Monday, November 14, 2011

Bioware Games

Hagu asked about Bioware games, for people who haven't played any of Bioware's previous games.

First, if you haven't played any Bioware games, go out and buy Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. They are amazing games, showcasing Bioware at its peak.

Strengths

Bioware games are Roleplaying Games. You build a main character, take her out into a world, and follow a storyline until the end. The main character gains experience and levels as you go through the game.

The main difference between Bioware games and the current crop of MMOs are Conversations. Whenever you talk to an NPC, it starts a conversation where the NPC says a line, and you choose a response from a given menu of options. The responses can cause the conversation to go in different directions and result in different outcomes.

Conversations are a huge part of Bioware games. It's quite possible that you spend more time talking to various people than actually fighting. Though there's quite a bit of fighting too.

The thing is that Bioware uses the conversation trees to deliver powerful storylines. In some respects it's closer to interactive movies than traditional games.

The next major component of Bioware games are Companions. In Bioware games, you don't just control your main character, you control a small party of characters. You can directly control your companions in combat, but usually they have some AI and you let that run, only intervening when you need to.

Your companions are very detailed NPCs. They usually have a backstory. You have to engage in conversations with them to reveal their background, and usually end up with special quests to give them closure over their own story.  Usually you can also set up a romance between your character and one or more Companions.

Your companions also interact with the world, adding commentary and participating in conversations.

The third component of Bioware games is usually some form of Moral Choice. Very often the game will offer choices--especially in conversations--between good and evil, between Light and Dark, between Paragon and Renegade. The path you pick changes the reaction of your companions to you, changes the outcome of quests, and can change the ending of the game as well.

So those are main strengths of Bioware games: Conversations, Companions and Choice. Bioware combines those three elements in a beautiful way.

Weaknesses

The main weakness of Bioware games, in my view, are the actual game mechanics. Very often they're overly complicated, somewhat unbalanced, often non-intuitive, and don't really "play" well. They're not outright bad though, and as it's a single player game it doesn't really matter if the mechanics are the best or even balanced.

As well, because companions do play a large part in combat, there's often significant effort in making sure they play properly instead of say, blowing all the mana they have on weak DPS spells when you'd prefer them to save it for healing.

In my experience, you play Bioware games for the stories, and not because combat is amazingly fun or challenging. Some people do like it, because very often you can pause and micromanage your party for extreme effect, and it's fun figuring out the very powerful stuff.

Most of the time I just set the difficulty to easy, and savor the story line.

I do have to say that I actually really liked the way Mass Effect 2 played. Though possibly that was mostly because the AI was finally somewhat competent, so I could let Garrus and Miranda take care of stuff while I sniped (boom, headshot, never gets old) to my heart's content.

So those are the strengths and weaknesses of Bioware games, as I see it. I do strongly recommend their games though, especially the Mass Effect series. That series is science fiction, and not the typical fantasy story. I am greatly looking forward to Mass Effect 3.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nah, if you don't know Bioware games, leave Mass alone and rather check Baldur's Gate (especially 2nd part). This shows theirs best in my opinion - before all that trying with light/dark side or some weired mechanics, just some simple AD&D.

Redbeard said...

I agree with Anonymous. That's where Bioware cut their teeth, and they deserve credit for reviving the CRPG format in the late 90s with Baldur's Gate 1/2 and Black Isle's Planescape: Torment.

Bearsome said...

Baldur's Gate 2 was an epic game (unfortunately never played 1). It had amazing story, characters, and good ol' D&D combat. Dragon Age: Origins was pretty good too, though its sequel was horrible (by their standards). I love Mass Effect 1 & 2, but as Rohan mentioned, more for its story telling than the combat.

I have a feeling Old Republic will be pretty much like a single player RPG except you can group together for some "dungeons" and quests. Probably with good story and characters. And I expect Bioware to go on a wild class-balancing roller coaster once the game gets released and everyone will criticize about how Bioware has no clue. Blizzard is an excellent company that has far more experience in balancing multiplayer games (for different genres, I know), but even they still strive to find the right formula for WOW years after release. To be fair though, balance is not attainable since people's expectations and game's content evolve all the time.

Green Armadillo said...

I'm not in the Bioware fan club myself - when I tried Dragon Age, I found that the gameplay was something I tolerated to try and get more of the story. This got old.

Rohan said...

@Green Armadillo, that's exactly it! You tolerate the gameplay in order to get at the story.

Give Mass Effect a shot, though. It's a lot simpler than Dragon Age, gameplay-wise. That allows you to focus mostly on the story.

Anonymous said...

I remember Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment. Both were briliant games, especially Planescape. I really should dig out the old Planescape and see if I can get it playing on my PC again...

thadeshammer said...

I'd never recommend Baldur's Gate to anybody. Don't get me wrong, it's a great game...but it's very behind the times. Introduce newcomers to Mass Effect. Once they love it, feed them BG.

Mass Effect is one of the best games I've ever played; it may be my favorite. Commander Shepard for president.

WoW Echoes said...

Baldur's Gate made a huge impression on me 10 years ago. It introduced me to the RPG genre and never really played any other type of game since. Anybody has played Warhammer online?