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When it comes to western RPGs, Bioware is a pretty stable household name. Since its establishment in 1995 Bioware had produce many critically acclaimed RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Mass Effect. After their acquisition by EA in 2007 it seemed that the Canadian developer was still in a roll producing Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins with both games selling over 2 million units. However the taint of EA had begun to spread within the developer and after the releases of Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3, once loyal and quiet fans were beginning to voice their concern with the direction of both games. Not all hope was lost though; when fans complained bitterly about the ending of Mass Effect 3 claiming that it lacked closure and was confusing, Bioware responded by releasing the extended cut. This free to download DLC provided more “cinematic” scenes and explained each ending that the player had chosen in more detail.
All the same, the damage had been done and fans were starting to doubt whether Bioware could truly provide them with the sort of RPGs they were looking for. In this article I’ll be exploring Dragon Age: Inquisition, the next title from Bioware and how it spells the end of this once much loved developer.
Dragon Age: Origin’s story wasn’t exactly unique, a great evil attacking the world and the main character and his companions would do everything to prevent the evil triumphing. It’s a tried and tested storyline that has been used in close to every RPG, yet somehow Origin had a unique flair to it that would draw in many fans, even ones like me who hadn’t heard of Bioware before. When I first got round to playing Origins I wasn’t that impressed; the voice acting was rather bland, the combat wasn’t that engaging and the story at first seemed rather clichéd. By the time I’d finished the game however my opinion was very different, when I heard that a sequel was in the works I quickly pre-ordered the biggest and shiniest edition that I could find.
As the release date for Dragon Age 2 drew closer and closer, fans all over the world where waiting in anticipation for a great game that would hopefully carry on the story of Origins. Bioware had already made everyone aware that the sequel would not feature the playable character from the first game; however your decisions would affect the story of the next game. When DA2 finally came out I was initially disappointed, the so called collector’s edition was just a normal DVD case with a black and white manual. This disappointment continued to grow as I made my way through the game, by the end I was rushing to finish the game purely so that I could be done with it and it seems I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. Brent Knowles, one of the lead designers behind Origins resigned during the development phase stating that “Bioware is not the same company”
Whilst most major game review sites praised the game and buried it with awards, the fans disagreed and rated it much lower. The cracks were beginning to appear in the foundation Bioware had spent years building. Suddenly people weren’t too happy with the games they were producing and when Mass Effect 3 was released a year later, more and more fans were becoming vocal about displeasure with the company. Bioware on the other hand weren’t listening to the growing complaints, they were more interested in snaring the audience from Call of Duty to replace the fans they were losing.
Before we forget, the whole point of creating and publishing video games is to make money and by keeping your audience happy you ensure that they will purchase your games. The perfect company will balance its audience’s happiness with its own ideas and plans for a game. By listening to your audience you can find out what they want to play and how they want to play it, however it seems that Bioware has decided to forgo this and keep steam rolling on. In the first Mass Effect game you had to choose between two crew members to sacrifice and in the subsequent games whichever character you chose would no longer appear. If we can forget the ending of Mass Effect 3 for just a moment, we can see that the choices you made in the first two games have an effect on your game-play and dialogue choices. However it seems that this train of thought isn’t something Dragon Age writer David Gaider can follow.
On the Bioware forums Gaider has repeatedly mentioned that characters that had died in the first two games could still make an entrance in the third game. Now I’m no award winning author, but this seems like a very lazy approach to writing. Instead of creating characters with a rich and interesting past, Bioware are more than happy to revive dead characters from earlier games against the wishes of fans. This however does seem to fit their mode of operating when it comes to the series. Why limit yourself to a few games with one main character when you can release as many games as you want all with a new character in the same universe? Why create a new game for old characters when you can just have them make a cameo appearance in subsequent games, regardless of whether they died or not. It allows Bioware some breathing space to do whatever they wish when it comes to butchering the story of these games, if any fans disagree then David Gaider has provided some words of wisdom.
The question still remains, what is it about the story of Dragon Age: Inquisition that will ruin it for fans? The truth is, it’s not the fact that the story may or may not be bad but rather the fact that it’s unrelated. Sure, it may be set in the same universe as the first two games and feature some of the characters and locations, but there’s a reason people prefer the original star wars over the recent prequels. When you first come across a game, a book or a movie you enjoy the characters and the setting of the story. A talented writer supplies you with immersion to the point that the outside world doesn’t exist. This is what happened for many fans of Dragon Age: Origins, we were concerned about the state of Ferelden, we felt sorry for the Grey Warden and we fell in love with the characters. By producing sequels that are only Dragon Age by name rather than nature, Bioware and EA are merely cashing in on series by luring unsuspecting idiots, like myself, into buying a game.
This is what happened with Dragon Age 2, everyone was bursting with anticipation for the game and when it was finally delivered it didn’t fill the void that Origins left. Dragon Age 2 was projected to sell over 4.5 million units and in the first week it seemed that it might actually reach this target with just over half a million units sold. However after the first week it seemed like fans had caught onto what had just happened, Bioware had taken their ideas and hopes and dumped them in the shredder. By the second week Origins was out-selling the sequel and by week 8 it was out-selling it almost tenfold. After 10 weeks, Origins had out-sold Dragon Age 2 by just under a million units.
As of the last month Bioware have been keen to show-off the game’s combat system, customisation and the multitude of search and fetch quests. After reading articles that are generating hype for this game from sites such as IGN and Kotaku I wonder whether the twitter feeds and Bioware forums are not available elsewhere in the world. Admittedly Bioware HAS released videos showing off the game’s combat system however the main focus of attention seems to have switched from the story and game-play to what characters you can romance.
Now when I first played Origins I did romance one of the characters, however it was more of a side activity rather than the main focus of the game. If you were to read all of the twitter and forum posts in the last week you’d imagine that Bioware were actually releasing some sort of romance simulator rather than an actual main-stream RPG. The current hype is about a character called Dorian, who is supposedly the first gay character that Bioware has created. This raises two questions for me, firstly why is it that we’re focussing on the sexuality of the character rather than his actual past and story.
Whilst it’s wonderful to have more homosexual character in video games that are providing diversity for gamers, I wonder whether this is actually just Bioware trying to appeal to more people in order to replace the fans it has lost. Does this allow Bioware to paint anyone who disapproves of this game or doesn’t enjoy it as a homophobic person? Secondly, if Dorian is the first “fully gay” male character then what on earth happened to Anders? Have we all forgotten about him or is Bioware allowed to kill off characters that ruin their perfect little story?
Sadly, this is what spells the end of Bioware. The story of Inquisition may be solid, the game-play may be fantastic and the graphics….well it’s Bioware not Square Enix. However the fans have been burnt before and judging by the actions of Bioware employees on twitter and on their forums, it seems the company is more interested in ensuring that they are pleasing the political correctness crowd and social justice warriors rather than the fans that actually purchase their games. At the end of the day, pleasing the majority of people who buy your games is the route to success. By alienating these fans and not listening to their wishes you are in fact hurting your own income. Bioware have already used up their ‘get out of jail free card’ with Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2, rather than listen to the complaints of their fans they’re still deciding to continue on a path that hasn’t helped them out financially before. With EA barely giving Mass Effect 4 a nod at this year’s E3, are they also ready to drop Bioware if Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn’t prove to be a financial success? I guess Bioware’s chief weapon will be surprise.