Is Bioware Losing It’s Edge?

Over the years, Bioware has been lauded as one of the best developers out there. But, lately they seem to have lost both their high standards and their loyal fan base.

dragon-age
Bioware’s Dragon Age

Considered to be one of the best RPGs from quite possibly the best RPG developer in the world: Bioware. It took a long time coming, but the wait was well worth it. Superb story telling, a gruesome and compelling world, good tactical combat and high production values made for a game which is considered by many to be an absolute masterpiece.

In my opinion, any game which can give Demons souls competition for RPG of the year has to be good. And it was; in spades actually. It was released in 2009 and became one of the best selling games ever for Bioware, selling well over 4 million copies. The same developer who, in addition to Dragon Age, has made some of the best games ever such as Mass Effect and Baldur’s Gate, is now looked upon with a lesser degree of respect. Not that they’ve lost a sizeable chunk of their fan base or anything like that. But, some critical decisions on their part have really let the gamers down, for good reasons. Lets take a look at some of the reasons for this.

dragon-age-2 screenshot
Bioware’s Dragon Age 2

‘Nuff said. If anyone has played this game, then they need no further explanation. It’s not a bad game, not by a long shot. The combat has been refined to make it more action oriented. The graphics have received an overhaul. The story is stellar with lots of twists and turns. And for a change, it’s actually morally ambiguous to an extent, which is surprising given Bioware’s record of making choices polarising. The removal of this light and dark side makes the game a much more enjoyable experience. Overall, I can definitely say that if this were a new game and not a sequel, it would definitely have been praised by everyone. Just because it’s a sequel, it disappoints me.

Bioware have analysed some aspects of the first game and made them better. But, every other part about the game has been bogged down from it’s predecessor. For starters, 90% of the game takes place in a single city. Even though there are a lot of places to explore with quite a few interesting characters, still when you spend hours at a time in the same uninspired environments, you will get bored.

The story takes place over a long period of time. But, the city remains exactly the same. All NPC’s are in the exact same location all the time and the auto-spawning enemies can also be found at the same place. Character conversation trees remain almost the same and it feels as if you were talking with them 5 minutes ago even though you might have triggered a new chapter in the game.

The combat suffers a similar downgrade. Even though it has been refined to make it more action oriented, it only ends up being more accessible and not more enjoyable. See, accessibility is important, but not at the cost of it losing it’s identity. The Combat in Dragon Age: Origins was challenging and really made the player think before entering into a fight. The isometric view added a layer of strategy to the game, which made the fights ever so satisfying. Even though an isometric view has been implemented in DA2, it’s more like an afterthought than a strategic tool. The fights are easy enough to not care about actually using all the tools at your disposal, which really takes away the fun for me. ┬áIt’s like they never heard the phrase, “why change it if it isn’t broke?”.

Another gripe I have with this game is that it has totally lost the sense of scale put forward by the first game. I mean, Origins was really about Dragons. It did not merely have dragons just to justify the name. The game actually built it’s story around them. And the eventual threat that they posed really made the game feel epic. Dragon Age 2 just feels like an interesting story in an artificial world. Come to think about it, this story might have worked with any other setting. It does not need the dragon age name related to it. I can very well understand them trying to do something different with the game. But, that does not mean that it should lose it’s connection with the rest of the game world. It would have made a good expansion to the original as a sequel, it’s totally out of place and context.

star-wars old republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic

Alright, let me make this clear. I’m a huge fan of MMO’s. Games like WOW and perfect world have really made my friends believe that i’m agoraphobic, something which I really regret. But, I can’t help it. And I really couldn’t be happier with a Star Wars MMO in the works. It has all the makings of a WOW killer and might actually make Blizzard take notice and try to do something different. But, even here I think Bioware has made a critical error of making it PC only. I mean, it’s a known fact that MMO’s are hugely popular on the PC and haven’t proven to have that big of a market on the consoles. If there is any MMO that ever has the chance of being successful on a console, it’s TOR and for good reason.

Bioware won a lot of fans with the release of the Old Republic 1 and 2. These are some of the best RPGs we are talking about, and they have a massive massive fanbase. So, when Bioware declared a PC only star wars game, it created an outrage among the console gamers. Plus, Bioware calming that the old republic is KOTOR 3, 4,5 and 6 did not make things better either. Hence, they have alienated a huge chunk of their fan base and have certainly lost a lot of fans in doing so. Having said this, let me tell you that am totally a PC gamer who also loves his Ps3(although not as much the PC). So I will be enjoying most of the games made by Bioware, but I do feel sorry for people who can’t.

bioware dumps playstation
Image via [Ripten]
It’s because of all these reasons, that I feel that Bioware is losing it’s edge in the genre. It’s not just about making good games, it’s about catering to your fan base and making games for them. When people started complaining about the lack of features in DA2, Bioware said that since the console version of origins sold more, hence they made a game which catered to them more. But, in doing so, they’re implying that console oriented games are stripped down versions of their PC counterparts, which is totally not the case. And this was proved by the reception for DA2 by console gamers, which was not exactly a good one. Console gamers can also enjoy hardcore games. Heck, look at Demons souls. It’s as hardcore as they come and look what status it has achieved in the gaming world.

The main difference between a PC and a console is the platform, not a change in the manner in which people perceive games. And Bioware doesn’t seem to realise that. But, does that mean we should lose faith in them? NO! Not at all. With the imminent release of mass effect 3(which is looking better than ever), am sure they will bounce back to the top spot. But, the important thing is the lesson to be learnt. And I hope they have learnt it, for their own sake.

So what do you people feel? Am I making sense? Feel free to comment and let everyone know.