These past few years haven’t been easy for Bioware. A company that was once proud of its achievements is now reduced to a shell of its former self. Messy releases, buggy patches, and abysmal microtransactions. These are just some of the things that plagued this once beloved studio. The general concern is how much more Bioware is willing to push out these misshapes. Will it eventually result in a rebirth of the glory days, or in its inevitable demise? The studio is currently on a thin line, and one small push can lead towards one of these endings.
Best known for their role-playing video games, Bioware managed to impress many with its simple yet engaging gameplay and fascinating narratives. Games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter Nights placed the studio on the map and ensured that they would proceed to deliver some really imaginative titles in the upcoming years. This was the supposed golden age of RPG games, but what was about to come was even more stunning. Initially relying on licensed properties, namely the Forgotten Realms and Star Wars universes, the studio wanted to do creative and original ideas.
In 2005, Bioware released the now criminally underrated Jade Empire, which I recently got a chance to replay. While I can’t defend some of the design choices for the game, I can praise its engaging story and characters. Based on Chinese Mythology, the narrative follows a Spirit Monk on a quest to unravel the truth behind his kidnapped master. Shifting between traditional RPG mechanics and real-time combat, it was both unique and familiar to even the seasoned veterans of RPGs.
The morality system from Star Wars KOTOR would make a return and would be included as a staple for all their future games. Despite its success, it still didn’t manage to sell enough for a sequel. But it did open the pathway to similar projects and gave us two franchises that dominated half of the decade.
Fantasy and Space
Inspired by the likes of their previous space saga, the studio went boldly where no man has gone before. A well-crafted space opera that resonated with both video game aficionados and sci-fi enthusiasts was the primary goal. People, in general, have always been fascinated by stars and galaxies, a new frontier. And while we still couldn’t tread on other planets in real life, video games made that possible. Mass Effect was released in 2007 to universal acclaim. The first chapter in a supposed trilogy gave a new meaning to space-themed games. This was also the time when Bioware was purchased under a different banner. A studio that it stuck with even to this day, Electronic Arts.
However, fantasy was always a stronger side of Bioware, and with Dragon Age, they achieved what they set out to do. Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, but with its own original setting and cast of characters, it made for an epic role-playing adventure. Although not intended as a chapter like Mass Effect, it still produced two more sequels, both praised for their story and gameplay. These two franchise giants managed to set a standard for future releases to come from other developers. No matter what studio developed and published it, every RPG needed to resemble Bioware’s.
A Crack in Brilliance
With such brilliance comes a price and the chance to lose the crown. Mass Effect 3 shook everybody with its ending. No longer was the player able to craft their own path based on decisions. Instead, they were given three color pallets that decided the epilogue. The fans went into an uproar, and this was the first time they screwed their audience. An Extended Cut needed to be released to patch up the issues, and while it did manage to fix most of them, the damage was already done. However, Dragon Age Inquisition in 2014 did win the gaming community back. It eased the hearts of many for what was about to come.
The biggest thing the company’s space saga took was its founding members. In 2012 Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, upon completion of the Mass Effect Trilogy, retired from the gaming industry. The company lost its most valuable assets, which would plunge it into a dark age. To calm the masses, EA ensured that the quality of their upcoming titles will meet expectations. Mass Effect Andromeda is what happens when corporate greed interferes with the process of development. Delays, bugs, and horrible facial animations and acting made for a truly awful experience. The bland story didn’t help it either and forever scarred the franchise beyond redemption.
An excuse, that most of the development shifted towards a new fresh project. An easy way to put everything under the rug and hope for the best. Which brings us to this year and the release of Anthem. A new IP meant to breath new life into the studio. Instead of a new innovative title that would push the boundaries, we got a subpar game filled with bad design choices and tons of microtransactions. Although it got mixed reviews, it tarnished the face of a beloved company and gave its publisher a chance to bury it. With only two releases, Bioware managed to stain a reputation they were building throughout a decade.
Potential Rise or Fall?
So the big question is, what next? Over the past decade, Electronic Arts has been deemed the biggest industry killer for a reason. Responsible for capping-off some of the best development studios of the previous decade. Visceral, Pandemic, Westwood, Maxis Studio all shutdown under EA’s orders. It seems the time for Bioware is drawing close, yet the developers are eager to push out one final product. Dragon Age: The Dread Wolf Rises is the last chance for the studio to make a profit enough to please their publisher, however, it isn’t the only one.
Rumors of a new Mass Effect game are surfacing around social media, a perfect opportunity to undo their past mistakes with Andromeda. There have also been rumors of a possible Jade Empire Remaster, and a chance to revisit the franchise. As someone who grew up playing Bioware RPG’s, I have to admit that I feel heartbroken with their recent releases. Devoid of all creativity, engaging characters and plots, make them simple unappealing to me. I do hope that with their upcoming entries they once again reemerge from their black hole. If not, they should accept their fate and gracefully bow down one last time.