A Gothic Eulogy - How 2001's Gothic Inspired The Witcher, Cyberpunk and More

Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher standing next to an image of Gothic 2001 gameplay and a cosplay of a Gothic soldier

Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher standing next to an image of Gothic 2001 gameplay and a cosplay of a Gothic soldier

German game studio Piranha Bytes has been killed. Known for a history of janky-but-boundary-pushing RPGs, the studio has been dissolved 27 years after its debut. Known for games such as Gothic and Risen, Piranha Bytes is also directly responsible for the success of The Witcher developer CD Projekt Red.

While Piranha Bytes saw large success with the release of Gothic in 2001, the Polish game studio has struggled in recent years. Despite being some of the studio’s most ambitious games, the release of ELEX and its sequel ELEX II failed to catch on with modern audiences. As a result, the studio has been closed, but its legacy lives in with CD Projekt.

In a fantastic documentary released in 2018 by Polish YouTuber Dzieje Khorinis, the long history of CD Projekt and Gothic can be seen in full. Almost everyone at the Witcher and Cyberpunk studio has experienced Gothic at some point with many citing the title as one of their favourite games. Due to the game’s huge presence in Poland, Piranha Byte’s RPG is directly responsible for the country’s massive games industry boom in recent years.

Unlike many games in the early 2000s, the Gothic series was one of the few games that actually catered to Polish players. In 2002, the game received a full Polish dub, which is often deemed the game’s best voice over, the game could run well on low-end hardware, and it launched at a fair price for Polish gamers during a time when games were a far from affordable.

Almost every interview for The Witcher games at some point mentions the Gothic series. In a 2007 IGN interview, The Witcher chief designer Michal Madej explained that the design of the studio’s RPG series is directly inspired by Gothic’s deep role-playing elements. Unlike other RPGs of the time that watered down their RPG complexity—namely Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion—The Witcher aimed to match Gothic’s density.

“Gothic despite it was open-ended, still it was story driven. Oblivion was not story driven at all,” the Witcher designer said. “I didn't like Oblivion at all. [CD Projekt] had to play the game, we had to find what was, why the game was so popular.”

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In the 17 years since, Gothic has continued to pop up in discussions with CD Projekt Red. A 2017 article on PCGamer asked The Witcher 3 developers to name their favorite PC games of all time. Expectedly, narrative director Tomaskzkiewicz immediately cited Gothic II as the all-time favorite PC game.

“It's one of my first RPG games, and one of most the immersive RPGs I played,” they said. “I remember that I was very surprised how every NPC had their own place in the world; how they reacted to various player actions like entering their houses, taking their things, or even just unsheathing your weapon in front of them. This, plus the right combination of immersive gameplay systems, made the world feel alive and believable—you wouldn’t just enter a UI-based crafting panel and craft a sword like you do nowadays, you would heat up the metal first, then form it on an anvil, then heat it in bucket of water, and later sharpen it on a grindstone."

While Halo: Combat Evolved and Call of Duty shaped the minds of American gamers, Gothic did so for Eastern Europe. In fact, 19 years after the release of Gothic 2, a large group of fans banded together to create The Chronicles Of Myrtana: Archolos, a full-length RPG total conversion mod for Gothic II with its own world, story, gameplay and hundreds of hours of content all available for free.

While its developer Piranha Bytes is no longer with us, Gothic’s legacy lives on, especially in Poland. There are entire Polish YouTube channels dedicated to the game, there are political memes created in the RPG, and there are still active LARPing groups where people dress up as characters from the series to this day.

Gothic may not have taken off in America or the UK, it didn’t shape online multiplayer in the way Halo 2 did back in 2004, but its reach has fundamentally changed the gaming landscape. Without Gothic, we probably wouldn’t have The Witcher games, which means we wouldn’t have a sexy Henry Cavil as Netflix’s Geralt. Without Gothic, we wouldn’t have STALKER.

The legacy of Gothic is still alive to this day with the original game still available on GOG and Steam. A remake of the first game is also in the works, albeit from a new developer, but it doesn’t look like the remake fans have been craving. Oh well, at least the original is still around.

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