I have been gaming since I was a kid, and when I was a kid I never expected gaming to be seen by the world as an art form. However the older I get the more I see people looking at gaming as an art form and I can easily say that Bioware has made a large impact on the Gaming Industry and the way people see gaming. With Dragon Age: Inquisition releasing in a few weeks, Bioware’s accomplishments in the world of gaming definitely should be recognized.
Before Baldur’s Gate released in 1998 for the PC, there had never really been any games that gave the player a choice with how dialogue progressed between the characters and NPC’s, the Reputation system in Baldur’s Gate also gave the player a visible impact on how their character’s actions impact the game and the interactions with characters, NPC’s and the world. The foundation of deep storytelling, great characters and fantastic writing led on to Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, and eventually to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. With Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware attempted something that pushed the envelope even further. They expanded upon the reputation system and the D&D Alignment system to enable the player character to choose Jedi or Sith abilities as well as their own alignment. Each of their companions had an alignment as well that impacted how each companion approved (or disapproved) of each decision the player character made. This was a stark difference in the gaming formula from games such as The Elder Scrolls, which punished thievery and murder but really didn’t cause it to impact interactions with characters or the world around the player. The endings in Knights of the Old Republic were determined by whether the player character chose a light side path or dark side path, leaving a very binary sort of ending that depended on the type of character that was played.
When Mass Effect released in 2007, the alignment system persisted with the option of choosing Paragon or Renegade. However Bioware attempted to make Commander Shepard more three dimensional by enabling players to choose a back-story for their play-through. In addition they veered away from the binary good or evil options, and put the Paragon and Renegade scales as two separate indicators so that NPC’s and squad-mates would take notice and react accordingly. The endings of Mass Effect also broke away from the binary formula; instead of being determined by the player’s Paragon or Renegade status, it was determined more by the choices players made throughout the course of the game. This method was later used in the Mass Effect Sequels as well as the Dragon Age series. Mass Effect also introduced romances, though for the first game there were predominantly heterosexual romances with the exception being Liara T’soni, the Asari squadmate.
Beginning with Dragon Age: Origins the way players interacted with characters changed. An approval meter was introduced, with companions having distinct likes and dislikes based on choices the player makes. Dragon Age: Origins also put a more heavy emphasis on making your decisions have repercussions that shape the entire world, with your main player character (called The Warden) even having the possibility of dying at the end of the game. While Dragon Age: Origins differed from Mass Effect in that the protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins was a silent protagonist, something that changed in it’s sequel Dragon Age II, it carried on with the origin story idea from Mass Effect but went a bit more in depth with it. Romance wound up being much more varied and complicated in Dragon Age: Origins, with character options for heterosexual, homosexual and lesbian Wardens to romance. The approval system changed in Dragon Age II so that instead of your characters simply liking or disliking your main player character, instead they were either friends or rivals, with associated content depending on the status of either rival or friend. It has also been stated that in Dragon Age: Inquisition the approval system and romances will be overhauled once again, where approval will not be shown by numerical values, but by thresholds and landmarks that affect how your conversations and interactions with characters develop over time. This will make the already sophisticated system feel even deeper and make it more realistic so that players aren’t just giving characters gifts to farm up their approval rating like in Dragon Age: Origins.
It was the attention to detail where interactions with NPC’s, characters and the overall emphasis on choice are concerned that elevated Bioware games beyond simple entertainment value. With the Dragon Age series for example the player begins to see that over the course of the series (and into Dragon Age: Inquisition which i’m certain will carry with this theme) their decisions change the world and the quests that can be undertaken. These things changed the face of gaming, showing that artful storytelling, deep characters, and solid gameplay could make show gaming as an art form instead of simply entertainment. The cinematic storytelling and complex characters led (in my opinion) to games like Bioshock and other story based games where as the emphasis on subtle, far reaching choices led to games like the Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition releasing on November 18th, 2014, the expectations are high for the newest title in the Dragon Age series; however since it is being created by the developer that contributed to changing the way people look at gaming, I for one have high hopes. With all the information that has been released on Dragon Age: Inquisition it would be odd for Bioware to disappoint players after all of this hype. Regardless we all have Bioware to thank for causing people to see Gaming as an art form instead of just a form of entertainment. The gaming industry is faring better than ever and I fully believe that Bioware contributed largely to the success of the industry.