Sunday, January 2, 2011

Celebrated Mediocrity - Bioware

Many a random dude would suggest JRPGs are far too similar, and the way Bioware and Bethesda make their games is extremely far ahead of the curve. Now, Bethesda actually has relatively unique games and is somewhat free from criticism, but Bioware has the same issue that JRPGs have while never making a truly great game. Bioware became popular following the release of Knights of the Old Republic, which I have heard a variety of people say is their favorite game of all time. KotOR is a good game but it is important to note the distinction between good and great, in fact if it wasn't Star Wars I'm sure no one would ascribe such greatness to it.

Consulting our handy dandy Cliche Chart we discover that every other Bioware game has almost the exact same plot as KotOR as well. Bioware did have its hands on Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment, which I have also heard exceeding amounts of praise for, unfortunately I think those are both simply "the good ol' days" type of praise that Ocarina of Time and a variety of other good games get. But following KotOR every Bioware game feels exactly the same, the combat may change but the generally easy gameplay continues. The hard difficulty setting may start out hard but it gets very easy very quickly, as once you get more powerful everything does not scale appropriately. Mass Effect seems to follow this pattern as well, I can't imagine Dragon Age differs much but I'll try it anyway.

The dichotomous moral choice system as "Good vs. Evil" is also often used by Bioware and many other American RPGs, but unfortunately only having 2 choices rather severely limits the result. This is supposed to be the "role-playing" part of the game that oh so many people argue about but it merely served to make the Protagonist emotionless and useless most of the time (though this has been mildly fixed lately). A protagonist fully under the player's control is not very interesting, and just because "RPG" is a catch all term people seem to think that JRPGs are evil for not having much choice in them.

But choosing between Satan and Jesus with no inbetween is not exactly interesting. Murdering everyone may be fun but it's not like a Bethesda game where literally anyone can be slaughtered with glee, only scripted events lead to particular characters' downfall. Figuring out how to be good may be slightly more intriguing but it is still simply following a slightly different path to often the same result. This also limits the endings of these games to a few short scenes instead of an epic climax. While many RPGs, Japanese and American, fail at successfully making the final boss intriguing, there are some that do not, Bioware does not seem to have the capacity to achieve it though.

Bioware is a successful corporation at this point that feeds on it's reputation as a fantastic developer while still being relatively mediocre. If they took risks and greatly enhanced each game they made after KotOR instead of making something very similar perhaps they would be as good as people say. Unfortunately they have not and continue to progress on the "corporately secure" path which ensures a boring future for all. They also have control over the next major MMO launch, which is sure to not touch WoW at all, but while they may or may not have any control over the MMO's success it is sure to be extremely conservative and far from the greatest game ever made.

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