* Note: This review is for the expansion pack 'The Night of the Raven' and not the main game.
Gothic II was a bit of a sleeper (excuse the pun…Gothic I players will notice it) in the US market however fared well in the German market. It was a vibrant, open ended world teeming with content that was a blast to play until the end. Yes, it has some quirks like the combat however with a little practice, it’s easily to forgive. However, out of left field, arrives Gothic II expansion pack titled ‘The Night of the Raven (NotR)’. Originally released for the German market back in 2003, the English version was released as part of the Gothic II Gold package in 2005. This expansion though, integrates within the existing Gothic II world therefore you need to start the game all over again to play this.
It’s difficult to explain the premise of the Night of the Raven as it intertwines within the main storyline however, you might noticed that there were certain people and areas that just felt empty. Well this is where Night of the Raven fills in the gaps. As you might recall, those areas like the Stonehenge like rock formations, the Aztec pyramid structures (located on the top north / east) or even the ‘missing’ water mages now play an important part here. Certain NPCs that practically do nothing now have a greater role as well.
Without going into spoiler territory, all I can say that the Night of the Raven plotline most likely starts off with the quest ‘The Missing People’ and Father Vatras. The Missing People quest line was absolutely well executed for an investigation plotline as it places more emphasis on ‘role playing’. It reminded me of the 1984 Dungeons and Dragons’ module ‘The Veiled Society’ where there are secret societies abound. I cannot recall many cRPG that does as well as what NotR has done. Yet the Water Mages plotline was a little difficult to start off with as, if you recall Xardas’ comments in the beginning of the game about not to reveal him to any mages, well it seems that spelling the beans to Vatras has no consequences and without doing so (as instructed by Xardas), the Water Mages plot will be on a standstill.
Along with the additional quests, an entire new area opens up to explore. This area is about the same size as a single map Gothic 2 and it’s covered with desert landscapes, majestic canyons and, of course, the swamp. Yet, just like the main game, it pays to explore as there’s plenty of cool items to find and some hidden secrets. Only criticism here is that, even though there are technically three ‘areas’ to explore, the landscapes don’t quite match with each other. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come however it’s still worth exploring.
One of the major criticism arrived from Gothic II was, it was a pretty easy game – i.e. monsters weren’t challenging enough and maxing out your character wasn’t demanding at all. NotR corrected all of this as now every damn monster is like a fight for your life and maxing your character is next to impossible. An example of this is, there’s no way to wield the strongest weapons based on skill alone as you need magical enhancement aids. Also, herbs like Kings Sorrel are a lot harder to find and learning points are now based on a scaling system – i.e. the higher the attribute, the more you need to invest.
Yet, there are some changes that made things a little easier – for instance: all spell scrolls now use a fixed amount of five mana points (I like that idea) and by reading the stone tablets of the lost culture increases your attributes (yet you need to learn that skill beforehand). Other skills like animal trophies (e.g. claws / teeth / wings etc.) costs a lot less than in Gothic II. So the changes made, I feel are quite reasonable however boosting the entire monster catalogue is a little harsh. There are ‘unconventional’ ways to dispose your enemies however I won’t delve into details however I can say it does not involve cheating.
So that’s the only caveat for this expansion as I can imagine, if you spend many hours into Gothic II, you might grow tired playing it again. However, because there are three main factions to join, you can start the game again by playing as a mage (if your first play through is a fighter class and vice versa). So all is not lost as this expansion is an enjoyable experience, doesn’t feel rushed at all however, I do get a sense that maybe the expansion content was already drafted however, maybe due to circumstances, unable to add them in until much later. Whatever the reason, if you enjoyed Gothic II, you should not miss out Night of the Raven - a well-crafted expansion pack.