.

  As you can see, the crafting table is active but you can't make anything there yet /shrug. 

In past Gothic games crafting was done quite realistically. You had to heat a blank of iron, pound it into shape, douse it in water to cool it, and finally sharpen it on a stone wheel to make a blade. The same went for alchemy, although you merely used a alchemy table to combine the ingredients. Now all these nick nacks are useable in the world, but seem to be turned off so that only the animations for those actions take place.

I said I ‘dearly hope’ that this is the case because if it isn’t and this is the final version of how crafting will be available, we will have a lot of disappointed fans.

   Forging equipment also useable, still disabled in the demo. Not sure whether to be encouraged. 

4. Fenced in world.

All over the game world there are invisible barriers preventing exploration, this is a complete divorcing from what the game worlds were like in 1-3.

Before: Go to close to that cliff edge? You’re dead. Enjoy the ride down.

After: Go to close to that cliff edge? Its ok kiddo, the nerf barrier will protect you. Now go back in the play pen like a good boy.

With that said I got over my annoyance rather quickly, since most of the barriers in the world can be jumped over. Some though remain there like a piece of dirt in the eye, such as barriers right on the tops of fences that are only 4 feet high.

I wonder.....

Oh lordy! Is it too late to change my mind?

5. Combat was a bit too easy.

Yes, it is just a demo and they probably didn’t want to scare away fans by making them reload 20 times to kill a worg (a lovely Gothic tradition :D) but from what I saw it seems like everyone will have to play on ‘Gothic’ (the hardest) mode to get the difficulty level present in the old games.

For one, ranged combat is completely overpowered. Since this game seems to depend a lot on the player being able to anticipate the enemies moves (to properly dodge), NPCs have drawn out combat animations so all you have to do is keep moving backwards and firing away and every single enemy (even the ranged ones) fall without a single hit on you.

Secondly, instant potions (which exist in abundance) make even melee encounters let you feel like you wouldn’t die unless you went afk.

6. Intrusion detection not enabled on NPCs.

Another thing that I ‘hope’ is just not enabled. It was one of the things that made the original Gothic have a lot of atmosphere. If someone saw you rifling through their things, they let you know.

The Pros:

1. Some great voice acting! Yeah, I know that is a bit contradictory, but its true. While a minority of the characters took me out of the experience, some made it very believable. The father of the main character’s girlfriend was a highlight, and so was one of our old companions from the previous games that made a comeback :D. The writing was also very well done.

2. The graphics.

I’m sure this is what most will point to when they talk about this demo in a positive light. It is some of the best work that I have seen, no joke.

Textures were gritty and real with some of the vistas being close to picture perfect.

Spell effects had impact and weight to the hits along with great lighting, whenever a spell was readied (or a magic weapon equipped) a light glows around the hands of the character acting like a torch and when a bolt is let loose it casts a light on everything around it all the way to the target. The effect was quite striking.

Sigh... They never let you eat the big ones... and they look so tasty.  

3. Solid storyline.

During the course of the demo I found myself charmed by many of the characters, through only a few hours of gameplay that is pretty hard to do. This is where the good writing came into play. Even the girlfriend (the badly voice acted one) had an impact by the end of the demo. I’ll try not to give any of it away though :D.

4. The terrain is very explorable.

This was a great relief for me personally, since I always loved doing everything possible in the world before going to the next plot development or quest.

5. Gathering alive and well.

Just like in the previous Gothics there are quite a few types of native fauna that you can harvest for your alchemical endeavors :D. This time it seems they included only a few types, but enough to see that it probably follows the same track that other Gothics have gone down: Mana plants, fruits, health plants, and special plants for permanent stats.

Then there are some things that I wouldn’t say are BAD, but are definitely different from the old series.

No more attributes! Odd I know, probably one of the reasons there are no more trainers to be had in the world of Gothic. Why find a trainer to increase strength when you don’t have any?

 A simple new system, one part of the game that has been 'streamlined'. 

Instead of the Dex, Str, etc. system that we all know, we have:

Melee power

Magic power

Ranged power

Along with regeneration values and the standard health/mana/stamina. (stamina is new to Gothic though).

Gothic fans will be happy to see not only a detailed bestiary, but a simple an descriptive journal as well.  

No familiar music.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is great for the atmosphere. Just a bit different from what other Gothic games have had, since at many times there was very little.

Now the melodies are ever-present, and quite good.

So all in all, as I said in the beginning, it wasn’t what I had expected. Although, after going through all the points I can honestly say I can’t wait for he final product!