Piranha Bytes - Story Tellers of the RPG

Most Americans have never heard of Piranha Bytes. Even the best and most addicted gamers that I know have never played their games. But Piranha Bytes has created some of the best RPG games for the PC that I have ever played. And, I have played a whole lot of them. What makes them so special? PB has always focused their game development on telling a story. The story may change with your actions and choices, but the story is still the focus. The characters are brought to life with every line of dialogue spoken by excellent, often very funny, actors. You always assume the role of an unknown antithesis, a move hated by many US players who long for escapism, which is necessary to focus the tone of the games. You are not bound to a set path, you can be as noble or as despicable as you want. You are not necessarily the hero, just the agent of change.

Piranha Bytes first game was Gothic. I bought this at a local electronics store after looking through the discount game bin. The packaging wasn't great, but claimed to offer a unique experience for the gamer. I admit, it took a little while to get used to the games controls, but once I did, it was the only way that made sense to do it. The story was excellent, the characters hilarious and dark, the world was open to explore, and exploration was almost always rewarded. After finishing the game, I had to replay it. I had to know what it was like choosing a different path from my first time. I have now replayed it three time. It was the first game I ever replayed. I was lucky, having gotten Gothic so long after it's initial release, Gothic 2 was coming out soon.

Gothic 2, and it's expansion, The Night of the Raven, took everything great about Gothic and made it better. The world was at least twice as big as Gothic 1. Characters from the first game returned as friends or foes and helped you along the way. New attributes were introduced that had only been hinted at in the first game. Playing time was two or three-fold of the first Gothic, but the story remained the key. You were immersed in a world that was in turmoil. You had to decide how you were going to help.

Gothic 3 was the most ambitious RPG that I have ever seen. The size of the world that you played in could be compared to the nearly ridiculous worlds of the MMORPGs. But every inch of the map was created by a person to add to your experience. Unlike the perpetually boring and predictable world of Oblivion, trees, streams, valleys were all placed by hand to accentuate an aspect of the game. The first time that I saw the desert was unforgettable. There were hundreds of missions, many different factions, artifacts to collect, Kings to topple, it had it all. But, alas, it was never finished. Some stories missed endings, trees floated above the ground, skills were never implemented, and some of the main components of the storyline seemed incomplete. PB had been rushed and their producer, JoWood, took all of the rights to the Gothic franchise away from them and had third-party and community-based organizations attempt to finish the game with patches long after it's release. I only wish the Piranha Bytes had been giving the proper time and resources to finish it. This game had all of the potential, including the single best sound track for a game that I have ever heard. In fact, it had a better sound track than most movies! 

After losing the rights to the Gothic name, Piranha Bytes released a new game called Risen. Risen stills follows the tried and true formula of open game play and moral ambiguity, but the story is still the focus. Risen was much smaller and shorter than Gothic 3, and was more reminiscent of Gothic 2 (without the add-on) which makes me hope that an add-on is in the works. Risen allowed you to completely focus your character's abilities on just one or two particular style of fighting. The game was not long enough for you to max out everything. It was an extremely fun game, but did leave me wanting a little more.

I have read many of the reviews of Piranha Bytes games by US companies and I have to say that most of them really missed the point. Many found issue with the accents of the actors, which added a level of humor to the games. Many thought that the games were too hard. For some reason Piranha Bytes has received award after award all across Europe, but the US market just doesn't seem to get them. If your in need of a real role-playing-game, check out the Gothic series and Risen. Of course, Gothic 1 & 2 may be a bit dated in the graphics department, but the games still shine as wonderful, original creations.

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