The combat fails, but a load zone free world and a truly well written story will suck you in like you never imagined.
Gothics story is well above average, but integral enough to the game that I won't share it here. However some history to the story will be important. The history of Gothic really begins when orcs attack the local realm. The King comes into a great need for mined ore for the production of weapons and armor. Our King then proceeds to send people to the mines for any infraction of his law, however the large number of prisoners makes controlling them dangerous. The King then has 12 mages summon a dome of energy over the mining colony that kills anyone leaving it. Sadly, as does happen, something goes wrong and the dome grows out of control encompassing the mages as well. The ever determined lord of the land, not to let this stop him from saving his people from the orcs, gives in and decides to trade with the convicts for ore. And so our story begins with a single run of the mill convict tossed into the colony.
I almost didn't play Gothic. Even after I had purchased it and installed it on my computer at home I very nearly decided to uninstalled it and hid the CDs. The controls were so poorly documented it took me a good 15 minutes trying to guess what I had to do just to pick something up off the ground. To be honest, I've never had this much trouble with controls in a game before. A lot of bad things can be said about the controls, and have been, but it is apparent as the game goes on that the blame lies solely on the poor documentation. In fact, as in any good game, it becomes quite natural. Another gripe that will have more baring on the beginning of the game is the way combat is handled. Allowing you to only attack and defend agains one creature at a time, the system makes early combat difficult with two or more enemies. This sadly is not a documentation problem, on the other hand it will still have the most baring on the beginning of the game. Proficiency with the system as well as better defensive items have proved to make the system very fun. That and a well developed sense of when to run away.
It is a testament to the quality of the game that it easily overcomes the early frustrations of the controls. It doesn't take a lot to sour a game, and bad controls can really do just that. However as you walk down the path from the very first area of the game you will see the first reason why the the game is worth playing. The environment is almost seamless, there are a mere four locations that there are load zones between in the entirety of the game. All of them go to small cavern areas that pertain to specific missions. Well over 90% of the game is spent in the large open areas of the mining colony, which are amazingly large and varied. Heights felt higher when i climbed them myself an was able to look all the way down and see the places you've been before. Ive never had the same sense of hight as this in any other game. The mountains, aside from being a task to climb, provoked my fear of heights, i found myself frequently hugging the paths for fear of falling off.
Even more amazing is the humongous amount of NPCs in the world who will go about daily lives. They wake up in the morning saying, "A brand new day and nothing has changed." Then on to start the campfires to cook breakfast with, gather around the fires in groups and chat for the morning before some of them go off to work, and the fires die down. There are NPCs who travel most of the world every single day to the mines and back to their camps. The evening fires will start up and people will gather around them again, the work will cease while the characters will laugh and talk and drink beers to relax for the evening. Late at night all the fires will die down and everyone will be in bed sleeping. If you go into an NPC's house uninvited, they'll get confrontational and draw their weapons against you. Even cooler, they will give you time to get out before they use them. They will take the same hostile stance if you draw your weapon in their presence.
The sound in the game was a mixture of bitter sweet. There is a crashing bug if you use more than two speaker output. And as of now there is not yet a patch available to fix this. On the other hand the sound effects satisfied deeply. Equally satisfying but less memorable, the soundtrack fit perfectly with the game, often times blending in with what you did. Furthermore, voice acting of low to medium quality fills the entire game, an excellent average for game with all spoken dialog.
Gothic contains quite a number of unpolished edges. Yet, despite all of its flaws the quality of this adventure game shines through with flying colors. The fact that its rough edges will keep a great many people from discovering one of the most rewarding games this year saddens me. All said and done, Gothic is a classic, I plan on replaying it at least twice more to find everything I missed, and any adventure or RPG fan would find at the very least enough to compel them to play all the way through at the very least once.