Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Bioware Games

I just finished Dragon Age Inquisition. That's right. I just finished that game that came out way back in November of 2014 (I got it in early 2015 though). It took me around a year to finish. That's an indication of how distracted I've been and how long the game is. Nevertheless I loved the game, and find I love most, if not all, of Bioware's games, even their mostly maligned final chapter of the Mass Effect series. And as I'm interested in writing about things, particularly things I like, I found I had enough thoughts to take the time to write them down.

What makes Bioware's games so good? Or what draws me to them?
The main stories they tell are often simple: a big bad nearly indestructible evil threatens doom and gloom upon the world (or the whole universe). This evil will take its time, but one way or another it, whatever it is, is confident in its ability to either control or destroy every living thing. Either option marks a likely end to civilization as we know it. To what point and purpose isn't always clear, but then again these evils are much like Bond villains with world domination on their minds. All they want is devastation. Like a dog chasing after a car, they probably wouldn't know what to do with it if they caught one. And we, as the hero of this story, don't plan on finding out what would happen if the evil succeeds.

In short, their stories are exactly the sort of sci-fi/fantasy stories we've seen many times over. What makes their games so deep and endlessly enjoyable, aside from the gameplay itself, is the world they exist in and the lore and characters that inhabit it. Few games are so full of interesting lore, and such well written characters. Both Mass Effect and Dragon Age have you building a team of uniquely skilled people with which to take on the deadly mission of saving the world. What's unexpected is just how fully fleshed out all of these characters are. If you take your time getting to know them, the final missions and interactions build to something the player is deeply invested in. Few game developers can, or do, craft such experiences.

But how invested you get and how much time you spend is entirely up to you. Bioware gives you the option to do as much or as little as you want. If you want to just rip through the main storyline you can do that. If you want to explore the world they've created investing yourself in the lore and characters, you can spend over 100 hours doing so. And doing so is always rewarding.

In Dragon Age Inquisition there is also a unique opportunity to choose what sort of combat you want. If you want to slowly step through each enemy encounter a second at a time utilizing careful strategy to position yourself and your squad, even queuing up specific attacks on specific enemies you are free to play the combat like a strategy game. However, if you're like me and you just want to run in a play this like a 3rd person hack and slasher you can do that as well. Though I preferred using the more strategic method against Dragons (as you can see in the video).

There's RPG elements, like skill trees, and loot like weapons and armor. You can buy/sell, or craft the items you want. You can even decorate Skyhold, the base of operations for you and your team. It's a deeply fleshed out experience that offers quite a bit of customization. Considering every little thing you equip yourself with factors into the amount of damage you can take and the amount of damage you can deal, and because you have 3 squad mates with you, each of differing abilities (some that combine to devastating effect) you can get lost just trying to properly outfit everyone. But then again, you're free to do all of that as meticulously or as carefree as you want. 

And the music! Whether it's Jack Wall and Sam Hulick's (among other contributors) futuristic, electronicy Mass Effect score, or Trevor Morris' epic fantasy score for Dragon Age Inquisition, the music in Bioware's games has always been an enjoyable factor. Rarely do game soundtracks make me want to listen to the game score outside of playing the game (if even then), but I've long had the entire Mass Effect (1, 2, and 3) soundtracks in my library, and had to nab the one from Dragon Age Inquisition after sitting and listening to the main theme on the home screen for longer than I should.

I'd say both of these series could make for an exciting series of movies (the scores are certainly epic enough for a theatrical release), but you couldn't do these stories, or give these experiences in a feature length film. About the only thing you could do is try to adapt them to a TV series, and once you start down that road you have to ask yourself why bother watching a TV series when you could just play the games to get the full experience and make all the choices for yourself. I suspect that's why movies based on video games don't work, and we aren't likely to see either of these series adapted any time soon.

But before I go too far down that rabbit hole (I've already written about the subject once before), let's just say I loved Dragon Age Inquisition. And Bioware is a developer that creates massive experiences. As far as I'm concerned their games, their characters, the worlds they build, and the straight forward stories they tell are among the best on offer in the industry. 

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