Why Gothic Is More Believable Than Modern RPGs

One of the many nebulous concepts that spring up when writing about games is “a sense of place”. We talk about worlds and locations and settings, but often these boil down to unusual geography or art direction – surface details and imagery rather than a real identity.

Gothic, by contrast, wasn’t particularly pretty. Its setting wasn’t the singular underground world of Arx Fatalis, nor the varied alien landscape of Morrowind. Instead, Piranha Bytes recognised back in 2001 that a place is a place not because of its landscape or biome or buildings, but because the people there make it one.

Most RPGs have NPC traffic. Gothic had a society.

The game itself is set within a microsociety built entirely on the situation its inhabitants find themselves in. A succinct introduction describes a war between humans and orcs, because of course it does. But instead of the war itself, Gothic is about some of its consequences. The humans need weapons, so seal off a prison mine behind a one-way magical barrier, and begin shoving convicts in. The idiot mages get their sums wrong and trap themselves too, and more poetically, the prisoners revolt and take over, and rationally extract demands from the King in return for his precious ore. The result is a sensible arrangement in which the prisoners continue to mine and export in exchange for their choice of goods from the outside world.

Even mentioning that here’s where the player comes in feels like an afterthought. You’re a convict booted across the barrier who happens to become relevant by chance. You’re no Chosen One, merely The One Who Happened To Be Standing There.

All this setup demonstrates an ongoing thoughtfulness that’s key to Gothic’s appeal. After the revolt, the prisoners split into three camps – one honouring the agreement with the King, the others working on separate escape plans. It’d be easy to set these camps up as novelty playgrounds, extreme poles of Good, Bad, and Stupid Wizard Hat, but Piranha Bytes were smarter. The Old Camp devotes everything to maintaining ore exports, and protecting the resulting imports from the rebellious New Camp, whose theft and raids supplement their rice crops. Meanwhile, the third Sect camp pray to a dormant god in hope of liberation, and trade off the excess of their holy drug, along with plants and tinctures.

The camps feel not like interchangeable markers to swap loot for new tasks, but like societies. Each has a reason to exist, a means of providing for itself, a social order, and a long term goal. They’re visually and culturally distinct despite the limitations of geography, but the distinctions aren’t exaggerated. The New Camp are the nasty faction on paper, but in practice just want independence from the King and his toadies, and only cause as much trouble as is needed to keep their escape plan in motion. Given the opportunity, they wouldn’t wipe out or even wage war on the others because, well, needlessly murdering dozens of people crosses a lot of lines, y’know? Rivalry doesn’t have to mean total destruction. Besides, the other camps provide useful goods.

The Old Camp has no need for farms, but depends on safety and order, so keeps miners in line with a protection racket and rationed imports. But it’s not the oppressive hole it could be. It’s home to some of the nicest characters in the colony: a secure place where people look out for each other.

Finally, the Sect camp makes a swamp occupied by a cult feel like a nice place to live. People hang out and smoke and eat, they listen to sermons, they mash up plants for the alchemist, they train with swords. Higher-ups ask that members believe in the Seeker, but turn a blind eye to fakers if they pull their weight and keep up appearances.

It’d be easy to depict an overthrown penal colony as a hellhole full of bloodthirsty maniacs, but the prevailing attitude is that everyone’s stuck there together. The communities and their inhabitants, both en masse and individually, act in ways that make sense given their circumstances.

In a word, Gothic is sensible.

There are few saints or pointlessly evil monsters. More common is pragmatic robbery or limited kindness – more people will help you out a little and few will screw you over for the hell of it. Think about it: if you were trapped in a village and went round stabbing people for larks, how long would the rest of your peers put up with you? Fights with humans are seldom unprompted, and even less commonly lethal – losing leaves you prone while the winner rifles through your pockets, or you theirs. Most NPCs won’t hold a grudge afterwards, and accept loss with admirable grace. You’re free to do likewise, although I can never resist the temptation to bully and rob a particular pair of miners every time I pass by. Some have friends who’ll enact swift reprisals, but there are many opportunities to brawl, and some situations require a beating to get your point across. I lost my patience with one self-important cultist who tried to foist an odd job onto me before handing over something I wanted, so gave him a solid whack with a hammer and took it instead.

It’s an interesting contrast to most games, where casual murder is the norm, and even those with a “pacifist run” tend to hand wring or fall over themselves admiring us for the enormously noble act of not massacring people. In Gothic, fights are fights, not murder-offs, and once someone’s beaten, the matter is considered settled. It takes a deliberate, conscious decision to kill, and doing so triggers an unequivocal animation where you carefully crouch astride a helpless person and slay them. Even then, you’re not irrevocably changed from NOT_MURDERER to MURDERER status, and not everyone will care, but it’s remarkable how your perceptions and behaviour change when killing a nameless mook has social consequences. Even the hateful Rice Lord left a perennial stain on my conscience when I snuck past his goons and mercilessly skewered him in his sleep. Seeing peasants change from cheering on your fight to backing off in horror isn’t the power trip it might sound like.

All this is introduced with the opening chapter, wherein you’re a largely helpless newcomer earning his way into your choice of camps. Here you see the social and power structures, and while there are tiered ranks (which function as minor sub-factions), these are a formality, as the three interdependent camps operate on a vaguely socialised favour economy. Your reputation isn’t a number or a slider set between “hero” and “villain”. You don’t farm points, but win over individuals who’ll speak in your favour, not for ideology but out of respect, appreciation, or payment. There’s enough work going to give you room to turn down the tasks or people you dislike, and each is grounded. Bob wants an item from Colin in another camp, and he sends you to get it because Colin doesn’t like him, but might deal with a newcomer. Bob then decides you’re okay, and puts in a good word for you. It’s more natural than climbing up abstract ranks by ticking boxes.

It emphasises how the community works, too; power here is about who and what you know, which are only achieved by referrals or learning from someone else. Even finding your way around means asking for directions – maps are inventory items, not magic overlays – and early on you’re dependent on others to show you round and even explore, as the land outside the camps is dangerous. This too is justified: in most RPGs deadly roads and forests raise the question of how anyone gets anything done, but here, two camps are largely self-sufficient and the third has a secure import route from the outside world, so there’s little need for regular access. Farmers work within the camps, merchants don’t travel, migration is rare, and wiping out the wildlife would rob the colony of food and pelts. Even the animals themselves are reasonable – most will give an obvious threat display and time to heed it and walk away before they flick the DESTROY THE WORLD WITH BITING switch.

Gothic is no simulation, and the usual odd economics of the RPG apply. An axe wound’s severity depends on its pricetag, and miners subsist on the breadline when they could become billionaire demigods in a week by selling junk and stabbing wildlife, but these idiosyncrasies are more easily shrugged off when everything else is so convincing. I normally hate ‘protection’ arrangements in games but here I ended up paying one guard after I dispatched a goon he sent to beat me up. There were no hard feelings, and by then I felt able to spare a small sum just to keep the peace. It feels worth it. The price of belonging, not just a “here is the random shakedown event, pick A or B” moment.

It’s such a simple concept in essence, but undervaluing it is woefully common in other games. Settlements with no means of sustenance. People standing around waiting for a passing stranger to inexplicably unload their problems onto while stuffing potions into their kecks. Places that exist for reason but the player’s input, and others that should exist but somehow don’t. Even the illusory animations and behaviours put other games to shame – NPCs react if they see you aiming a bow or leaving a private area. The day/night cycle sees miners sleep and work and congregate to chatter around campfires with meat and beer. I saw one guy wade into waist-high water, but instead of leaving him stuck there forever, someone gave him the sense and animations to climb out.

In some respects, Gothic has aged poorly. There’s not a vast world to explore nor lots of secrets or side-job opportunities. Its controls are an acquired taste, weapons and combat are heavily weighted towards melee, and it’s far too easy to stumble off a walkway and die, cursing the lack of autosave and the long, uneventful journeys. None of that truly matters, though, as even among the spree of legendary RPGs released around its time, Gothic stands out as yet another special game with too few descendants.


  1. Zallgrin says:

    Gothic has one of my most favorite world for these very reasons. I still find it shocking that even decades later most RPGs don’t even attempt to apply the same principles as Gothic did. People might laud Witcher 3 as the greatest RPG – but holy hell, in so many respects it’s not even close to Gothic.

    It’s depressing. Either Piranha Bytes gets their head out of their ass and improve on their formula, or the rest of the devs try stealing a bit more from Gothic.

    • Syt says:

      On people lauding Witcher 3: I remember one of the biggest “wow” moments some previews had was that you could seamlessly walk from outside to inside of buildings without loading screens – something that Gothic did in 2001. Don’t get me wrong, I love W3, but this struck me as a bit funny.

      • Abacus says:

        It was something Gothic and Gothic 2 did but was largely absent during the previous console generation, probably due to the limitations. Some of TW3’s interiors are insanely detailed too- however there isn’t really any reason to explore them (I remember the first time I learned how to lockpick in Gothic, I went ahead and looted every single house in the Old Camp).

        I think where The Witcher 3 shines is probably in its worldbuilding, similar to Gothic and Gothic 2. I felt like cities like Novigrad, and more recently Beuclair in the DLC, do an excellent job of world building. Those are cities that you can just walk around and feel like you’re in a place that MAKES SENSE, a lot like Khorinis.

        • LostViking says:

          Couldn’t agree more. Both the Gothic and Risen games, and now Witcher 3, has the most immersive and believable worlds in my opinion simply because there are no loading screens between outside and inside. When you stand inside talking to someone you can actually see whats happening outside at the same time, and all parts of the level seems connected in physically believable ways.

          I remember someone arguing that Skyrim was more “open world” simply because the map wasn’t split into sections like in Witcher 3. I think that is a bit unfair all the time you need to load a new level for every simple cave, shed and house that you want to enter.

      • Uberwolfe says:

        I guess people have accepted the Bethesda-style micro instancing of just about everything. I still can’t believe this is a thing in 2016.

    • KoenigNord says:

      Most of their devs split up while Gothic 3 was in development. Some made the Risen series. Non of the follow-ups came on par with the first game.

      • physicalist says:

        So much wrong with what you say. Prianha Bythes didn’t split up. Their former publisher had the rights to publish games under the Gothic label and subsequently did so. PB went on to develop the Risen series. PB didn’t split up and the best Gothic game is definitely Gothic 2.

    • demicanadian says:

      Well.. if anything, Witcher 3 was greatest Batman (arkham) game.

      • Booker says:

        Only someone who hasn’t played either game could ever say that.

        • Emeraude says:

          I don’t know, as someone that rebounded hard on Witcher 3, I kinda see where that comment is coming from.

      • carewolf says:

        It certainly had the best implemention of Batman combat. It took me 30 hours of gameplay until I even noticed how the Batman like it was and that enemies would politely wait for Gerald to finish particularly slow and stupid moves, and only attack afterwards, just like in Batman.

    • Chillicothe says:

      PCs were dying during this game’s launch. Price tags for development rose. Desperate and idealistic goals were instituted in their place.

      It took till 2014 for this new normal to shatter and evolution (and re-evolution) to reign again after a wandering in the darkness.

      • Neutrino says:

        PC’s were dying in 2001? I don’t remember that. Care to elucidate?

      • Unsheep says:

        So you are saying game development has become cheaper since 2014 and the games deeper in content ? I can’t agree with that.

        Indie games rivaling triple-A games in sales is the only recent revolution I’ve seen.

    • ToomuchFluffy says:

      If it’s true what I read about Piranha Bytes, the situation there is similar to Bioware. A lot of the people who made the original Gothic seem to have left a long time ago. But I maybe wrong.

  2. Syt says:

    Great article, and I agree 100%. :) However, I think Gothic 2 did it even better. You have a mine for ore. And a harbor to ship it out, with a small town attached. And then you have a bunch of farmers supplying everyone with food. And between them (town, mine, farmers) you have a network of interdependencies, further complicated by the war against the Orks that’s going badly.

    Gothic 2’s world building remains my favorite, and a yardstick by which I measure other RPGs. “Why is this settlement here? What’s its primary trade? How is it supplied? Where does their food come from? What’s its relations to its neighbors?” Etc.

    Unfortunately, a lot of RPGs fall apart when you start looking at them this way.

    Nothing against the rule of cool in games, but if you want to have a world that feels “real” …

    • Someoldguy says:

      Coming from decades of playing PnP RPGs alongside CRPGs I couldn’t agree more. You really feel part of a world when the geography and social structures make sense and the way they interact with you and each other makes sense too. Far too rare in both genres.

      • McCabbe says:

        I’m there as well. It’s everything that’s lacking in FO4, which explains why I spent an unhealthy amount of time building settlements that would make sense from that perspective.

    • Louis Mayall says:

      Rule of Cool vs realism, an unending conflict of the ages. Only balance can bring the true RPG, the one that was promised.

  3. Kian Alvane says:

    I love Gothic, it was my first RPG and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s still a great game with terrific atmosphere and nice plot, even if a little rough and tough. So glad to see an article about it, in Poland it’s considered a classic but in Western Europe and USA it’s practically forgotten/unknown.

    • Che Eder says:

      That is not completely true. In Germany, where the game is from, there is a huge fanbase for Gothic I and especially for Gothic II. And since Gothic 3 people are always so disappointed when a new Piranha Bytes comes out and doesn’t live up to the standards the first to games set.

      • Kohlrabi says:

        Gothic 3 is somewhat enjoyable if you use the <a href="link to worldofgothic.de Patch, but combat and balancing are still shit, which makes some parts of the game very tedious to play.

  4. Hanban says:

    Something I really, really loved in Gothic were the armour sets. For the three factions there were tiers of armour that you unlocked as you gained enough trust or reputation with them. I got obsessed with the armour sets in the game, and I’ve played through the game at least three times to unlock all the three different sets (and the mage armour)

    • Abacus says:

      There’s something about the progression systems in Gothic that are just above and beyond everything modern RPGs are doing. Another game that had me kind of excited about the armour was the original Witcher. Keeping those kind of upgrades few and far between made them more valuable I guess.

      I only played and finished Gothic recently but I still can’t get over that sense of progression. Having to avoid the forests early on, and then later coming back to them and wiping out all the sneaky stuff inside them was so satisfying.

      • Premium User Badge

        basilisk says:

        Looks like everyone has a favourite bit in this game, and mine is how the weapon skill progression works. It’s not just level up, get a better swordsmanship perk and you’re done, you need to find a trainer and go through an actual lesson. Which is not that rare either, but the fun part is that in Gothic, your fighting animations directly reflect your skill level. So if you try to use a one-handed sword at the start, your character will hold it with both hands and swing wildly and inaccurately; then you find a trainer who says, okay, first things first, never hold this thing with two hands, and use it like this. And your fighting style changes to relatively competent one-handed strikes. Gain more experience and the trainer will teach you how to lead from one strike to another, essentially turning on combo animations.

        Like so many things in the game, this feels so completely natural, and yet it’s so rare in RPGs, steeped in calcified abstract systems as they are.

        • field_studies says:

          Absolutely. It’s been a very long time since I last played Gothic, but I hold Gothic 1&2 (I’ve come to think of them as a single game) in the highest regard, in large part because of the excitement they constantly created around ‘progression’. It’s been great fun to read through this article and comments and be reminded of the various ways they managed this … the dynamic thieving systems, reputation systems, factions, the way it was a fully (radically, for it’s time?) open world only insofar as you were powerful enough (or sneaky enough) to explore it.

          Any new character level, new skill, new allegiance, could potentially open up exciting new areas of the game. I have such strong memories of the thrill of that. In a weird way, it reminds me a little of a point-and-click adventure game–just that moment when you find a new item and think, “yes! I know exactly what this is for; it’s going to open up a whole new segment of the game.”

          I’m working my way through the Witcher 3 DLC right now. It’s probably my favourite RPG writing since the Gothic series, maybe the best world-building too. But I don’t think I’ll walk away as fond of it, in large part because it impels players forward with a beautiful world and good characters fun little quest stories, but lacks the distilled excitement of progression that Gothic offered

          • Czrly says:

            Gothic 1 & 2 as a single game? That’s about 200 hours for one play-through. That would be properly grand.

            I loved these games and really wished they could be made again, exactly the same as the originals but with a higher polygon count, better lighting and perhaps some of that cool facial animation that Epic has been flashing about, lately. (Call this a “technical remake”, instead of the currently fashionable “dumb-it-down and rush-it-out for cash on the back of nostalgia remake”)

  5. Tiltowait says:

    Played this game a lot. Only game I have seen NPCs take a leak. Adds an element of gritty realism.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      People take a leak in VtM: Bloodlines as well, although that’s mostly so that they’re a convenient blood source away from prying eyes. It doesn’t add much realism as much as it adds an easy to refill your blood supply.

      I’ve played Risen 1 and liked it, so I’ll probably try out the old Gothic games on GoG.

      • Smoof says:

        The original Gothic is good, but might be a bit dated at this point. Check out Gothic II first.

        One of my fondest memories from Risen is being “killed” and waking-up in a Monastery. I’d intended to go for a Warrior style playthrough, but ended-up being a Mage or something (it’s been awhile, I can’t recall), after earning enough respect at the Monastery to actually be let loose. It was amazing to be captured in this big open world, then confined to a mountain villa for a spell without the game forcing me to do that.

  6. Baltech says:

    A great writeup about one of the first RPGs I ever played (on PC). But no mention of the amazing and in 2001 very mindblowing show of real world Medieval Rockband “In Extremo” upon when you enter the Old Camp for the first time? No game has done the ren fair atmosphere better than Gothic.

  7. GWOP says:

    Hey, if the copious amount of upskirts in the second screenshot is representative of the entire game, sign me up!

  8. burth says:

    I’m always amazed by the gap between how you remember games and what they actually looked like (especially in 3D). Nice article. I particularly agree about how transgressive it felt to actually kill someone, which is so different from the vast majority of similar games.

  9. Eight Rooks says:

    On the one hand, a well-reasoned article I agree with, for the most part. On the other hand the casual, PC Master Race style dismissal of anything other than fine granular detail down to the atomic level annoys me no end. No, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to read this as “Nah, art direction and such isn’t real immersion. If you can find any detail that hasn’t been implemented or any eventuality the devs haven’t accounted for, then it’s just a silly videogame, innit?”. (I mean, it’s right there in the first couple of paragraphs – if you can’t find an identity in the art people draw then I don’t think you and I can ever be friends.) Interlocking systems are all well and good but for some of us they’re not the whole story. I find The Road Not Taken a more “immersive” world than Gothic, for example, and it’s not even an RPG.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      EDIT: Oh, and also points deducted for cheering the way killing doesn’t irrevocably change your status to MURDERER. That’s a good thing why, exactly? I’d still love an open-world RPG where once you’d killed someone, anyone at all, that had the potential to haunt you until the end of the game. You can talk up all the reaction animations you like, but some people will never notice until they realize the entire world (justifiably, more than likely) is now permanently on edge around them at the very least.

    • Abacus says:

      “On the other hand the casual, PC Master Race style dismissal of anything other than fine granular detail down to the atomic level annoys me no end.”


      • JayG says:

        I think the lad is drunk, that made no sense whatsoever. Maybe he’s German and very upset about the game earlier.

    • Emeraude says:

      I think you’re reading more than is meant on that one.

      Certainly good art (graphic or sound) and level design can make a place feel alive and come together. But I can’t fault someone with a love for gaming for focusing on systems, given they’re the main separation between games and other art forms.

      As for the murderer bit, I do think the granularity if well implemented can be a good thing. People know you’re killer but depending on who you killed just might not actually care all that much. Which creates interesting conditional layers for the player and the narrative into which the players is being inserted.

      Now, that may not work for all game (would have probably generated a weird classist dissonance if Dishonored had judged not on the quantity, but on the targets of your actions for one… could have been fascinating, mind you, but at odds with the rest of the overall narrative).

    • Sin Vega says:

      I welcome criticism (pretty much everything I’ve written for RPS has seen a few people comment with something noting an oversight or decent counterpoint to my opinions), but you really are reading an awful lot more into this than I think is reasonable.

      The game’s refusal to make killing a matter of A or B and nothing in between is a good thing because it’s a violent world populated entirely by criminals. Plus, the whole community is only possible because the prisoners rose up and murdered the original guards. You’ll absolutely gather enemies and general hostility if you kill popular people, kill often or without good cause, but many NPCs simply don’t have any reason to care very much if you kill someone who’s a stranger to them.

      • Dilapinated says:

        Ehh, I have little faith in “Criminals = bad people, murderers” in a Fuedal setting. I doubt their laws are going to be exactly progressive? So plenty of people will be most likely be sent to jail-mine-hell for “having a poor crop season”, “being gay”, “being homeless in the wrong place at the wrong time”, “being a sex worker” etc.

        I think the MURDERER/NOT-MURDERER binary being avoided is a good thing more because, well, imagine:

        In the dead of night, I sneak into Bilbo the Miner’s house, unseen, and throttle him in his sleep. I then sneak out again, and go about my business. The next day townpeople back away, aghast at seeing The Murderer in person, and cry out and run when I draw a sword to save them from a ravaging Grue, terrified that I’ll Murderize them, too.

        There needs to be a witness system, ala Dwarf Fortress or something, or it becomes very abstracted-weird very fast.

        • Dilapinated says:

          I should probably make clear that “Criminals = Beserker Stupid-Evil Murderers” isn’t logic that holds up in /our/ meatspace setting either. Didn’t want that left implied, because, uh, yeah, no.

        • Emeraude says:

          A thing I would find interesting is a setting that actually tries to mirror the early medieval mindset, which is pretty alien to us, and in which theft was in many ways considered worse than murder.

          That could be interesting.

          • Sin Vega says:

            KODP didn’t do exactly this, but it certainly did a society with an alien moral code. Learning to think like an inhabitant of its world was key to success there. I’d love to see more of that in RPGs too.

          • Emeraude says:

            Oh lord, King of Dragon Pass. Been a long while. Yeah, definitely has its own cultural st up going on.

            I’ll probably try to rev it up this week end to refresh my memory of it… if local Netrunner tournament leaves me enough time.

            Thanks for the idea.

        • malkav11 says:

          There’s plenty of people in Gothic 1 who probably weren’t violent in their outside life and were thrown in prison for other reasons. But prison is a more violent place than outside society (generally speaking) in the real world too, and just because you didn’t start out behaving that way doesn’t mean you don’t learn how to survive in the situation you find yourself in. And real prisons are generally more controlled than Gothic’s prison camp because there are guards to enforce rules based on law. In Gothic, those guys are dead and it’s a lot looser than that.

  10. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Gothic may not have been pretty, but cranking up the view distance after the first couple of patches and climbing that mountain at the start gave you an absolutely stunning view of the old camp.

    At least that’s how I remember it. Maybe it was just a gray mess.

  11. JayG says:

    I’m a Irish lad who married a swiss lass, and Gothic was one of the first games I ever played in German. As a big fan of Ultima 7 the schedules of the NPC’s and the sheer life of the world were such a big part of the experience. The harshness of the language added so much to the experience and gave me a huge appreciation for the sheer darkness of it. I loved those type of RPGs. Go down a wrong corner and you would die. But it also gave you a chance to fight a lot of enemies who would be far beyond your capabilities, and I would sometimes spend ages just trying to take them down. Kind of a shame that you don’t tend to get a lot of games like that anymore.

  12. Elric666 says:

    I love the Gothic series for all of the things mentioned above. But I also enjoyed the combat system a lot. How your character holds the sword, depending on his proficiency, and learns more efficient attack moves as he gets better, is very unique. You are not just blindly swinging a weapon, but you actually feel and see your character improving.
    But it is maddening to me how Piranha Bytes have somehow managed to make that system worse and worse with every subsequent game. In Gothic 3, an otherwise great, epic experience, the combat system is practically insufferable. Fortunately this is alleviated a bit with the community patches. Risen 1 was fine, as it went a bit back to the roots, but Risen 2 and 3 just got progressively worse at everything again.

    I wish PB would take a long serious look at Gothic 1 and 2, remember what made those games so great, and take another shot at a true Gothic experience.

    • Turkey says:

      I think the financial success of ES:Oblivion has a lot to do with why Gothic 3 turned out the way it did.

      • Syt says:

        Not sure about that. G3 came out a few months after Oblivion, and was in development before that. It may be that they did last minute changes on account of Oblivion (which may explain the absolute mess of G3’s release), but the foundations for the base game would have been there.

        2006 was for me the year of disappointing sequels. I was a huge Morrowind fan, but felt let down by Oblivion – generic medieval world after the weird Vvardenfell, and every five meters a cave, ruin, or dungeon without rhyme or reason. G3 was a horrid, nearly unplayable buggy mess at release where enemies could stun-lock you to death, ranged NPCs wouldn’t defend until hit in melee, and the tutorial would drop you without warning into a massive fight with a dozen orcs. I have yet to see if later patches and community efforts saved the game in the end.

        Risen 1 was fine, though it felt like a rehash of G2 with a Carribean flavor.

      • Elric666 says:

        Personally, I think PB overexerted themselves with Gothic 3. The world is so huge, and there are so many side quests (comparable to Witcher 3 I think) that they were not able to apply the final polish, due to pressure to finally release the game. PB is not a very big studio and the scope of G3 was a bit too much to handle.

  13. haldolium says:

    Ah yes, Gothic. The best world in PC RPGs up until today.

    I too prefer Gothic 2 with it’s addon over the more gritty and “mad” world within the mining colony of Gothic, but both are milestones that never have been reached since.

    I remember still the day when I was out to fight the dragon in the swamp with some… well, I wouldn’t say fellow dragon hunters, but they were there and so was I.

    I thought the fight might be a bit more calm with some help of a certain herbal substance, so I took a detour to a nearby tree in safe distance to the dragon, lighting up the extra good stuff from the swamps.

    Standing next to the tree I noticed that the others were not quite so eager to take it easy, attacking the dragon head on. As I was finishing the spicy cigarette, they already had slain the dragon, while I watched from my tree-protected hideout, smoking.

    Never played another game that even offers the remote possibility of such a unintended comment on drug use, nor the fun of that situation.

    But even beyond that, the Gothic series provide an outstanding atmosphere by so many great game design choices and a few of the most human characters you can get in games.

    It is also, some might disagree, the ONLY game(series) that actually has good German voice over (The Guild and Anno and a few others, mainly games from <2000, have good VO as well, but either translated or not a direct character controlled genre).

    If there would be any reason to learn German, Gothic would be it.

    • ToomuchFluffy says:

      Baldur’s Gate 2 has pretty good german voices as well. While I still haven’t taken the time to play through BG2 in English, comparing Irenicus’s german and english voice on youtube, I still prefer the german voice.

  14. ETPC says:

    I love Gothic 1 and 2 so much. So goddamn much. This article nails almost everything about why I love it.

    I also love the localization. BEHOLD: link to youtube.com

  15. SimonOrbit says:

    Good article. I’m just getting around to playing Witcher 3 now and loving it and wondering if it’ll be my top RPG ever. If not then it’s probably second behind Gothic 2. The sense of danger from running around the countryside in that game, knowing that I could run into much higher level monsters, made exploration genuinely tense (and finally being strong enough to kill a Shadowbeast was a real epiphany).

  16. trjp says:

    I played a bit of Gothic 1/2 recently – they’ve aged well but they still have some STUNNINGLY stupid dialogue which breaks any immersion they might offer.

    Example: in the first (I think) game you start on a ship which is destroyed/you end-up washed-up on the shore barely alive.

    Shortly thereafter you’re explaining to someone how you came to be there – shipwrecked etc. He suspects you of being with the Inquisition(?) but you say you were a stowaway

    “You’re lucky they didn’t throw you overboard”


    • Sin Vega says:

      I think you’re confusing it with Risen, which was a sort of unofficial spin off series with some of the same elements. The dialogue in Gothic averages out to Mostly Harmless. A little cheesy (not helped by the voice acting in the English language version, which isn’t dreadful but does sit a little uncomfortably), but not a big deal.

      • Kohlrabi says:

        The German voice acting is not that much better. But it’s important to remember that this game is quite old, and comes from a time when video games didn’t have these huge amounts of care and money going into voice work. Having voice acting outside of cutscenes and dialogues at all, like the NPCs chatting with each others on the streets, was pretty revolutionary. Even tough it turned out that it was always the same 10 or so lines repeated over and over, by about 3-4 voice actors, it was still marvelous to behold at that time.

        • haldolium says:

          I would highly disagree there. The German VO is outstanding and gets most things in terms of which voice fits to which character perfectly right.

          The “Hero” is able to be both sarcastic and serious, which can’t be said for the Risen series for example and casting people with heavy Hamburg accent for pirate captains was a great choice too, and a rare one.

          The original VO in Gothic is an awesome mix of semi-gritty medival tone, some fantasy stuff here and there and quite the good portion of humor which might be cheesy, but never goes too far like most other attempts to bring humor into the world of games.

          There are very few titles for comparison, since the output of actual German productions is very small, but most translations as well as every Risen title never came close to the voices from the Gothic series. Perfect cast for the characters they were supposed to represent.

          • GameCat says:

            Didn’t played German version, but Polish dubbing of Gothic is excellent and included some big local names like guy who is voicing Donald Duck in Polish translations etc.

            Too bad English translation seems to be butchered, this game needs more attention outside of Germany and Poland, where in both it’s considered as cult classic and probably would be like that everywhere else if only English dub was better.

        • Sonntam says:

          Germany voice-acting was amazing. It’s one of the few games where the voices made up pretty much completely for lack of proper facial animations.

          I loved how bullies from Old Camp could go from talking all sweet to getting all menacing on you. When any character got angry, you heard it in their voice and not just in what they said. The hysterical miner who gets all angry from you walking through his house was not awesome, because of how he was written, but the way he sounded when dressing you down. The cultists from the Swamp projected a completely different air from anyone else.

          I especially loved how memorable every voice was in the game. It was not just main NPCs, but simply everyone showing their personality through their voices. You rarely see that even in AAA games.

    • Baines says:

      To be fair, if you were thrown overboard, it might have been at a point where you wouldn’t have managed to make it to shore.

  17. Cator says:

    While GOTHIC certainly had an excellent worldbuilding on a purely mechanical level, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s sense of place was better than that of modern RPGs’.

    There’s more to worldbuilding and ‘sense of place’ than just the mechanical makeup of NPC behaviour. The setting’s lore and the way it’s woven into all the aspects of the game, the dialogue of NPC’s, the little flavour text scattered all over, the details and nuances of when art desing meets the writing. It all combines for a setting that feels real and deep, even if a lot of it is pure window dressing from a gameplay mechanics perspective. In this regard, modern RPG’s like Witcher 3 or Deus Ex, are far more engrossing and detailed. Hell, even Mass Effect with it’s very characterful and deep setting lore, combined with a strong art design, made for a evocative game world.

    • field_studies says:

      It’s funny, though, playing the Witcher 3 recently kept making me think of Gothic. Gothic was obviously much smaller, and perhaps in some ways less detailed, but its landscape felt equally rich to me. That moment when you’re walking down a road, come upon a small farm in the middle of nowhere, and stumble into playing a part in an odd little vignette mini-quest (in Gothic, if I recall, these were often solvable without having to leave the farm, or fight anything, etc).

      Witcher 3 is quite good a this, but no better than Gothic was (at least in my memory) … and for me, this is what makes an RPG world feel rich–not recourse to epic lore, but the small stories you encounter by chance, that, perhaps expositorily, allow you to understand the wider world through the experience of its individuals.

      Also, that moment in Gothic 2 when you return to the mining colony of Gothic 1 and find that game’s entire world map recreated as a ruin … one of my favourite gaming-world moments ever.

    • Unsheep says:

      I fully agree when it comes to the Witcher 3, for me this series has always had interesting and memorable characters. In many ways, I see the series as a direct continuation of games like Gothic.

    • baozi says:

      Funny, you made me realize that I mostly don’t care about hidden lore in games at all.

  18. malkav11 says:

    Gothic 1 had a pair of my favorite bugs of all time. One was the fact that if you sidestepped while falling, the fall damage would be recalculated from that position. This made jumping off cliffs convenient and practical. The other was that if you interrupted the meat roasting animation at a campfire, it would double the amount of raw meat in your inventory and you could carry an effectively infinite amount. Since you could trade anything for anything, I wound up paying for everything in the game by trading giant piles of raw meat for it. (Aside from dialogue options that specifically required gold. but I bought the gold with my meat.)

  19. E_FD says:

    Love seeing the Gothic series get some attention. The first two and Risen were all solid RPGs that felt like they built on Ultima’s strengths in a way I’m not sure any other 21st century franchise has done.

  20. FeepingCreature says:

    If this article prompts somebody to (re)play Gothic 2, I’d highly advise them to install the excellent DirectX11 mod. ( link to forum.worldofplayers.de )

  21. Kohlrabi says:

    Nobody has mentioned “Mud”, yet?! I don’t know if the character has the same name in non-German versions of Gothic, though. I won’t spoil what he’s about for the sake of some people who are reading this article who want to pick up this game and play it, but to this date he’s one of my most memorable characters in video gaming.

  22. Chiron says:

    I played the demo of this game for about 30 hours, if not more. The Demo.

    It was amazing. Really amazing and one of the first games I played. Everything just felt real. Even the sequel was fairly good, I walked into a town and the first thing I see is a guy pissing up a wall, I go further and see a blacksmith spraying sparks from his grindstone. It was just a lovely set of games.

    Even 3 had its moments but it was starting to suffer a bit, never did get around to finishing it. There seemed to be a lot more blatant ‘fetch-quests’ going on.

    I’ve tried Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout and there ilk but honestly they just make me bored and question why I’m doing this.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    I’m not much of a fan of RPGs but you’re making me want to play this just to have a look around the world.

  24. Unsheep says:

    Personally I think you could say the same for most older RPGs, not just Gothic. Most modern RPGs are more about impressing the gamer with scale and graphics.

    Still, Piranha Bytes’ ability to create interesting locations that feel alive and unique is partly why I’ve always enjoyed their games. They offer something you rarely see today.

    I think it partly comes from Piranha Bytes being a medium-sized developer. Big triple-A studios can afford to impress people with scale and graphics, but smaller studios must rely on other elements to make and keep people interested.

  25. swat6296 says:

    Bout the entire series on steamsale, and now can not bloody launch it, because it is too old. Wish there was at least a warning on steampage…

    • Sin Vega says:

      Sorry to hear that. I’m quite biased as I’ve never liked having to mess around with DRM and unnecessary launchers and the like, but I always recommend buying old games on GOG rather than Steam. They’re not perfect but thanks to their close ties with the old abandonware crowd, they put much more care into making sure games work before selling them.

    • Syrion says:

      What exactly is the problem? I got it to work nicely on my Windows 10 laptop, albeit only using the onboard graphics card, as the game doesn’t detect the proper GPU. But the DX11 mod might fox that.

      The only game I just never got running again is my dear H.E.D.Z. Shame…

    • Nixitur says:

      What kind of warning do you want? You mean a clear statement that, say, it only works for Windows operating systems up to Vista?
      Because that’s in there.

  26. tanith says:

    I’m glad to see this article. Gothic is my most favourite game of all time and due to nostalgia it is incredibly unlikely that this will ever change. I don’t care. 13 year old me had a blast playing it. And it was a blast the subsequent ten or so times that I’ve replayed it.
    The atmosphere, the characters, the world – that is what has drawn me to this game. The seamless world, the quests, it was so great.

    I’ve spent quite a lot of time hanging around the worldofgothic forums and the IRC channel on euIRC, just talking to other people.
    Of course there was also the contender, Morrowind and we’ve had quite a few arguments with people who came to our channel. But that’s because I was just a teenager. Now I can look at it with different eyes. I still play Morrowind, or more precisely, OpenMW because it’s just such a great sandbox game but Gothic will always hold a very special place in my heart.
    Gothic 2 could not quite replicate that, although the add-on did quite a lot to replicate the atmosphere of Gothic 1. It was such a fantastic add-on. Gothic 3 was anticipated highly by all of us. But by the time it came out in 2006 everything drifted apart and the fact that it was rather mediocre was just the final nail in the coffin. Unfortunately Risen didn’t managed to get that feeling back. It was much more like Gothic 1 and 2 than it was Gothic 3 but it didn’t have that je ne sais quoi.
    Never played Risen 2, just the beta because a beta key was part of every Risen 1 collector’s edition. Risen 2 was quite a terrible console game.
    Almost finished Risen 3, though. Guess I had an itch for that kind of game. But it was disappointing.

    I am curious what Piranha Bytes will do with Elex. I’m kinda looking forward to it because these guys can certainly make a good game. But I’m already missing Kai Rosenkranz. Interestingly enough he only ended up being composer because a friend of his got him a position at Piranha Bytes and when he was asked what he can do he said something along the lines of “a bit of everything”. So he ended up being the composer haha.

    Oh man, such good times, such good memories. Glad to see that article here.

    Gothic reminds me of a simpler time, when I was still a school and wasn’t an adult and had to just worry about grades.

    Gothic 1 and Natural Selection were the two games I played to death and will be the two games that I will remember fondly.

  27. darkhog says:

    It worth being noted that Gothic has cult-classic status here in Poland, despite not being Polish game. It even rivals The Witcher’s in terms of popularity and following (granted, the two crowds have big overlap).

  28. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    And that’s why this game still holds up.

    My favourite detail about Gothic that no one ever talks about is the lockpicking. It’s a really simple but strangely elegant mini-game where you memorize and/or guess a series of left/right combinations. If you get it wrong you fumble the lockpick, and depending on your skill the pick either breaks or slips and you start again. If you get it right you hear a satisfying click and continue, left right left left… Even on more advanced locks with longer combinations you can often get halfway through on luck and guesses. The whole thing is done by ear with zero visual feedback: just a guy crouching in front of a chest or door.

    Even though it’s technically wrong (ie that’s not quite how locks work afaik) it’s the closest any game I’ve played has ever come to approximating the mechanical *feeling* of breaking a lock. For all it’s abstraction it comes a lot closer than all those games that just show you the inside of the mechanism.

    • field_studies says:

      I enjoyed the lockpicking a lot too. You suddenly made me recall my old family computer room, littered with papers with hastily scrawled “LRLLLRL” etc all over them.

  29. baozi says:

    Nice, an entry on Gothic, so overlooked on RPS

  30. naveenwf says:

    Been wanting to check out this series for a while, do you guys recommend Gothic 1 or 2 to start out with?

    • tanith says:

      You should start with the first one. The controls are dated but you should be able to get used to them in time. However, in terms of atmosphere, characters, story-telling and atmosphere it is superior.

      Ah, just writing that makes me want to replay the games again.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Start with Gothic 1. It’s rougher around the edges and the art is noticeably more sparse, but it’s the best introduction to the world and could be argued to be the better game overall (the setup, the world, the arc of the story). Plus you’ll enjoy 2 more if you’ve played 1 as it revisits several locations and characters.

  31. left1000 says:

    I like calling this game design philosophy “Shandification” as done in the video “TUN: The Shandification of Fallout”

    Good ole shandy wrote a very boring book a couple hundred years ago.

  32. UncleBAZINGA says:

    I discovered this gem on the store shelf back in 2001 and impulse bought a game for the very first time. Even though the devs soon recognized me by my forename because of a lot of bugs I’ve reported this didn’t decrease my passion for this one of a kind RPG series!
    Even then back in the days I noticed how special this game is and therefore couldn’t cheer myself up for its biggest competitor Morrowind because Bethesda’s game in comparison had bland characters, a world clearly built of the same set pieces over and over again plus a boring story (which accounts for most of their RPGs to this very day even though after playing Fallout 4 I’ve to admit that the ‘Bethesda’-style has its own magic).

    Gothic and it’s spiritual successor Risen are oozing of charme, warmth and a very believable, lively world. Piranha Bytes games never reached the media critics heights of a Skyrim, but to me and other fans they’ve already beat them with the very first Gothic.
    The team itself is so charming. They’re ever since a small indie developer of 25 people with their ‘office’ still in a common townhouse in Essen, Germany to this very day.

    Great article! If you haven’t played any of their games then rest assure that you missed out on something really special…