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Review: Venetica

Got interested in Venetica since I read the review in the March 2010 issue of what was at the time the last remaining gaming magazine from here, which I had just bought because it came with Gothic 3… Which I’m actually yet to play. Back to Venetica, it was only in October of 2019 that I got and started playing it, but by the end of November I stopped and only returned to it this January, finally finishing it in April… And it took me until June to review it as well, as you can see.

Much of the game hangs on combat and fortunately that works out quite well. I liked how they seemed to take inspiration from The Witcher and make fighting flow in a similar manner, even to the point of offering the same cue for the right moment to click for the next strike in the chain. Maybe it doesn’t work quite as well, but it works well enough, and it’s definitely much more forgiving, clicking at the wrong time not breaking the chain, which is something that many seemed to have a problem with in The Witcher.
Then again, there are plenty who look for a challenge in games and those will likely have a different view of Venetica’s combat. However, I personally liked how forgiving it was in general, because most fights are quite easy in themselves once you learn a few things, finding beds isn’t an issue early on and keeping yourself healthy should hardly be a problem once you get the skills to absorb HP, and, if all of that fails, as the game progresses you’ll get to resurrect more times. That doesn’t even include phase two of the boss fights, where being killed just means starting over right away, without it counting as a death or bringing any penalties, but the fact that being killed in any other more difficult battle or if you happen to get surrounded when you can’t use the skill again just yet will actually put you at an advantage, as you’ll be able to move to a better position while the enemies, with the exception of those ghosts, can’t see you, then continue the fight on your terms, likely starting with a sneak attack. And then you just need to use the Moonblade for the kill to regain the lost Twilight energy.

Character development may be seen as forgiving as well, even if you can’t undo earlier choices. On the one hand, all attributes increase by one point when you gain a level, so even if you concentrate the points you can freely allocate, Scarlett won’t be left as weak in other aspects as may otherwise be expected. On the other, the forgiving combat means you can make do with few skills until you decide which to train, and I didn’t train many at all until the end of the game, while at the same time the lack of a hard level cap and the respawning of the enemies from certain areas, and of those that appear on city streets at night in particular, mean that if you do feel the need for more points, you can always obtain them without the respawns becoming too annoying if you don’t need them. Yes, enemies do seem to stop respawning after you reach level 31, and in some areas even earlier, but on top of any quests not yet completed and areas not yet cleared at that point, if you want to go even higher there’s still the Necropolis in Africa, likely in combination with the weapon that grants additional experience. And Scarlett does learn awfully fast, doesn’t she?

Otherwise, liked the unlimited inventory, and being able to instantly loot bodies, including during combat, helps as well. Combat music also struck me as quite fitting, though I’d say that the nicest piece of music in the game is the Skullbreak Tavern song, which also has a point, as seen towards the end. And, since it can be said that I’m at odds and ends, I’ll also mention that the bard in the Outer City Marketplace is a nice touch, even if his performance is likely to no longer serve a practical purpose by the time you’ll feel completely comfortable paying for all of it. Oh, and I might also point out that at least the plate armor actually looks protective, so the developers were at least capable of moving away from the “female armor” trope for one of the suits… Does look odd when Scarlett swims so well while wearing it though.

If I started the positive aspects with the combat, I’ll start the negative ones with something that affects it, which are the problems with hit detection and clipping. You can strike or be struck through walls or have strikes pass through enemies without registering. Enemies, and possibly also NPCs, can fall through floors or get stuck in walls or water or scenery, or sit on nothing. Scarlett can also fall through, or end up walking above the ground, and once I seemed to have ended up in a noclip situation, walking above the floor and through everything. Much of the time, these problems appear in combat, when a strike knocks an enemy, or Scarlett, back and through something, but ladders can also cause such issues with Scarlett, and at other times they seem to just happen, possibly because characters are occasionally created at a wrong location.

The AI also seems rather rudimentary, enemies mainly following attack patterns, but that’s quite clearly intentional and fits with the combat that’s forgiving once you learn a few things that I mentioned above. Another clear issue that negatively affects combat, on the other hand, is the camera. In short, it’s quite a pain, causing problems even when simply moving, and worse ones in combat. It can get backed up against walls or scenery, too close to let you really see what you’re doing or pushed to a wrong angle, which obviously changes everything when the direction of movement and the target are relative to the camera’s position. And it’s also annoying that it faces you after changing areas, making you turn around if you go forward, which may well lead to unintentionally returning to the previous area if there’s no door and you’re uncertain of your bearings, or are rushing and don’t notice.

Speaking of returning, getting back to San Pasquale when you need or want to is tedious… And you’d think they’d have rebuilt at least a little bit by the time you need to go back for the dress, or that they’d recognize that they’re under attack by Necromancers in some way. But those are little issues, a worse one, if I’m to stick to what’s tedious to get around, is that this can be said about Venice itself as well, especially when you’re above street level. And it’s annoying how restricted movement is, that Scarlett can’t jump or even lift a leg except on stairs, or squeeze anywhere, that she’s blocked by all sorts of things that shouldn’t normally block movement… Using ladders can be frustrating as well, on top of potentially triggering the bugs I already mentioned.
The even bigger problem, however, is that after a while there’s little reason to put up with all of this, exploration no longer feeling sufficiently rewarding, and after a certain point I found myself no longer really caring to find everything anymore, which is very odd for me. But if you’re not thorough you can miss plenty of things, many of the more important ones obviously late in the game, so just when you may have a harder time caring.

Back to bugs, there were also crashes, albeit mostly early on. When it constantly crashed in a certain spot if I tried to turn back from Windmill Tavern, on the way to Venice, I worried I’ll never be able to get back to San Pasquale, but at least that issue fixed itself once I finished the chapter and the map changed partially. The crash caused by talking to Leon about reputation remained constant, however, so don’t lose reputation and end up in a situation where you’d need to regain it in this manner to advance.
The major bug that you need to be aware of throughout the game, however, is that NPCs may vanish if you load a save from an area where they exist. I saw the warnings about it and also experienced it when I wasn’t careful, and depending on which NPC vanishes the severity may range from irrelevant to game-breaking, so don’t risk it and only save in areas where there are no NPCs, which also means no skeletons. I “managed” to make one NPC vanish in another way as well, but that was when I tried something I probably shouldn’t have, and there’s no reason to do so, yet that obviously can’t be said about saving and what makes it worse is that the early part of the game, when you’re at your weakest and may need to save more, is just when finding a “safe” place to save is hardest. Later, secret rooms, cleared Rogue Quarters, caverns and a few other places are available to you, so it may be tedious and cause you to lose some time, but it’s a less serious problem if you’re careful.
Another bug I experienced was that I bought some treasure maps from that vendor, then reloaded once I realized I already had one of them, and when I got back there I saw that the maps I had purchased were no longer available for sale, and of course they weren’t in my inventory either, so I had to quit the game and try again to be able to purchase them again. Still, I tried several times to reproduce the bug with other vendors, buying a number of items, then immediately reloading and going back, and couldn’t.
Otherwise, I had the impression that bugs were piling up in the Arsenal District, but that may simply be the result of having advanced in the game. Once ghosts appeared they tended to remain stuck where they spawn, not moving and with bodies and “flames” never removed after I “killed” them, but they also appear in the Outer City and I noticed the same thing there too. Back to the Arsenal District, when I reentered one of the Rogue Quarters I got that dialogue again even though it was cleared, and at least that didn’t happen in any other place. That noclip situation I mentioned above was in the Arsenal District as well. Also, in Skullbreak Tavern, the rebels say they’ll let the people know after you complete their quest, which suggests a reputation increase, but there is none, then the Juma clanspeople remain there even after they also get back to their homeland, and the workers also remain there after they agree to go to the mine, though I guess it’s somewhat less certain that this is a bug, since they may be meant to be lazy. But, to again point out that such issues appear in other places as well, though these may be considered minor spoilers, I’ll also add that in the Inner City rogues kept appearing at least from one of the Quarters even after clearing out both, alongside the marauders, and that it’s not just that the guild headquarters don’t look burned at all after they should be, but the marauders are still at the entrance after it’s done, and if you talk to them you’ll automatically tell them to burn it down, at least in case of the Net of the Mask, since I wasn’t in the others to know for sure.

Speaking of marauders, they respawn way too quickly, so while I mentioned these limited respawns as a positive aspect, nights become rather annoying in the Outer and, especially, Inner City once they appear. Then, to continue with the issues that mar the positive aspects, once an attribute reaches the maximum of 100, that point that should be automatically added each level is lost, so putting too many points in one attribute, or even in two of them by the end, will result in a somewhat less powerful character after a certain point. And I’ll also mention here that some sorting of that unlimited inventory wouldn’t have hurt… And the additional attributes of the weapons that have them should have been clearly specified, yet in some cases they’re not listed at all, while in others they may be included in the description, but in a way that may still be unclear, and certainly doesn’t provide the actual details. And I also thought that there were too few types of armor available, and the fact that most are meant for specific uses means that there are even fewer armor upgrades.

Otherwise, there are plenty of differences between speech and subtitles, and also some moments when the speech cuts early and moves on to the next part, so you have to read the subtitled text ahead. There are also times when the speech is even entirely wrong, and a few conversations with lines in an entirely different voice, showing that they were added later. But the bigger annoyance for me is the fact that Venetica also follows this trend that has been going on for a long time now, games no longer displaying what the character will actually say if a dialogue choice is selected and what each choice actually means may well be unclear if you go by what’s displayed. Worse, in Venetica’s particular case, the ending is determined by many choices made in dialogues throughout the game, and you’ll only see what it all added up to at the very end. And I also made a note about the real options for the last stage of gaining the Steward’s trust and what follows, which are definitely unclear, and the journal entries don’t quite fit what happens either, something seeming messed up. But the Palace seems rushed in general…

While I’m at it, I’ll add that the quest that opens the Western Villa really seems thrown there in a hurry as well. And, to continue with the issues I couldn’t quite fit elsewhere, some quests have wrong information or markers, or markers are missing, which also means that much of the time that skill can’t be used. A couple of treasure maps are also very misleading. And, on the topic of maps, it seems unintuitive that the map only moves when you move the mouse to the edge, not if you click and hold and move the mouse, or maybe also with the direction keys, especially when you often need to click it first, as otherwise moving the mouse to the edge won’t do anything either.

Overall, Venetica is probably hurt by a lack of resources during production, certain bugs, most of all the one with the vanishing NPCs when you load a save, are inexcusable, and there are various other reasons for frustration as well. However, if you know what to watch for and aren’t particularly looking for a challenge, it can be a quite enjoyable game that doesn’t make you feel pressured and features decent combat, a few interesting ideas and a setting with a fair amount of potential. That the developers couldn’t exploit this potential even better is a pity but, again, assuming that they had limited resources to work with, it’s a decent enough game if you take it for what it is.

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