Screenshot from Gothic II
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Review: Gothic II (Nintendo Switch)

I remember trying to save up (and ultimately failing) for a computer to play this...

9 mins read

While I wasn’t a big fan of the port of Gothic to the Nintendo Switch, I do remain a big fan of the developer, Piranha Bytes, and more generally the “Eurojank” RPGs that Piranha Bytes has been such a cornerstone of. The Switch port of Gothic II has been a much better reminder of what is great about this developer.

Related reading: Our review of the first Gothic, ported to Switch.

To note upfront, though, many of the issues that make Gothic such a difficult beast to love now are also issues in Gothic II. Combat requires you to hold down a button and then point your analogue stick in various directions to “swing” it. The point was to give you 360-degree control over your attack radius, but in practice, it’s just frustrating to engage with, especially when the position of the camera means that it’s not always easy to see what’s going on directly in front of you (especially when playing in handheld mode), so it’s quite possible to be taking damage from smaller enemies and not be entirely sure that your attacks are landing.

There’s also the same weird movement system as in Gothic, where one control stick is there for turning while the other is there to move forward and backwards – classic “tank” controls, spread over two inputs, basically. It is somewhat smoother and better in Gothic II (or perhaps I’m just more familiar with it having fought my way through Gothic), but it’s just not as intuitive as in more modern games and it’s really important to expect to flail around for some time when learning Gothic II.

Gothic II Switch screenshot

However, in most other areas, Gothic 2 is a significant refinement on what the original offered, and that means that here, in 2023, replaying it is a better experience. The non-linearity that the original set-up is handled much better here. The quest system is deeper and more varied. You’re still able to join with several different factions (three, which is Piranha Byte’s favourite number, historically), and that decision feels like it has narrative and structural consequences. You’ll still be punished for heading down the wrong path and running into some horrible demon monster at level 1, but the open world still feels more open and available for exploration than the ruthless “non-linear yet you better travel the one path we let you” approach to the original Gothic.

Related reading: Also available from Piranha Bytes on Switch is Risen. A great game! Our review.

Meanwhile, the visuals are generally improved, with more detail and a grander artistic vision. Gothic II was notorious for being particularly demanding of PC hardware back when it was new. A lot of people missed out on the chance to experience it new because it was an ambitious vision. Today the requirements to run the game are much less demanding of the hardware, of course, and the Nintendo Switch handles it just fine. However, there is still a dark fantasy beauty about it, and environments and character designs come across a little less utilitarian when compared to playing the original Gothic.

Just be aware that the port job to the Switch is fairly pedestrian. The porting team did add motion controls (though they are somehow an even less ideal way to play than the clumsy button controls), but otherwise, it really needed some optimisations to account for the hardware. In handheld mode, in particular, it is so dark that it’s difficult to see anything, especially when night falls. Turning up the brightness produces a desaturated effect that isn’t particularly pleasant to look at.

Gothic II screenshot on Nintendo Switch

Of course, on a console that has both The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, there is still the question of whether the qualities that earned Gothic 2 such a positive reception are still identifiable. For example, PC Gamer was one of the most positive on the original game on its original release, wrote this:

“As in the classic Ultima games, NPCs have their own independent daily schedules. A character might saunter to work, take a smoke break, and then grab a pint at the pub before heading home to slumber. Characters also respond to your actions, so your alter-ego will be knocked on his duff if he’s seen looting possessions or wandering into locations uninvited. Aside from just making the world more immersive, the dynamic AI directly enhances gameplay. For instance, you can circumvent dangerous creatures by luring them to some beefy guards, or distract scavengers by creating more tempting carnage.”

Back in the day that would indeed have been impressive. Around that time Morrowind had just been released, and developers were just starting to grapple with things like routines for the AI and what a day-night cycle would look like. These days, of course, these are features that we take completely for granted, so it’s not exactly something that you’ll print on the back of a box. The truly great “retro” games – the ones that are still essential playing today – all have a quality that allows them to stand out even against what has come since. In RPGs, for example, it’s typically an approach to narrative and worldbuilding that remains unique to that one particular game. Gothic 2 is much better at “holding up” than the original Gothic, but it still remains true that there’s nothing in this game that remains compelling when set against its modern peers.

Gothic 2 review on Nintendo Switch

Yet Gothic 2 still has a highly playable quality to it, and while it might not be eye-popping impressive on any level, it’s still enough that, as long as you can grapple with the controls, you can still enjoy it even if you’re coming into it for the first time with this port. The only downside to playing it for the first time is that it’s a direct sequel to the original game, and a lot of the narrative and lore does assume that you’ve played Gothic 1. Which is a much tougher slog to recommend to the intrepid gamer looking for something they’ve never played before on the Switch.

Related reading: Interested in checking out some modern Piranha Bytes work? Check out Elex 2. Our review.

As long as you’re patient, there’s a lot to enjoy in Gothic 2, from the quest structure, to the scope of the world, and detailed plot, the world is filled with secrets and discoveries to make. It is clear to this day that were Gothic 1 provided the vision, Gothic 2 is when Piranha Bytes really converted. To this day you could argue that this is the team’s finest work, and the closest it has ever come to climbing out of the “Eurojank” space to simply sit next to Bethesda, BioWare and Obsidian in the upper echelons of the genre (historically, at least).

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  • I’m also a big Piranha Bytes fan! Have you played Elex II yet? I enjoyed the first game – didn’t really expect a second, but now having played it, I love it!! I think it’s better than the first, but be warned – the story leaves you hanging – now I’m eagerly anticipating the announcement for III!!!

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