Developed by: Bioware
Published by: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC, XBOX 360, PS3, Mac
Feeling Like: Biowere
For the first time since I started the 500, I re-ordered the remaining entries on the Almighty Spreadsheet.
I thought I could last until the top 200 but I’ve been on a consistent run as of late and wanted to reward myself.
“Reward”, ha! It was a maddening experience, but as time flows and memories shift I found myself becoming more endeared with some games and less fond of others. So it had to be done.
Some stayed entrenched (the top two will likely never budge), some were vaulted up nearly a hundred spots due to rose-tinted glasses, or how well they’ve aged. Some rose despite aging poorly, but you can’t replicate four player multiplayer sessions with the N64 and dozens of cans of Safeway brand Cola.
I also made a few judgment calls, like combining expansions into the original game. It’s something I should have done at the outset. I feel good about the final list, and that’s the last adjustment I’ll make. When I’m done this thing, I’ll create one grand list and continuously add to it upon beating new games and slide them into their place. But no more entries. 500 is enough.
Hell, 100 would have been enough. But I often find myself knee deep in a project before I realize the sunk cost is too much to bear. Can’t back out now.
Why this lengthy preamble? It’s because I want to emphasize that things change.
For a more than a decade, Bioware couldn’t miss. In a span of 12 years, they release nine quality RPGs. NINE.
Starting in 2000 you had Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, followed by…
2002 – Neverwinter Nights
2003 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
2005 – Jade Empire
2007 – Mass Effect
2009 – Dragon Age: Origins
2010 – Mass Effect 2
2011 – Dragon Age 2
2012 – Mass Effect 3
That doesn’t include their wildly ambitious Star Wars: The Old Republic, or the odd mobile game. Most developers don’t even get a sniff of this level of success; to see a AAA budget trilogy start and finish with a span of five years is unthinkable today. During this span, if you put the Bioware name on a game, players responded. That kind of brand associated quality only comes along once in a blue moon.
It wouldn’t last. Dragon Age: Inquisition in 2014 garnered critical success, but something about it certainly felt off. Mass Effect: Andromeda was a startling signal that this wasn’t the same company that had made the original, spectacular Mass Effect games. And then Anthem in 2019 all but signed the company’s death warrant. Now, Bioware is just another name in EA’s graveyard of acquisitions.
Still, what a ride. Dragon Age: Origins was a fantastic experience.
It had everything you want in a Bioware RPG: unforgettable characters, high stakes, top notch graphics, an epic soundtrack, a world dripping with atmosphere, terrifying villains and dialogue choices that were just as entertaining as combat. I never got tired of listening to my friends’ opinion on a recent skirmish and whether to side with Shale or Morrigan based on their arguments.
Shale is the best. Absolutely my favorite character, by far. It’s individuals like these that can launch a game up dozens of spots on the 500 and if that sounds shallow, it probably is. But what is an RPG without lovable buddies?
A unique backstory, a demon in combat and the owner of my favorite line in any Dragon Age:
“The darkspawn are an evil that must be destroyed, it’s true. Though not as evil as the birds…damnable feathered fiends!”
Love Shale. Shale wasn’t in the expansion, so Dragon Age: Origins Awakening was punished by being slightly further down the 500.
Combat didn’t click for me quite as much as I’d hoped. There’s a lot of starting and stopping, with detailed instructions required to all party members at multiple stages in a single encounter. This wasn’t like Mass Effect, they were definitely going for an old-school computer style of RPG. It was still fun, but until I got my healer in the party (Wynne) I was scrambling like the lowliest noob.
Sadly I can’t recall the details of the story. I know the first few hours are terrific, I know you recruit a merry (or not-so-merry) group of adventurers to save the world and I don’t care how tired that trope is, I’m a sucker for it. If the people and demons and doggies (Bunsen, good boy!) are created with care and they’re fun to use in combat and yield interesting dialogue choices, I’ll continue to play these types of games forever.
You’ll see more Bioware games on the 500, some not for a very long time; their heavy hitters are among the best games ever made, something I’ll always look back fondly on and it’s almost always due to the incredible characters and attention to the narrative. Sexy magician ladies who may or may not be evil and morally ambiguously sexy elf friends and SHALE are always welcome.
Aside from some minor annoyances with micromanaging in combat and trying to figure out everybody’s items, this was an incredible ride and I doubt I would’ve bought a ticket without the Bioware name attached to it. Like Pixar films during roughly the same period, it didn’t matter what it was about, but how it is about it (I stole that from Roger Ebert, but it applies to games too).