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.

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.  It’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.

  • Dirk

    I think you’re reading too much into nothing. Bioware makes games I want to play. When they start to disappoint me with games I don’t want to play then I will revisit the issue and spend my money elsewhere.

  • SeventyStoneStout

    KOTOR2 was not developed by Bioware, Obsidian Entertainment developed KOTOR2. Has the writer even played KOTOR 1 and 2? If he did then he wouldn’t say something like this. Really? SWTOR MMO for consoles? I’d love for you to explain how one will go about managing all the abilities with controller while playing. There is a reason why most MMO’s fail for consoles. RTS games on consoles next? I hope they don’t try that again!

    • rahul

      Well there are quite a few MMO’s already out on consoles. Free realms for example. Also all FFIV. And there are many that are already being planned. Most MMO’s don’t fail for consoles because they’re not possible to be made. Its cause theres not much of a market for them on consoles. My point is that TOR will still be successful will be successful on consoles because its star wars afterall

      • GuyFawkes

        So you’re saying Star Wars Kinect is going to be a success?

        • rahul

          That basically depends on what type of game is being made. A game like Star Wars – Adventures of the uninspired slave hunters will likely not be successful, but something related to the jedi and sith, if portrayed in a realistic and believable world can be successful. And if Star Wars Kinect is a good game, then it might cash in.

          • GuyFawkes

            Did you see the E3 demonstration? lulz, it looked terribad, but you are right, if the game is executed properly the Star Wars IP will sell itself.

  • FelVeb

    Bioware lost its touch long ago.

    Mass Effect 2, is one of the most disappointing game of this generation so far…
    I really do not understand all the awards and perfect score that the game has achieved.
    ME2 is just a bland corridor TPS… And ME3 will be just more of the same!
    COD audience will rejoice I suppose…

    No problem, I will spent my time and money for The Whitcher 2 and Skyrim!!!!

    Bye Bye Bioware

    • overlorduk

      I totally agree with you. I enjoyed ME1 alot but ME2 seemed very rushed to me. The story, which was 90% recruitment and only 5% main story, could have been good but was badly implimented because of that. The level design was terrible (especially the new Citadel) with the same few characters in the same place every time you went there. And they should have just improved the Meko side quests rather than introducing the mind numbingly boring resource scanning.

      Personally, I’m currently having much more fun with the two Witcher games than I ever had with either of the ME gaames.

  • Edito

    @FelVeb, i think you didn’t play ME2 at all cause that game is something else…

    Back on topic yeah i think BioWare loose is sight… lets see if they can overcome all with ME3.

  • GuyFawkes

    This writer is on crack.

    The platform you play on can effect the way the game plays thus changing the perception of the game. The simple fact is a controller does not have the input and control potential of a keyboard and mouse. Dragon Age Origins on PC and consoles played drastically differently due to this fact. If anyone has played both its fairly easy to see this fact. You can only do so much with a controller vs. a mouse and keyboard. A PS3 or 360 controller with 10 usable buttons and 4 directional pad buttons can’t compete with a keyboard that has over 50 keys & modifier buttons. I am not even going to start on the advantage of a mouse vs. analog sticks.

    Dragon Age Origins succeeded on consoles not because it played exactly like the PC version, because lets face it, it didn’t. It succeeded because of the dark and immersive story, difficult battles that left you with a feeling of accomplishment or frustration, take your pick. Memorable choices and characters that were well developed that made you actually hate or care about them. Lets not forget about the replay ability of the game. These core intangibles were in both the PC and console versions and made them both great despite the differences in game play.

    Unless the next generation consoles embrace and include keyboard and mouse support, certain games will forever feel stripped down and inferior to their PC counterparts. Certain games translate better from PC to consoles than others. A MMO like WOW would simply be difficult to play using a controller. With all the usable abilities, finding an efficient and effective way to use them all with a controller seems impossible. Not to mention finding a way to target individual enemies on a controller can’t be done as easily as using a mouse.

    Bioware has always made great games and I believe they will continue to in the future. Every family has a black sheep, Bioware’s black sheep is Dragon Age 2.

    • rahul

      Very nice perspective. Keep posting man

    • irottah

      Last generation consoles support mouse and keyboard just like the current gen. I think it’s the only way to play FFXI on ps2. The problem isn’t really control scheme, the problem is that it costs a lot of money to port an MMO to a console, which is a mostly untested market. Then you have to expect the console crowd to get a keyboard/mouse and a large HD if they don’t have em. SWTOR is going to be massive on a scale that no other MMO has reached, it’s probably one of the most expensive too. So it may never be worth it to port to consoles, unless it kills WoW a few times over.

  • Polo

    So Bioware has lost its edge because it made one good (but not great) game, and aren’t releasing an MMO onto a platform that you yourself said doesn’t have much of a market for MMOs?

    • rahul

      Read the title. I’m not saying that Bioware has lost its edge. Am raising the question whether it is LOSING it. Huge difference between something which is broken, and something which might be breaking

      • Polo

        Fair enough, well in that case I’d have to say no. As an aside though the title does seem like a politically correct way of saying “THE END TIMES ARE NEAR FOR BIOWARE”, but that’s just my own interpretation.

      • chewbacca

        actually you do say they are losing their edge. second to last paragraph.

  • Chirag

    Haven’t yet tried out any Bioware game. Will probably start with Mass Effect or Dragon Age

  • datdude

    Gotta laugh at those who say ME2 was garbage. They are in the minority of course, but do you notice how they seem to think their opinion is the only correct one? They are outnumbered by the millions, but they keep shouting their nonsense. I bet they believe the earth is flat too.

  • ayronamic

    My personal opinion is that BW is still rolling just fine, every company has its teaks from time to time. As for MMO, it feels differently playing it on a console, wheras the PC and its keyboard/mouse can accomplish much more. As you said, gameplay is important, something these factors improve. There’s just so much more you benefit from playing an MMO with it’s basic feats (trade chat, chat, keybinds, addons, macro, etc) that lifts it up to a new exp.

  • Aetrion

    Bitching about an MMO being released on PC only… Yeaaa, I was with this article until then, but that just made me go “Whoever wrote this doesn’t know what they are talking about”
    The extreme loss in quality between the combat between Dragon Age 1 and Dragon Age 2 is exactly what happens when you take all the complexeties of a PC game and make them console friendly, so no thanks to MMOs that are co developped for consoles.

    • Xavier

      I completely agree. I play both console games and PC games. MMOs are TERRIBLE on consoles. Leave MMOs on the PC where they belong.

  • John Snow

    Completely disagree with this article. Dragon Age 2 was pretty much a side project. It STILL made money despite the major flaws.

    Another thing, Staying on Consoles will make you lose your edge. PCs are much more advanced and preferred by anyone that plays an MMO. Oh yeah, Bioware is STABBING into the MMO genre with SWTOR. They’ve been using whetstones for a couple years and hopefully its gonna do quite well.

    I also saw Nothing about Mass Effect. Which some hate and some love. I’m a lover and its definitely among my top games. Combines a great story/choices with action-packed shooting. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t even have competition, there is no RPG that CAN match up to the series.

    If you want to talk about losing its edge, go talk about the series that slightly changes the game and slaps Call of Duty in the name. Or that other MMO that keeps coming out with expansions, but hardly anything changes now.

  • Sphinx

    This is just ridiculous. Dragon Age II had many mistakes, yes. But that’s what happens when you experiment outside of what you feel nice and safe with. Bioware’s evolving, trying out new ways to tell stories, and THAT, at the very least, is a good thing. Between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, Bioware learned much about what worked and didn’t work for the franchise and for the company as a whole.

    As for The Old Republic, saying ANYTHING about “Bioware losing its edge” with that is beyond silly. At least wait for the game to be released. Or are you already going to bash the game Bioware will bring us with more story content than every other Bioware game to date, combined?

    • Fesk

      Could someone just please tell me how you’re supposed to play an MMO, in which you’ll likely have to manage 20+ abilities, with a controller? Keep in mind that you can’t pause the game to map your character’s movements and actions, but you’ll have to do it *NOW!*

      Also, wasn’t TSL developed by Obsidian? And why all the hate on DA II? From my opinion (People seem to forget that there’s no such thing as true objectivity -.-) DA II was a good game. It wasn’t great, but it was a little above mediocre with a bunch of repetitive and uninspired caves.
      If that’s a game developer’s worst game though, then woah. Nice. I suppose there’s room for worse in the future, but as of this moment…

      Nice. Pray that TOR succeeds.

      • Fesk

        And I didn’t mean to reply to you, I pressed the wrong button :I

      • rahul

        There are MMO’s on consoles such as Free Realms and FF14. There are others too but they’re not just that popular. Thats why there’s not more of them, not because they can’t be done on consoles. They can be, but many view the effort involved pointless since there’s not much of a market

  • BenW

    I enjoyed ME2, sure the story was not great, but it was still a marvellous game. The same does not go for DA2, both the story and environment were just to poor for me to enjoy it as thoroughly as I should have.

    I think BioWare has gone a little downhill, but I don’t think it has been anything important or major. They are trying to cater to the interests of the majority, despite what you think. I personally, am looking forward to ME3 and SWTOR!

    I also cannot wait for The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and I know for a fact Bethesda will not let me down. They have always been 10 steps ahead of their competition and wayyyyyyyy ahead of their time both graphically and with the innovation of their ideas.

    Also, a tip. If you are going to continue writing threads like this, I suggest you learn to use correct grammar ans spelling. It was not terrible, but it could have been much better. Good luck.

  • Bladen

    Bioware makes awesome games. Their games are like movies where you choose what happens. ME2 and Dragon Age 2 were really great games for me. I liked everything about ME2 except for that the Mako was gone but the Hammerhead ship was cool. I liked everything about DA 2 except for the repetitive warehouses and caves but it was from ruining the game for me. I really don’t understand how anyone could not like those games but each to their own I guess.

    It would be great to play The Old Republic on consoles but it is an MMO with single player elements. I think TOR will be successful and has potential to be a WoW killer. If it was on consoles as well than it would lose any potential to be successful because console players outnumber MMO players and most of those console players have never played MMOs and they probably wouldn’t like it on consoles so TOR would loose any room to compete with WoW. Maybe someday we will get another KOTOR game set outside of The Old Republic timeline like back when the Jedi Order first started or during the 300 years between KOTOR 2 and TOR.

  • rahul

    Some of you people don’t get it really. Its not about the MMO being PC only. Even i agree that MMO’s are best played on the PC. But TOR being PC only added with the fact that bioware are calling it KOTOR 3,4 and 5 is a slap on the face for the console gamers wiating for another episode in their beloved franchise. Granted that it was on PC too but how would PC gamers feel if Dragon Age 3 was a console only exclusive. Thats the mistake they made

    • zevant

      Personally… I’d buy it no matter if it comes out on a console or the PC. Though I’m primarily a PC gamer I started out with both KOTOR games and ME1 on the console until they were released on the PC at which time I then purchased them as well. All because I love Bioware’s ability to weave a fantastic story.

    • Bladen

      I agree with Zevant. People will still buy and play it even though it is on computer. If they don’t oh well. TOR will still be a successful game even if the people who want it for console don’t buy it. Id rather them not play so I don’t have to hear them gripe about it.

  • Fin

    “The main difference between a PC and a console is the platform, not a change in the manner in which people perceive games.”

    Sure, and another difference is behind the platform, sometimes the gamer, and mostly the game developer.

    For reasons unknown Bioware started believing that their games are to complex. It’s nearly a Molyneux syndrome.

    Complexity and difficultly are not the same, so Mike’s :Change, the difficultly,’- is insulting.
    DA2 was the most boring, linear, predictable experience for everyone that ever played any other RPG except ME2, in my immediate surroundings, there is fast paced, and there is fast paced boredom.

    The story that gets defended as non-generic, well it’s not innovative, from rags to riches, from the bottom to the top, a standard event in the RPG players career.

    Laidlaw should stop meddling in the writers decisions, His English studies and background don’t make Him a creative person.
    The framed narrative was used and abused as a excellent way to take away player control and input, because this would be expensive, actual gameplay is always more expensive than cut-scenes.

    ME2 while being a great game, was a mediocre RPG with a flawed and illogical story for everyone that liked the first game, without goals, without a villain, and with a player interaction reduced to cool lines, instead of decisions to think about.
    As a shooter, the corridor linearity with predictable enemy spawns and press F to exit and see TIM’s back, well there are better shooters.
    The game was a nice time killer,turning the great soundtrack off, and observing however, shows a few things that make it just a game with lots of decent cinematics.
    I always considered their writing and storytelling predictable, but they used to know how to develop a storyline and layout a quest line that
    makes the player feel like a important part of it. Not anymore, for me, and this is like everything else subjective, even with ME2’s popularity the whole thing looks like a established believe that the player will not notice, will be happy to lose control for a few decapitations more,and maybe a few “witty” one-liners found in movies,TV shows or the Web.

    As for the PC vs Consle debate, well as a PC Gamer I’m very sure that the console users noticed the recycled environments, the loss of character control if they played DAO, the B movie flair everywhere, from dialogues to companions and decisions.

    Leaked footage’s of SWTOR are showing little to be thrilled about, and lot’s of voice work. It can go wrong if there isn’t a strong rush on the servers, the layout is showing a game that can not survive more that a few minutes without a large amount of people on screen. Any possible emptiness will completely turn off many people, something that doesn’t often happen in MMO’S, but that may be another “innovative “feature-who knows.

    “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.”

    Of course they are, according to game developers like Bioware, mostly the difficulty is toned down on consoles in games that are rich on features, problematic games, like RPG’s.

    The unfortunate fact is that opposing the poster above is more important than defending your self from developer ignorance.

    The treatment that console users are getting is coming from brand loyalty they have for their chosen platform, nothing wrong with that, but developer will always find the “better console,”and cleverly pit them against each other, they have no time to notice that the features they liked in the previous game are mysteriously gone in the sequel.

    • rahul

      I agree, to all of it. Thanks for your insightful comment!

      • Fin

        You’re welcome. Was at first confused about Your initial comment. 🙂

        So many writing coherence mistakes in my post, well I usually leave the writing to people like You.

        I liked Your view on things, there are way to many things that get ignored and hidden, the overall feeling is that in 5 years casual games will be more complex, than actual “hardcore,” games,because somehow games are trying to merge 5 genres, instead of excelling at one.

        The “Jack of all trades, master of none,”speech figure, is really showing in gaming.

        The truly excellent DAO, would have been just a few years ago a wannabe MMO, a test of the social aspects in MMO’s , and a test platform for basic management skills.
        Well, sometimes someone notices, it’s getting really rare however ,buried in Corporate fandom and
        Platform wars, or simply ignored.

        A disappointing trend, especially for those that in some cases grew up with the developer and are aware of their abilities.
        Of course times changed , development became expensive, or maybe it didn’t, but a 100 % monetary gain is not enough anymore , it must be 300-400%.

  • Kingius

    Here’s hoping that they remember that some of us love the complexity of games like Baldur’s Gate and the tactical challenges posed. I for one am returning to PC gaming and will be championing this cause wherever I can. Let the console gamers have the dumbed down version; it’s time to define what being a PC gamer is … and it isn’t simplified controls for simplified minds. We’re on a /computer/, stupid!

  • Diaz Samera

    Nice post.