Bioware is a game company that was founded in 1995 and has released dozens of games since. Originally, most of these games were released only for PC and made it hard for casual gamers to play their games. The most notable of these were the Neverwinter Nights series and Baldur’s Gate series that were based off of Dungeons and Dragons. But the game that really put them on the map, however, was the 2003 video game for the XBOX, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Taking place 4,000 years before the events of the rise of the Galactic Empire, KOTOR centers around an unnamed Jedi with no memory of who he is and who eventually becomes a key player in the current war between the Jedi and the Sith. While I myself never played this game, (I never had the original XBOX), I have been told it is a great game and is one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time. While I can't vouch for that, I do know that it was the first to really establish Bioware as a gaming company that focused on plot and characters just as much, if not more, then general game play and was one of the earlier consul games to introduce a karma system into the game play.
Over the next few years, Bioware didn't develop too many not worthy games. They had next to nothing to do with the KOTOR sequel, The Sith Lords and instead made the game Jade Empire that was released in 2005. This game I have nothing to say about as I have never played it and only recently heard of it. With the dawn of the next generation systems like XBOX 360, Wii, and PS3, Bioware put together what would be, in my opinion, one of the greatest space operas ever conceived.
This game was Mass Effect. It was released in late 2007, and had one of the greatest plots and environments I have ever seen in a video game. Taking place in the distant future where humanity is now part of an intergalactic community called the Citadel, the game follows the story of Commander Shepard and his/her efforts to stop an alien named Saren from bringing back a species of alien machines called the Reapers to the Milky Way Galaxy and destroying all intelligent like in it. While the controls and the game play are a little stiff and clunky, it's one of the few games I have ever played where the plot was so good that it made me forget about its flaws in game play. I was so impressed by the whole idea of the Mass Effect Universe that I consider it to be the greatest space opera ever put into any form of media, behind only Star Wars. It's a great one, so check it out.
Unfortunately, this was also the year where Bioware fell under the thumb of the evil empire of game making, Electronic Arts, or EA Games and I have mixed feelings on this. On the positive side, Bioware has been making more games in the past few years then they had in their first five years of business. On the negative side, however, it seems like the games are slowly but surely losing their great elements of plot and characters and replacing it with more commercially accepted elements of game play. But more time must pass and more games must be released before I can make a final judgment on this.
Back to the games, a new franchise for Bioware was stared with the release of Dragon Age: Origins in late 2009. The game is considered by fans and developers to be the spiritual successor to their Baldur’s Gate series, which had long since become a dead franchise. In this game you take control of a warrior part of an order known as the Gray Wardens who do all they possibly can to stop a race of orc-like creatures, known as Darkspawn, from overrunning and destroying their world. While I love this game, it, at times, seemed to be a medieval fantasy version of Mass Effect and a collection of all the old fantasy clichés rolled up into one game. The clichés, however, are almost ignorable as they come off very fresh in the game, not at all unlike the way old action clichés came off as being fresh in the Indiana Jones films. An expansion to this game was released in April of 2010 and at least eight pieces of downloadable content were released within a year of its release. Like most Bioware games, it has a great plot and great characters. The game play was a little irritating and very similar Final Fantasy XII and I'm not much of a fan of it, but like Mass Effect, I can overlook it because it had such a great plot to it.
In January of 2010 the anticipated sequel, Mass Effect 2 was released. The plot of the game revolves around Shepard trying to stop a race of creatures, known as Collectors, (who are revealed to be servants of the Reapers), from abducting people from human colonies for unknown reasons. Most of it involves Shepard recruiting team members for his/her mission and sometimes came off as being a space opera version of The Magnificent Seven. The plot of it wasn't as good as the first and is where my concern of EA's influence comes in. Many of the great plot elements of the first game, however, revolved around the discovering and learning of the Mass Effect Universe and I don't think there was any way they could have matched this a second time around.
The game play, however, was hugely improved as were the characters. The clunky and stiffness of the first game is gone and you get more involved in the lives of your team members. Each has their own unique personalities and past experiences that make them great. The decision from the first game also passes on to this game and makes it very interesting to see the results of your actions. Even though it lacked the same kind of plot as Mass Effect, I would still highly recommend this one. You won't be disappointed.
So, what's next for Bioware? Well, as I stated above, Mass Effect 3 is due for release in the holiday season of 2011 and I can't wait for it. The sequel to Dragon Age Origins is due for release in March of 2011 and from what I know about it so far, seems like it will be good with new takes on the world of Dragon Age. Bioware is also due to revive the Knights of the Old Republic franchise with an MMORPG entitled Star Wars: The Old Republic, due for release some time in the first half of 2011 and has been in development for years. But for now, all the fans of these games can do is wait and hope that EA Games doesn’t fuck Bioware up. Until next time, this is the Illusive One saying,