Top Ten BioWare RPGs
I am a huge fan of BioWare and its RPGs. With interesting settings, loveable and deep characters, and (occasionally) complex moral dilemmas, what’s not to love? Sure, some of their recent fares haven’t always wowed, but it’s not as though older games simply evaporate when new releases come around. So, in celebration of Jade Empire’s 15th birthday this April, I’m going to go through my top ten BioWare RPGs.
10. Star Wars: The Old Republic
First up is an MMORPG that happens to be somewhat free-to-play, which is a big plus for cheapskates like me. But beyond that, what impresses me about The Old Republic is the detailed storylines created for each class. Not to mention the many clothing, customisation, and dialogue options, which go a long way to help the whole MMO aspect and give any player’s character a distinct identity. Sure, much like any of BioWare’s offline titles, if a character is on a story path, they’ll go through it roughly the same way despite any choices made, but it still does a great job of making those choices, and a player’s individuality, feel important and distinct.
9. Baldur’s Gate
Here’s a real classic! I had heard so much of this title for so long before I’d gotten to play it (thanks to the amazing Enhanced Edition from Overhaul Games), and it proved to be nearly every bit as amazing as I’d been led to believe. Despite some technical disappointments and style choices that rubbed me the wrong way, I had an amazing time. I was especially impressed by the side content. While some quests certainly had boring concepts behind them, I was overjoyed whenever I could end a situation without violence or when a strange twist came up that I hadn’t been expecting. To be perfectly honest though, I spent a lot more time trying to manage the party, party health, and in-game time than I might otherwise have wanted. Not to mention how I probably reloaded saves to retry combat moreso than in any other BioWare title here. It honestly got to be a bit annoying, especially since many of these combat sequences came down either to luck or an excessive amount of potions and spells on my part. Still, I enjoyed the game tremendously and am glad that I went for it.
8. Mass Effect 3
I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, probably moreso than any of BioWare’s others. Which means, in part, that my disappointments with 3 and Andromeda are a bit pronounced, shall we say? I’ll certainly defend their merits, but there are definite reasons why Andromeda’s not here and 3 is as low as it is. And no, not just because it had a rather annoying ending. 3 is a dramatic shift from 2, much like how 2 was a major shift from the original Mass Effect, and some of those changes, like the drastic reduction in squadmates or the overall bleaker and warlike tone, were just not my cup of tea. There is certainly some levity, but most of it is left to the Citadel DLC, same with the additional squadmates. But beyond that, Mass Effect 3 was still quite the beautiful goodbye to an amazing cast of characters and their universe. Some of my favourite moments from the series take place here, and that’s gotta count for something. Not to mention how the actual gameplay segments are quite enjoyable in their own right. Using an Omni-Blade is tremendous fun and works well with the other abilities returning from the prior titles, and it all works quite well online to boot! Making the multiplayer side of the game a cooperative effort is a solid idea executed beautifully. Additionally, I just love the whole Galactic Readiness system. It really does a great job of exploring the various choices made throughout the series and offering some more closure on smaller events. It might’ve been nice for more of these details to show up directly in the plot, but it works well enough on its own.
7. Jade Empire
Okay, yes, I know. It’s rather rude of me to put the birthday game this low on the list. Heck, I even love this game. With twists to rival KotOR and an interesting, if a little hard to get into, combat system, Jade Empire is a blast! The Focus mechanic is especially delightful to play around with, slowing down time to better deal with dangerous enemies. I would love to see such a mechanic worked into BioWare’s future games as well, but considering EA’s repeated moves towards multiplayer being a key factor in their games, I’m not gonna hold my breath. Honestly though, the game is long overdue for a remake or a sequel. It’s definitely showing its age, but Jade Empire is still a worthwhile experience and getting an upgraded and improved version of it would just be so darn nice.
6. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Some more quick honesty here: Inquisition is very fun to play, especially in Tactical Mode. While it is certainly enjoyable to whip spells and swords around in real-time, there has simply been little that has satisfied me in the way that seeing a frozen enemy explode in slow motion has. Take that, a wide cast of loveable characters (looking at you, Josephine), and breathtaking views, and you’ve got yourself a very enjoyable time. Walking around and getting into fights was how I spent roughly a third of the game, the rest of my time spent with NPCs or on specific quests. What is especially impressive is how the game manages to maintain so many various plot threads from the prior two games. Admittedly, a lot of it is changed dialogue, but there are several sections with wholly different characters in roles. There could certainly be more there, but when can you not say that about an ambitious choice-based series?
5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
An oldie and definitely a goodie. Like Jade Empire, KotOR can certainly run into some formulaic plot points, but it is still such a wild and fun ride. It certainly has its share of issues, like a combat system that both requires attention and often prevents direct engagement or what is probably the most binary, black-and-white morality system in any of BioWare's wares. However, the game also comes with several amazing worlds to experience with many interesting side-quests to go along with the expansive central plot. The fact that it’s got plenty of heart doesn’t hurt either.
4. Mass Effect 2
Yes, yes, I know: I’m a crummy criminal for putting this amazing spectacle in fourth place. Mass Effect 2 is often hailed as one of the best RPGs in recent years, or ever. And that reputation is far from undeserved! It built off of the original game in many amazing and perfect ways. There are so many little and big things here that I absolutely love, like the Salarian with his step-daughter on Illium, Jack’s whole character arc, or Mordin’s singing. There is so much crammed in here to love, but, well, there’s also a fair bit that’s disappointing, really. One of your squadmates joins the crew a bit too late to really be experienced properly, the first game’s squadmates get kinda shafted in terms of arcs and story-involvement (except Liara, who gets an amazing DLC questline), the romances are fairly limited in terms of queer options, and so on. Just a lot of frustrations, overall. I mean, I get that Garrus is just here as a fan favourite, but please let him do more than calibrate! Same goes for you, Tali! I can forgive prior main characters as cameos in the Dragon Age series, as you're playing as a completely different character in each title, but if you're going to add a pre-existing character as a squadmate, please give them at least as many conversations as the other squadmates.
3. Dragon Age: Origins
Ah yes, the one that started the Dragon Age series, and a great game on its own merits. While it can be a tad clunky and aged at times, similar to Jade Empire or KotOR, Origins remains a solid experience, with both fun combat and great characters. The plot and side quests certainly have their moments, but where the game shines is in the various character arcs of your party members. Some are more memorable than others, but when Origins really goes all out with a character, like Alistair in all of his dorky nature and overall theme of birthright and responsibilities, it really hits a home run. There are few other games that so quickly craft characters that jump into my heart and refuse to leave. Of course, there is a tonne more to love about the game, like how it does a great job of setting up its world, or in how it makes each of the game’s Origins for the protagonist actually feel like they matter and affect the plot, and so on. There’s a lot here, and it should not be missed.
2. Dragon Age II
This is blasphemy. I am fully aware of that. But I can’t help it. I love the Dragon Age games and II is the one that really sucked me in. It does an amazing job of crafting its own corner of the world that Origins set up, it’s absolutely covered in fun characters to interact with, and the more straightforward plot and protagonist really helped me feel engaged in the story. Hawke, as a character, does a great job of creating a specific identity that remains prevalent and consistent throughout the game. Yes, it’s one of three. But the sort of identity inertia II presents feels like an infinitely better reward for getting into a particular personality than being able to raise a charm or intimidate stat in the Mass Effect series or just how characters feel about you in the other Dragon Age titles. DLC notwithstanding, there was not a single companion that I did not like, and the various other characters, even the cameos from Origins, were often much the same. This Kirkwall adventure felt different from the general “save the world” plots in many of BioWare’s other fare. Oftentimes, there’s more to things than just that, of course. But still, Dragon Age II is a breath of fresh air, despite its many repeated maps.
1. Mass Effect
Similar to Dragon Age: Origins, this title launched one of BioWare’s biggest series, and I am just in love with it. I’ve certainly played the others multiple times, but this is the only one that I’ve completed to 100% twice. I’m not even entirely sure why I love Mass Effect the most. It’s got more repetitive maps than Dragon Age II, has only one queer romance option, and certainly looks its age. But then, there’s the squadmates and their interesting backstories to listen to, there’s cosmic horror and some of the best sympathetic but still undeniably evil villains I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing, and then there’s the Mako. I have heard so much about how people don’t like the Mako or the planets you drive it on. But like Jade Empire’s Focus ability or Inquisition’s Tactical Mode, I simply cannot say that I didn’t enjoy every second of it. Yes, the Mako is clunky, and yes, some of those mountains are too high. But heck, trying to find a good solid piece of flat ground on an ascent, hopping that car around, or shooting its big darn cannon at giant Thresher Maws was one of the highlights of the game. There’s a lot that I wished the sequels had brought back or addressed from here, but whatever. Mass Effect sets up enough to carry a series with incredible world-building, a terrifying enemy, and a spaceship-load of fun.
So, whether in celebration of Jade Empire’s 15th anniversary or just out of appreciation for some amazing games, give these ten a try! You won’t be disappointed.