BioWare – a studio that has helped define the RPG genre, with several game engines and innovative takes on… what at the time was becoming a stale genre. It’s a studio that I follow closely – becoming one of my all-time favourites. The games they have developed have become a part of me, allowing me hours of entertainment. In fact if I ever got the chance to meet the teams that form BioWare it would turn into a Wayne’s World moment… down on my knees screaming “I’m not worthy.”
But where did this all begin? Where did they come from and more importantly when did they begin to become a central part of my gaming experiences? Still reading? Then grab a beer or a cup of cocoa and let the story unfold…
BioWare were founded in 1995, with their first game being released just over a year later – Shattered Steel on PC & Mac. It was a mech simulator, with you controlling ‘Planet Runners.’ If I’m honest this game never appeared on my radar; it wasn’t until many years later that I would begin watching everything to do with BioWare a little more closely. The year was 2003 and a friend of mine handed me a game, uttering the words “Paul you have got to play this, this is one of the best RPG’s I have ever played.” The box was handed to me and I began to install Neverwinter Nights. Oh my God! The new 3D engine that BioWare had developed (Aurora Engine) blew me away. The real time shadows and lighting were just breath taking. The story enveloped me, taking me far away on a quest to defeat the bad guys, stopping a plague from destroying the city. The character creation page was also a light being switched on, it felt so diverse – allowing me to create a character in so much depth that it literally took my breath away! Hours of my time got soaked up within this game, for me at the time this was THE perfect RPG.
I was still naïve at the time though. I didn’t realise until much later that BioWare had also developed the legendary Baldur’s Gate II; another RPG that had received critical acclaim, a game that was based on the Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition rule sets. Metacritic has it listed as the 6th highest scoring PC game of all time. It won several rewards and received high praise, with one reviewer citing it as “hall of fame material.” BioWare, with Baldur’s Gate II and NeverWinter Nights, had made a massive impact within the industry, going from strength to strength. Then their next game appeared; a game, which will always stay with me. A game that is one of my all-time favourites, with what I would say one of the best stories ever told!
A game that appeared and helped define the Xbox, that was also released on the PC and Mac… Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. It appeared like a bolt out of the blue. I wasn’t watching games as closely as I do now. I remember seeing the first TV trailer for it; the Lightsabers clashing on screen, bigger than life characters, and a story that seemed to include the Sith. I screamed with joy! I had to play this game, and I needed to play it ASAP. Set 4,000 years before the Phantom Menace, BioWare had really managed to capture the essence of the Star Wars Universe. Everything about the game oozed quality – the voice acting was some of the best I had ever witnessed.
The score was just amazing, and the story literally blew my mind. BioWare had come up trumps once more; showcasing their talents for story telling, making a game mesmerising in every way possible. Oh and the twist at the end… wow … it was one my most memorable moments! Never before had a game’s story truly managed to throw me. Leaving me there mouth open! Trying to take in and comprehend the events that had just unfolded, before my very eyes! For me this was the best Star Wars game ever made, it still is to be fair. No other studio has managed to create such a grand story within the Universe. Critics seemed to agree with me: KOTOR received excellent reviews and won quite a few of the Game Of The Year awards from several websites and publications at the time.
For me BioWare were becoming one of the best at RPGs and in 2005 they cemented this position with a new game – Jade Empire. Set in an original world influenced by ancient China; an RPG that combined Martial Arts with a grand story. Along the way you were able to develop and learn new fighting styles, and for the first time for me combat was in real time, not turn based! You controlled the attacks and dodges making for some great battles The atmosphere of the game was just unbelievable, once more pushing the boundaries of what I had come to expect onto a new level of perception. The characters were easy to fall in love with, the combat was fast and had an easy flow to it, making it easy to master – allowing the game to flow that much easier. It received a very warm reception from critics, scoring an average of 89% on metacritic. It was also included in the book ’1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die’. A sequel has yet to appear for this game, but by gum… it’s one sequel that I’ve always wanted to see.
Astounded by the developer I then waited patiently to see what other tricks they had up their sleeves. They helped take the humble RPG into a new direction, creating stories that have remained with me ever since. Then in 2007 I saw their latest game; one that would create quite arguably the greatest science fiction series we have ever seen or played. Enter Mass Effect – a trilogy of games that has created such a vast universe that there has been comics and books written to follow it. Characters that have become bigger and better with each outing and a story arc that for me was just as epic as Star Wars! I can’t think of a franchise that has quite gained my loyal following in the gaming industry, one that has made me shout in frustration with certain events and then at others I’ve had tear rolling down my cheek. Shepard is in my own humble opinion the Luke Skywalker of the gaming world.
In between the Mass Effect games BioWare returned to their fantasy roots – inviting us to become a part of the Dragon Age! A game that many have called “the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate.” BioWare gave us a new land to explore, new heroes to fall in love with and more importantly Dragons to battle. Origins was an amazing game, one that offered hours of gameplay. Dragon Age II, although lacking in a few parts, was also a great game.
BioWare helped bring me back into the RPG fold. BioWare showed me that a great story can be told through gaming, one that can shock you, one that can move you. They are a studio that seems to go from strength to strength, and I seriously can’t wait to see what other stories they have in store for us…