(spoilers: Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age, Dragon Age 2)
Seeing as I have no money to actually buy video games coupled with the fact that Verizon's idea of "high speed internet" is 500kb/s , which means won't be able to [s]pirate [/s]wait patiently for a Steam sale, I've decided to begin my "Most Overrated" series where I take the things you all know and love and shit on them for no apparent reason. In keeping with the spirit of my blog, these posts will carry on my tradition of crippling negativity and hopelessness. I will begin this series with two posts; the one you are reading now, outlining everything I despise about the hype surrounding Bioware, followed by another post with a surprise topic, Bioshock Infinite (Oh yeah. Surprise!). So with Dragon Age 3 revealing more information, I figured I should remind everyone that if the prospect of another Dragon Age game gets you excited than you may qualify for disability.
I've never quite understood the reason Bioware carries a sort of seal of quality behind its name. If this was the mid 2000s or late 90s and the Bioware brand was still benefiting from the hype it's received from the KOTOR and Baulders Gates series, I could understand the trust that consumers put into the brand. However, in recent years we have seen the gradual, spiraling decay of talent coming out of the Bioware studios with the development of Dragon Age 2 and the complete fumbling of the Mass Effect series (And by the way, the ending wasn't even close to the only narrative issue) along with the revealed details about a new Mass Effect game, were starting to see the EA cycle work it's why into the once decent game developer. I hope you're ready for a Mass Effect: The Strategy Game, Mass Effect: The MMO and Mass Effect: The Dating Simulator (Joke's on them, Mass Effect is already a dating simulator).
Since Bioware loves stories so much allow me to tell you a tale. It's the story of a game developer who squandered RPGers trust and would prefer to talk more about their anti-marriage stance than actually addressing the issues that permeate throughout their games. It's the story of a studio who's arrogance alienated fans and destroyed beloved franchises. This is the story of Bioware.
Game play innovations, or lack thereof.
During the 90s, video games saw the largest amount of innovation since it's conception. The first RTS, the first FPS, the first grand strategy; all appeared in this relatively short time and continued until the mid 2000s when video games began seeing a stagnation of gameplay innovation that ultimately lead to modern gaming where the majority of major E3 reveals are sequels and rehashes.
And in this regard, Bioware has done little to alleviate the stagnation. Arguably, Dragon Age: Origins was one of the few innovative titles in terms of game play in recent years. The mix of action and strategy harkened back to games like Baulders Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. And yet despite the incredible reception to Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware and EA were not content to play by different rules; they weren't satisfied with having a game that didn't take the mechanics of another series and just replace the art assets and slap on a story. They instead chose the 'broader audience' approach and showed RPG fans that they're more concerned with how flashy they can make the combat look than they are to developing interesting game play that engages the player.
Dragon Age 2 was a cruel joke in terms of game play, a $60 dollar prank. The pitiful amount of challenge it offered only varied by its artificial difficulty where turning up the game from easy to hard simply increased health amount and damage done by the enemy AI. Rather than forcing you to approach situations depending on the positioning of the enemy and anticipating powerful enemies ability, you can simply wade into the fray without having the worry about your companions dying simply because the new equipment system of Dragon Age 2 had been so striped down that throwing on some basic armor and a ring or two would be enough to support your entire party of 3. And this is what Bioware wanted. They didn't want new players to have to concern themselves with carefully selecting companion gear. They instead tried to compromised by leaving a few ring slots that don't really mean anything while shifting all the focus on to Hawke and how 'uber' they can make him look.
Mass Effect, while better, was a marginable improvement. To its credit, the first Mass Effect had an extensive inventory system, unfortunately after the player reached a certain point in the game, the weapons became vastly superior to the enemies and hindered the challenge greatly. Regardless, there were spots where the player had to genuinely strategize. And then came Mass Effect 2, by far Biowares easiest game to date. Jumping from cover to cover to engaged enemies until your shield went down, ducked into cover until it recharged and repeated until everything was dead. Even the giant robot fetus at the end offered a meager amount of difficulty. The biggest mistake Bioware has made with the Mass Effect series was focusing so much on cover shooting. This isn't fun, Bioware. It isn't fun to hid behind a wall and pop out for half a second before diving behind cover again. And it doesn't get better in Mass Effect 3. The entire game is just a slow progression of diving behind conveniently placed walls and boxes.
Baulders Gate and KOTOR were by no means the pinnacle of great game play but it at least had some semblance of strategy. But today, Bioware is more concerned with emulating more successful games and slapping their own story over it while parading it around as original.
Are we ready to admit that Bioware stories aren't that great?
Yes, it's true, the one facet that Bioware claims dominance over is one of their weakest points. In fairness, Bioware does a good job at writing some characters (SOME, as in not Fenris and his angsty bullshit) and even then they tend to fit into an archetype that is shared across many Bioware games. The 'tough' character (Jack, Aveline, ), the mysterious character (Fenris, Thane), the 'witty' character (Isabella, Garrus), the 'cutesy' character (Merrill, Liara, Kasumi, Tali), the wise character (Samara, Wynne) and of course the boring characters no one cares about like Kaiden, Jacob, Anders (Yeah, thanks for ruining a perfectly good character, Bioware), really anyone who wasn't previously mentioned probably isn't worth mentioning with the exception of Legion who manages to not fit into an overexploited archetype.
As far as main plots go you can almost always (and I'm tempted to just say always) boil them down to 'ancient evil'. These are antagonists who border Saturday morning cartoon villain status, complete with illogical plots and lack of motivation. Mass Effect , for instance, tries to explain The Reapers motivation in a grand total of about 5 seconds. Essentially, The Reapers want to destroy humanity because humanity will eventually create Reapers that will destroy humanity, so in order to stop humanity from destroying humanity, the Reapers destroy humanity. I think the only missing plot device in this arc of a story is how much Bath Salt the writers injected their neck to come up with this shit.
I can thankfully say that Dragon Age 2 does not suffer from a convoluted main plot, not because the writing in Dragon Age 2 is good but because Dragon Age 2 has no main plot to begin with. I played that game twice and still can't figure out a single reason Hawke should even exist never mind be the protagonist of a story that spans 10 years. The most memorable part of DA2 is when you're family is escaping from the Blight and eventually you reach the city of Kirkwall. The reason this is so memorable is because it's the only part of the plot that isn't a crunchy cluster bar of nougatty fuck. Your first task is raise enough money to go on a scavenging expedition so you can raise money (I'm not even joking). And here's the fucked up part, the amount of money you get from the expedition is less than you raised to go on it in the first place. In chapter 2 something happens with the Qunari because someone stole their book or something, basically who-gives-a-shit is what happened in the second chapter. Nothing happened during that time period that matters to this non-existent story.
Eventually you get to the final boss fight where the main templar lady goes crazy and starts killing people. Why? Because fuck it that's why. Why WOULDN'T she go crazy and start killing everyone? That's what people with white hair and black armor do in Bioware games. After some more boring, uneventful stuff happens, Anders goes crazy, blow up a Chruch and declares Jihad against the Templars. Let me explain how bad this plot line has been. Bioware could have taken literally everything out of the game and left only the last 30 minutes in and it would have been enough to set the scene for the 3rd installment. Almost nothing in this game mattered. I never felt like my character progressed, the story meant nothing and the entire game was just a vapid build-up to Anders destroying a temple. And not to mention, the temple itself had maybe a dozen people in it and Bioware wants us to believe that would be enough to spark a world war between mages and templars?
Bioware used to create above-average stories like Baulders Gate (Of course this was back when they worked with Black Isle, a vastly superior studio), but even then they were overshadowed by games like Planescape and Fallout. They can make interesting worlds but they lack the resolve to give me a reason to progress through those worlds.
Don't like our game? What are you, a homophobe?
There are plenty of game companies, and companies in general, that support gay marriage. I would go as far as to say they majority of gamers also take this stance. But the fervency that Bioware takes with their pro-gay message in on a level I haven't seen in a company.
I would have no issue with this if it weren't for EAs obnoxious insistence that the reason gamers attack Bioware products is because of homophobia. I wish this was an exaggeration but a few months ago EA brazenly stated that a large portion of people who attacked the company were bitter homophobes. Keep in mind this is coming from a company that staged fake protests in order to promote their games and then have the balls to act insulted. There's also that little incident of EA forging digital signatures for their gay marriage petitions. I've never seen any other company so quickly use misogyny and homophobia as a defense against criticism. When Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware, was attacked (in a lot of cases unfairly) one of her infamous Twitter post accused attackers of being jealous that she has "both a vagina AND a games industry job".
Bioware has been keen to use gay people and women if it means being able to worm their way out of criticism. In terms of activism, I have no issue with someone being pro-gay marriage, but to EA and Bioware these are just PR tools that lets them use gay people as mops to clean up their mess.
They're just assholes.
Ultimately, this all accumulates to Bioware developers just being absolute, unadulterated douche-canoes. Whether it's telling a fan to "Deal with it" because they complained about the hair not having proper physics or calling your entire forums "Toxic", Bioware developers and moderators never fail to take their place as part of a small elite who can proudly claim that they are among the biggest assholes in the industry.
It's a shame, I used to be a Bioware fan. Now they've been warped to the point where they're my most hated developer of my most hated publisher.
Oh well, at least David Gaider was kind enough to explain the stages of denial I was feeling before I came to terms with the fact that they've turned into an irredeemable trough of mediocrity.
Only at the end of this post do I realize I didn't even mention SWTOR or the blatantly paid reviews of Dragon Age 2 (Dragon Age 2 is what video games are meant to be. Right, Escapist? RIGHT?). But it's probably for your benefit, I could write pages dedicated to dissecting those monstrosities.