Posted in Nostalgia Lane, Star Wars: The Old Republic

Nostalgia Lane: Rating BioWare’s Lineup

In honor of the recent Dragon Age II launch and in anticipation of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, I thought I’d go back through BioWare’s library and rank the games from best to worst — and why.

Knights of the Old Republic

I know, I know — as safe, predictable and boring a pick as they come, but I can’t think of a BioWare title that both bowled me over as a game and a story as KOTOR.  We may take it for granted now, but Star Wars games by the early 2000s were really sucky and had lost a lot of the essence of what made Star Wars… well, Star Wars.

Then comes along KOTOR that not only wipes the slate clean by jumping back in time a whopping 3,000 years, but carried with it the Star Wars spirit in all its glory.  It was simply awesome all around, even with a couple whiny companions, and I never got tired of picking Dark Side options.  No wonder why fans were really hoping that KOTOR would be the setting for BioWare’s MMO, and they were right!

Baldur’s Gate II

As I’ll talk about later, the original Baldur’s Gate never clicked with me, but BG2 was a lengthy obsession in my gaming.  I played it alongside a friend who was doing the same thing, and we’d often call each other to swap war stories about our adventures every day.

At the core of Baldur’s Gate II was the feeling of a wide-open world where you could just go on a whole bunch of adventures before finally settling down to tackle the main plot.  Because of that, I took my sweet time exploring the city, establishing my own personal fortress, wooing a girl or two, and building up my character to uber-elite status.  It was a terrific ride from start to finish, and I don’t think I’m alone in considering it one of BioWare’s finest masterpieces.

Mass Effect

Hm… now this is tricky.  Which is better, Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2?  I love both almost equally, but I’m giving the edge to ME1 because the story felt more gripping and I couldn’t get enough of that bouncy rover vehicle (just kidding on that last part!).

With both games, I am jazzed that BioWare decided to go the scifi route because we get precious little of good scifi storytelling in RPGs these days (cue caveman marine: “I MASTER CHIEF!  I BLOW STUFFS UP!”).

Mass Effect 2

Also quite excellent, although the overarching story and final act were underwhelming as motivation.  Still, I totally loved the characters, and the part with Joker saving the day probably ranks as one of my favorite RPG moments ever.  And how funny was his relationship with EDI?

Very funny, is the answer.

Dragon Age II

Unlike the two Mass Effects, I have no compunction against ranking DAII higher than DA:O.  While I appreciate the characters, dialogue and SOME of the story of DA:O, overall it was a bland-feeling game that claimed to subvert typical fantasy tropes — and yet fell right into them anyway.  Whereas Dragon Age II just feels more exploratory and less rote of a RPG, one that I’m more likely to finish.

DAII has a better combat system, a protagonist who actually talks, and the freedom to explore the world BioWare had to establish in the first game.  I really like the fact it moves forward in the timeline and intertwines with aspects from DA:O, although not as much as some people were hoping, I’ve heard.

Dragon Age: Origins

Here we reach the middle point — the “not bad but not especially good either” section.  As I said, I didn’t hate DA:O so much as completely lose interest somewhere 3/4ths of the way through, which isn’t a great sign if that’s supposed to be where the story is ramping up.  There were quite a few things that I’m fond of here, such as the dog as a character and the dynamic between the mages and Templars, but overall it wasn’t enough.

Neverwinter Nights

This is kind of a weird entry in the BioWare experience, since it was both a single-player RPG and a multiplayer experience.  I tried it but didn’t really latch on to it enough to remember anything more for this post.

Jade Empire

Hm.  Cool setting?  Sure.  Martial arts?  Neat.  Everything else?  Forgettable.

Baldur’s Gate

And thus I’m relegating BG to the bottom of the heap, even though it was BioWare’s big breakout hit.  BG2 was so superior in every way that BG is just sad in comparison.  I never really liked the repeating maps or the initial lack of direction, and the story wasn’t nearly as interesting as its successor.

16 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Rating BioWare’s Lineup

  1. Mostly agree with your picks, except I never really got into either Baldur’s gate game as much as I did Neverwinter Nights (which I was engaged enough in to try making my own level 1-20 campaigns, even if I never quite finished them), and I much prefer Dragon Age: Origins to Dragon Age 2.

    So my rankings would be:

    Knights of the Old Republic
    Mass Effect
    Neverwinter Nights
    Mass Effect 2
    Dragon Age: Origins
    Dragon Age 2
    Jade Empire
    Baldur’s Gate 2
    Baldur’s Gate

    Not really that different 😛

  2. I mostly agree with that order, only I’d rank any Baldur’s Gate below DA:O simply because I wasn’t into western RPGs at the time of their release.

    When I was a young girl everything in my house that pertained to entertainment had a Sony label on it. I was convinced they’d manage to completely take over the world eventually. Now I’m starting to feel the same about Bioware. Every game I actually want to play or at least try out has their stamp on it.

  3. You specifically mentioned exploration twice in your DA2 comments. I’ve not played it yet, but by all reports it takes place in one city and reuses maps regularly. Can you expand on how it’s exploratory in that context?

  4. This is more or less my ordering as well, with two exceptions; I couldn’t get down with Baldur’s Gate, try as I could. I was at that point fed-up with games that assume you save constantly and so can undo death manually, so it rubbed me the wrong way. The second exception is Mass Effect 1/2…which I sort of consider the same game as the story flows through both. I half-wish they’d redo ME1 with all of the story and plot-archs intact but using ME2’s equipment and transit systems: way better (as I didn’t care about gear, I just wanted more story, more dialogue).

    Speaking of games where you need recent manual saves to make up for both save-bugs and merciless party deaths: I recently played through KOTOR again (it ate my weekend); that was a fun nostolgic blast.

  5. DAII seems to be a game splitting us RPG fans right down the middle. While I like the improved combat speed and animations, I find very litte else about the game to be an improvement on the first. Part of why BGII was so good was they took the best elements from the first title and just expanded on it. DAII feels like they watered down the best elements. Skills, gear and zones for one. In DAO I hardly felt I was rerouted to an area without it being important for the story, in DAII after about 3 hours in the city I was already bored. It just felt to me that the werewolf lair in DAO had more thought put into it than anything I have encountered already in DAII.

  6. You have wounded me with your 1 line about Jade Empire. it was good for its time.

    Asides from that I feel that same about all the other. I still enjoyed DA:O a bit more than you though I welcomed the changes in DA 2. DA 2 problems for me I personally believe was from its short development span. 1.5 years or so where as origins was quite a few years

  7. I much preferred BG1 to BG2. It’s a long time since I played either, but your comments on BG2 being a “wide-open world” really puzzles me. As I remember it, BG1 was a genuinely open world, where you could go anywhere at any time, whereas BG2 was a series of discrete, non-contiguous “zones” that existed only to fulfill their necessary plot functions. I clearly recall finding it much more claustrophobic and restrictive than the first game.

    Of the rest, I enjoyed the online portion of NWN but never played the single-player rpg part. I bought KOTR but uninstalled it before I ever played it and it remains unplayed. Dragon Age Origins I loved for a couple of days, liked for a couple of days more and then disliked intensely. Abandoned half-way through and probably never to be played again.

    The rest I’ve never tried and probably never will.

  8. Re: BG2 — Even though it was zoned and mostly took place in a big city, it felt expansive and widespread instead of linear for a good chunk of the game. I guess that’s what I was referring to.

    Re: DA2 — Probably bad choice of words. I meant exploratory in the sense of really getting into the world, exploring relationships and motivations, getting in deeper instead of just going wider. I appreciate spending more time in one area than hopping and skipping between far-flung locales, because it offers us a chance to see how things develop, how the locals interact, etc.

  9. I know technically not Bioware games but did use their Infinity Engine (used with the BG games),I am wondering if you tried Planscape: Torment or Icewind Dale. Planescape I thought was excellent, Icewind was so-so. But of course these game came out well over 10 years ago.

  10. Out of all the Bioware games listed I preferred KOTOR by far.

    Actually I thought Icewind Dale was the best of the Infinity Engine games, why? Because it allowed you to play with friends over LAN as a party without heavy-handed railroading story-wise. Bioware games for me personally, feel like you are playing the developer’s story. With Icewind Dale you had your own party of heroes playing adventures just like in pen-n-paper D&D, no forced backgrounds or ‘unique snowflake’ storylines. I liked that freedom.

    Back then I always played computer RPGs over LAN, so Planescape didn’t get a look-in as I preferred to play with friends than on my own. For the same reason Dragon Age and Mass Effect never hooked me either – why are so many (non-MMO) RPGs lacking any multiplayer option nowadays?

  11. i think Kotor was my least favorite game (didn’t try jade empire); i’d like to go back to Baldur’s Gate and see whether i’m any better at it now

  12. I’m glad to see someone else saying Dragon Age was as mediocre as I thought it was. I loved the Baldur’s Gate games, but when I tried to go back and play them again was surprised at how much they have aged.

    I guess KOTOR 2 was so bad it doesn’t even make the list huh? 🙂

  13. I played so much Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2 when I was younger, I really enjoyed playing it over LAN with my friends. I also thought having the custom modules was great, there were a lot of different and unique ones to play, they gave the game a whole lot more variety and it never really got old.

    I also loved KOTOR. In fact, I still have it installed and still jump on to play every now and then.

    I appreciate and respect the Baldur’s Gate series but never really got into them, I did play Icewind Dale though.

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