Gothic II Classic (Nintendo Switch) Retrospective Review

Who wants a difficulty curve when you can have a difficulty staircase?

If you’ve been considering Gothic II Complete Classic on the Nintendo Switch, there’s a good chance you fall into one of three camps: someone who played the original and/or the Night of the Raven expansion on PC and still remembers it fondly; someone who played Gothic Classic on the Switch a few months back and enjoyed it enough to be interested in how the formula was expanded and refined; or someone completely new to the IP who has heard fans praise Gothic II as some under-appreciated masterpiece.

If you’re in the first camp and are just looking for a portable and accessible version, Gothic II Classic is a safe bet. It’s been lightly enhanced, offers decent-ish gamepad support, and even received another QA pass – not that you can tell. For everyone else, read on.

Quality is both subjective and relative, but there’s no denying Gothic II massively improved upon its predecessor – even if the core mechanics, quest design, world structure, and overall “feel” of the game changed little. Pirahna Bytes took a few lessons from the original; integrated new or previously abandoned mechanics like alchemy and rune-crafting; made character attributes and builds more complex; and even toned down the notorious difficulty curve – more of a difficulty staircase that relied on the player pushing out in multiple directions trying to figure out which one was least likely to kill them instantly.

Many fans were disappointed by the relative lack of challenge, but Pirahna Bytes had a plan: the massive Night of the Raven expansion released in 2003, which is integrated into Gothic II Complete Classic on the Switch by default (with no option to play without it). You still get the original six-chapter quest line that picks up after the “Nameless Hero” banished “The Sleeper”, destroyed the magical barrier around the Valley of Mines, and set loose mages, mercenaries, bandits, and orcs alike. There are new, morally questionable factions you’ll need to court to collect magical MacGuffins, in a new quest to defeat an evil army led by dragons intent on marching out from the devastated Valley of Mines to overrun the island of Khorinis.

The Night of the Raven content doesn’t alter these quests much, but it is smoothly integrated. There are new cinematics, dialogue, and characters that introduce a lengthy mid-game questline, which repurposes a few unused locations within Khorinis and offers up a visually diverse new region, “Jharkendar”.

The expansion also reintroduces the Water Mages as a secretive group you can join alongside your chosen faction, a new pirate faction, and plenty of new NPCs – including more returning faces – most with secondary quests that flesh out the opening chapters. There are new gear slots and armour sets that reward matching item bonuses but, to keep things balanced, it also costs more skill points to upgrade attributes or abilities at higher levels, and both enemy damage output and armour values were buffed across the board.

On paper, it sounds like the perfect expansion with new environments, narrative elements, and mechanics – but Gothic II Complete Classic is still more Gothic. No matter how critically acclaimed at the time, or beloved by fans today, it’s a sequel that won’t change your mind if you dislike the brutal stop-start flow of the first game. If you are a fan, or just morbidly curious, read on.

Character progression, multiple quest solutions, and tangible consequences to your actions are perhaps the most important factors in an RPG and, in that regard, Gothic II Complete Classic can be incredibly rewarding – it’s just not much fun to play by modern standards.

Starting with player choice and consequences, the factions add replayability to the opening chapters – but the central plot plays out the same way regardless of your choices as many key NPCs are unaffiliated and the factions need to unite against a greater threat. Several secondary quests give you the option to help or exploit others – often with amusing or deadly consequences – but they too have little bearing on the primary quest or the fate of your hero.

While the narrative trajectory is linear, Gothic II Complete Classic still offers considerable mechanical freedom by modern standards. Many quests have you following NPCs but, should you get sidetracked and they disappear, you’ll never see a “game over” or “reload checkpoint” screen. It could be they’re already at the destination and annoyed with you or, if they don’t have plot armour, dead on the side of the road, offering both quality gear to loot and quest log that’s more likely to stay active and soft-lock other interactions than be marked as failed.

Gothic II Complete Classic Infinite Arrow Stack

Pirahna Bytes’ RPGs embody the concept of “Eurojank” but, for all its faults, Gothic II Complete Classic still excels at making you feel like you’re interacting with an established world going about its own routines, rather than exploring static set dressing that only comes to life when you engage with it.

There are scripted events in new chapters and generic mobs respawn at times but, as an example, if you explore off the beaten path, defeat a group of bandits in a cave, then later discover there’s a bounty on those bandits, you’ll get rewarded immediately. Similarly, there is plenty of powerful gear secreted away for you to find at any point, assuming you can reach it and have the required attributes. It’s a far cry from how modern games let you explore vast, empty areas that are miraculously populated with enemies and gear only when a quest demands it.

Exploring the world is not easy though. When it comes to character progression, modern RPGs typically offer difficulty settings or level-scaling so you can mainline the story. Optional activities are there to flesh out the lore, let you build up faction or companion trust, acquire powerful gear, or ensure you have all the skill checks to role-play effectively. In Gothic II Complete Classic, it’s almost impossible to mainline the story quest without prior knowledge of how to exploit enemy AI, wonky collision detection, and which consumables are most overpowered.

Gothic II Complete Classic Transform into Shadowbeast

Casual players are likely to find themselves pushed into the first faction they find just to get some decent armour or a sword, before spending hours trying to determine which of the many quests on offer they’re able to scrape through by the skin of their teeth – all in the hope of gaining a few more skill points and some new gear that’ll help them survive the next least-challenging quest on the list.

It’s a methodical and frustrating gameplay loop at the best of times, not helped by gamepad implementation that feels better than Gothic Classic but is still too inconsistent. Movement and climbing near ledges, melee directional inputs, targeting with spells or ranged weapons, simple menu-ing – all of it feels looser than it should and is just as liable to get you killed as misjudging the toughness of an enemy.

On the upside, melee combat – which is always worth investing in at first – feels a little more strategic and predictable in the sequel. Moving backward will automatically block or minimise damage, while the forward lunging attacks allow you to strike back uninterrupted most times. That said, one-on-one battles by baiting or kiting enemies will still be the optimal strategy for 90% of any playthrough, as even archers and mages will struggle to target priority foes. As in Gothic Classic, most of the early game is spent trying to cheese encounters or using guards and friendly NPCs to fight your battles for you.

Gothic II Complete Classic Lighthouse Bandits

Moving on to the state of the Nintendo Switch port, the results are as positive as they could be and in line with Gothic Classic.

When a game is two decades old, nothing short of a full remake will obscure those dated roots. It looks blocky and stiffly animated, with plenty of low-resolution textures and aggressive terrain culling, but it’s worth remembering Gothic II first came out in 2002. It was the same year BioWare was taking tentative steps into third-person RPGs with Knight of the Old Republic, and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind had launched with a godawful third-person camera option the year before.

Pirahna Bytes were, albeit very briefly, ahead of the curve when it came to the third-person action-based RPG format that now dominates the genre.

To give credit where it’s due, Gothic II offered a 4X boost to texture resolution coupled with more complex geometry, foilage, and props – ensuring less of the world was made up of flat, blurry planes. It also remains a reasonably atmospheric game thanks to the time-of-day lighting shifts, environmental ambience, and another great soundtrack. The English voice acting is mostly terrible in an entertaining way, and I guess it can get some credit for elevating female characters from a handful of scantily dressed sex slaves to housewives and merchants with a few lines of dialogue.

In this Nintendo Switch release, you get a widescreen aspect ratio and the ability to choose between a “high performance” mode that aims for 60fps, or a more variable “high quality” mode that replaces crude blob shadows with defined shadow maps for characters, structures, the environment, and trees.

The results are surprisingly impressive but come with some unintended consequences when exploring outdoors. Gothic II was always a game where sudden deaths were common, but with the updated shadowing, it’s easier than ever to find yourself picking herbs only to have a Shadowbest or Orc emerge from the darkness and gut you so fast you don’t even see a full attack animation play out.

Gothic II Complete Classic Switch Visuals

Just like Gothic Classic before it, Gothic II Complete Classic is a difficult game to score when considering what it offers now vs. what it pioneered back in 2003. If you’re simply looking for a classic third-person RPG that’s accessible and fun to play, Gothic II Complete Classic is difficult to recommend thanks to a brutal difficulty curve exacerbated by inconsistent controls. On the other hand, something is compelling about its janky, sandbox-style world ripe for exploitation – whether intended or not.

For every sudden death by an unexpected orc or lowly farmer more skilled in combat than my hero, I would encounter something beneficial and equally unexpected. Shape-shifting and summon spells helped me cheese many a boss encounter, while an ever-multiplying stack of arrows provided both infinite ammunition and gold if I was willing to sell them on at a time for minutes on end. And yes, I know that might make Gothic II Complete Classic sound like a buggy and inconsistent experience – which it sort of is – but I’d argue there’s fun to be had playing and discussing games that aren’t so polished and directed to the point everyone has the same experience.

Gothic II Complete Classic was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC (GOG or Steam) in its original form.

Gothic II Classic (Nintendo Switch) Retrospective Review

Gothic II Classic (Nintendo Switch) Retrospective Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score

The Good

  • It's still Gothic II
  • The Night of the Raven content fleshes out the early- and mid-game
  • The thrill of surviving, however you can, in a janky sandbox world
  • More strategic melee combat and new mechanics like alchemy and rune-crafting
  • Widescreen support, upscaled visuals, updated UI, and marginally improved controls
  • An optional visual mode with actual shadow maps (and worse performance)
  • +1 for game preservation and increased accessibility!

The Bad

  • It's still Gothic II
  • The difficulty curve still feels like running repeatedly into a wall hoping to find a weak spot
  • The controls are still as likely to kill you as an Orc
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