Pirahna Bytes’ third installment in the Gothic series taught me a tough E3 lesson: don’t schedule too many appointments. I had already attended a dozen demonstrations by the afternoon of the second day, which left me practically sprinting to my scheduled Gothic 3 demonstration so that I could, in turn, make it to my Dungeon Siege II: Broken World appointment. I was late, unfortunately, so Aspyr had already begun the Gothic III demo for my particular time slot when I arrived. I didn’t miss a whole lot, and I was able to ask a few questions, so it didn’t turn out to be as disappointing as I thought it would. Regardless, next year I’ll definitely be limiting my schedule to only a few appointments per day. Anyway, on to what I did see.
The first thing you notice when you’re staring at Gothic 3 in action is just how believable the environment looks. Sure, the excellent graphics add to the realism, but everything from the surrounding mountains to the diverse buildings shows a great amount of detail. Aspyr producer Blaine Christine tells me that this is because the team has hand-crafted every area in the game, all the way down to the foliage. Absolutely nothing is tiled, which is an impressive feat for a relatively small development team working on such a large game world. In fact, the continent where Gothic III takes place spans over 75 square kilometers, making it three times the size of the island we ventured on in Gothic II. The continent has also been broken out into three distinct regions, including a cold Viking-like mountainous area (Nordmar), a lush coastal area, and a dry desert region on the south side of the land mass. Players will obviously need efficient means of traveling across such a large area, so the team is implementing "journey stones" that allow the player to teleport from one location to another.
Shortly after I sat down, the demo moved into the courtyard of a large fortification where several NPCs were bustling about. These NPCs weren’t just wandering aimlessly, either. They were carrying on conversations, sharpening weapons, and generally keeping themselves busy. The AI seems very similar to that of Oblivion, but from what I saw, it even looks more realistic. How many NPCs in Oblivion sharpen their weapons? None. They just move from place to place on a time schedule, and that’s not what I witnessed here. In addition to the AI advances, Blaine demonstrated how many interactive options will be made available to the player. If you want to pick up the large stone lying on a nearby slab and do some weight-lifting with it, you can. If you want to walk over to the set of bongos and give them a whirl, you can. If you want to cook some food at the village’s cooking fire, you can. You certainly aren’t required to take advantage of these small details, but it’s nice to see that the team is going to such great lengths to make the world interactive.
The character advancement system is still just as open-ended as the one we worked with in Gothic II. When your character increases in level, you’re provided with learning points that can be allocated to either your attributes or skills. However, Blaine also mentioned that there will be some sort of perk system that characters can take advantage of when they visit a trainer, though he didn’t share a whole lot of details about how the system will work. He did mention that characters could gain access to over 40 different spells, though, after which he demonstrated a devastating spell called “Rain of Fire.” When the incantation was finished, clouds began to roll in and the sky turned blood red as a number of fiery meteors bombarded the whole area.
Once the dust settled, the demo was officially over. While I didn’t get to see a whole lot, I can say that everything that I did see was very impressive. Aspyr and Pirahna Bytes plan on releasing Gothic 3 this fall, and, according to Blaine, the game will be released in both the U.S. and Europe simultaneously. After all the waiting we did for an English version of Gothic II and its expansion pack, I certainly hope he’s right.