Monday, February 26, 2018

What All is Wrong With Gothic 1's Back Cover

I was looking at a few games on my shelf recently and decided to grab a few and take a closer look at them. Upon closer inspection, I realized that a lot of what's printed on the back of the box for Gothic 1 is straight up wrong or subtly misleading. I'm not sure if this is due to basic ignorance, as if the person writing these blurbs on the back of the box had no first-hand experience with the game and was simply making stuff up based on general statements they'd been told by someone else, or if it's a deliberate marketing spin to try to sell the game. This has no bearing on the quality of the actual game, of course, and I don't think it even affects anyone anywhere anymore anyway anytime since anyone buying Gothic for the first time is likely buying it digitally based on word of mouth, not what's printed on the back of the box. Most people won't ever even see the back cover unless they own a physical copy or deliberately search for pictures of it. Anyway, since I found this so interesting, I figured I'd share these observations with you and give you a quick rundown on what all is wrong with the back cover.

For your own point of reference, here's a full resolution scan of the back cover. Make sure you click the image to enlarge it full view.

And there it is in all its glory. Now that you've seen it for yourself, we'll start at the top and work our way down, covering every single statement point-by-point.

"In dark, troubled times, a man will rise up to change the fate of an empire. That man, is you."
This isn't really what happens in Gothic 1. There's no "empire" at stake at all; the whole game is set inside a magically-encapsulated prison, where convicts are sent to mine ore to fuel the king's war with the orcs. Even if we were to say that the human kingdom is itself an empire, the prison is an entirely self-contained ecosystem, and what you do inside it really only affects the prison itself. You're not saving the day to help the empire; you're just doing it to save your own skin because if you don't then you (and everyone else inside the barrier) will die. If you were to replace the word "empire" with "prison" then this blurb would make sense, but it really feels like it's trying to make the premise sound much more epic than it really is. 

"Embark on a timeless adventure in Gothic, a brilliantly woven action-RPG of epic proportions."
There's nothing inherently wrong with this one, except that it's filled to the brim with cliche, generic descriptors like "timeless adventure," "brilliantly woven," and "of epic proportions," which have been used to death when describing anything fantasy-related and in entertainment media criticism in general. While not wrong or inaccurate, it's just bad, cheesy, non-descriptive writing meant to sound good without actually saying anything of significance about the product.

"In the dark land of Myrtana, a rebellious insurrection has begun, isolating the people in an impenetrable barrier."
This makes it sound like people being trapped behind the barrier is the direct result of an insurrection, possibly against the king or the entire kingdom, when in reality the colony was set up so that the king could use prison labor to mine the ore necessary to forge more weapons for the orc war, and the barrier was there to make sure the prisoners couldn't escape. The insurrection that this blurb describes actually happens inside the barrier, when the convicts revolt and manage to kill the king's guards and take over the prison. The quote as written implies a causal relation (insurrection leads to barrier) when it's actually the other way around (barrier leads to insurrection). 

"Meanwhile, the armies of evil are mounting in the neighboring lands, ready to take the kingdom by storm."
I'm not sure what this actually means, but it sounds more like it's referring to Gothic 2 or Gothic 3, which hadn't even been made when this box cover was being written. If they're talking about the orcs inside the barrier in Gothic 1, then they can't really "take the kingdom by storm" since they're trapped inside the barrier, and we've already established that the penal colony is its own isolated ecosystem and isn't really part of "the kingdom" itself. What happens inside the barrier stays inside the barrier, unless we're talking about undercutting the means of production to commit economic/industrial sabotage in a time of war, but that hardly counts as "taking the kingdom by storm." You could maybe refer to the colony as a type of kingdom since it's run in a sort of anarchic feudal system, but it's on such a small scale that the word "kingdom" is pretty misleading and makes it sound like there's more at stake when there really isn't.

"You are the one warrior who can unite the land again, and save Myrtana from total destruction."
Again, this sounds more like it's talking about Gothic 2 or Gothic 3, since Myrtana refers to the entire continent, whereas Khorinis, where Gothic 1 is set, is just one small region (it's later revealed in Gothic 2 that Khorinis is actually an island) and the penal colony is just one small area within that. So you're not saving (all of) Myrtana from "total destruction," you're just saving the prison colony. Also, spoiler alert: you never really "unite the land again" since the three factions were never truly united to begin with, and one of them turns hostile and remains uncooperative to your efforts even at the end.

"3D Action-Adventure RPG with over 100 hours of exciting gameplay."
This one is mostly correct, except there's no way there's 100+ hours of gameplay in Gothic 1. A typical playthrough will only last 30-40 hours, and that's if you're taking your time to explore everywhere and trying to do everything possible. Maybe you get 50 hours if you're really taking it slow. In my most recent playthrough back in 2011, for instance, knowing exactly where to go and what to do at all times, I only spent about 28 hours playing it to completion. Saying there's over 100 hours of gameplay is a gross exaggeration, and only really possible if you're playing it multiple times, which I guess is arguably feasible since you can join a different camp each time for a slightly different gameplay experience, but replay value is not the assumption when one says "over 100 hours" of content, and I'm honestly not even sure you get to 100 hours, even if you play the game three times since subsequent plays will be faster than the first.

"Epic, non-linear storyline with multiple endings and limitless gameplay possibilities."
This is all blatantly wrong, except for maybe the "limitless gameplay possibilities." The storyline is completely linear except for one specific quest where you're allowed to get the five focus stones in whatever order you want, but this whole process should only last an hour or two, max. Non-linear exploration, yes; non-linear story, no. And there's definitely not multiple endings; there's exactly one, and you get no choice over how it plays out. "Limitless gameplay possibilities" is vague enough that it applies enough to count, I guess, but it's ultimately a much more focused gameplay experience than other RPGs or open-world sandbox games of the time.

"Living, breathing game world: People and creatures go to work, eat, sleep, and have distinct memories!"
This is the first statement on the back cover that's actually completely true (although the wording makes it sound like creatures go to "work," which they don't really. I'm picturing a scavenger going into work and punching in its time card, eagerly waiting for 5:00 to roll around so it can clock out and go home). All NPCs follow a daily schedule that involves sleeping at night and performing other ambient activities during the day like eating, urinating, conversing, working, etc. The part about distinct memories is surprisingly accurate, too, since many NPCs will remember things that you say or do, even outside of scripted interactions. Monsters also eat, sleep, and hunt other creatures. It really does feel like a "living, breathing game world."

"Classless character system lets you play as any type of player, from a powerful warrior to a cunning wizard, or gain skills from any set!"
This is a semantic issue, but you're still definitely restricted to certain types of "classes" based on what faction you join. While it's possible to play as a fighter, rogue, or mage or even mix skills from all three archetypes, you can't learn true mage spells unless you join the mages and become an actual "Fire Magician" or "Water Magician" -- if given the choice and you say "no" then you're locked out from ever learning true mage spells. You don't pick a class when you start the game, and you aren't stuck being that one thing throughout the whole game, but it's not technically "classless" since the faction ranking system functions similarly to a class system where you have to be the right faction and rank to learn certain abilities. It is, ultimately, a pretty open character system so I'll give the blurb credit here. 

"Hundreds of weapons, spells, items, and artifacts to equip and use."
This statement is true. I'm not going to count everything individually, but there's a ton of everything mentioned, and they mentioned pretty much every type of usable thing in the game. Glancing over lists of weapons, scrolls, and jewelery, there's already close to 200 things listed, and that's not including other types of useful inventory items like plants, foods, potions, or tools like torches and lockpicks. 

"Winner of countless awards and acclaims."
Like what? There's not a single award mentioned anywhere on the box, and I can't find any mentions of any award online except Wikipedia saying that CGM nominated it for "Game of the Year" but ultimately picked other games instead, and that GameStar awarded it "Adventure Game of the Year" and "Best Game World." I seriously can't find any actual sources for what awards it won -- maybe they were all in Germany, and never got publicized anywhere in North America? I know Gothic was a big hit in Germany, and maybe the North American publisher just figured no one would recognize or understand foreign awards, but it's still bad not to list any actual awards in association with that claim -- it's not even in fine print. Without any sources or examples, it feels like an empty marketing ploy to make a game seem more important than it actually is. 

There's even more stuff written in the front cover flap, but it's either mostly true, factual statements, or reiterations of what's already printed on the back, so I won't bother going into detail there. The only seriously contentious claim in the front cover flap is "over 50 different monsters and enemies," which I think is using a technicality to exaggerate its breadth by listing different enemy types within a specific group as distinct (ie, "Orc Hunter," "Orc Fighter," and "Orc Warrior" are all technically different enemies but they use the same base model and AI, just with different stats, armor textures/meshes, and weapons). There's still a generous amount of monster and enemy types in the game, but I think you have to stretch it to get to 50. 

And, well, that's pretty much everything. I don't have a major point with this article, or a resounding conclusion to make; this was just a fun little examination of something I noticed and wanted to share. I won't make separate articles for the other games, but it's worth noting that the back covers for Gothic 2, Gothic 2: Gold Edition, and Gothic 3 are all much more reasonably written. 


  1. Remember when Bethesda were trying to wow everyone with their silly radiant AI (which they then couldn't deliver)? When games like this had been doing that type of thing for years already heh.

  2. ThePreciseClimberMarch 12, 2018 at 6:50 AM

    I find the cover itself to also be a little misleading. Why does it feature a party of four? This isn't Final Fantasy or Dragon Age or even Dragon's Dogma. NPCs only help you during short sequences and only one at a time.

    1. That's a great point. That cover image, showing a group of four (along with one in the inside cover flap with two templars following behind you closely on either shoulder) gave me the impression back in the day that it would be at least somewhat party-based. I remember being excited when I met Mud for the first time, thinking I'd just found my first party member. Which is doubly ironic considering Mud was written into the game just to pester players.

  3. For what it's worth: the original German back cover is mostly accurate and doesn't feature blatant lies. Although interestingly, it does claim that the nameless hero was innocent and wrongfully thrown into the valley, even though this is never mentioned in-game.