The BioWare Romance Trap

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The BioWare Romance Trap

A romance story with no adventure can be dull and talky. An adventure with no romance can feel emotionally empty. By blending the two, both ideas get the extra punch

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Just... Drop the whole romance idea from RPG's. Or, even better, write the dialogue so that it could fit in both love story and companionship story. I man, take Shadowrun: Dragonfall for example. When I spoke to Glory I could interpret the interecation between her and MC as them becoming comrades or, if I wished, as them getting close to each other.

I sometimes expect people to actually come along and demand romance for underage characters, since "immersion" has been brought up for almost anything else you can't do with them.

I mean, I hope it doesn't, but what I want and what is actually reality don't always coincide.

Anyway, one of the things that struck me in this article was the idea that only lesbians are interested in a lesbian romance, etc. When I went looking for some clips of the voice actors a while back, one of the things I noticed was that a lot of the gay romance videos were from women, and lesbian romance vids from men. This really shouldn't be surprising given slash fic, how heterosexual and male-dominated the lesbian porn category is, etc.

I mean, I'm not saying these people are a representative proportion, only that they break with the idea. Plus, men don't always play men, and women don't always play women.

Then again, literally the only reason I do the romances in a Bioware game is to get the achievement/trophy/shiny food pellet. Take 'em out and I wouldn't miss them.

Personally I'd gladly give up romance options aimed at me if it meant that we could return to the days of having romance plots that meaningfully connected with the main story, but I know I'm in the minority.

Minority, but not alone. I play RPGs to play as a character: male, female, Qunari, human, whatever. I'd rather have a more meaningful romance during one playthrough that actually tied to my character and the plot than 3 shallow ones that remind me, through their 'tick the boxes to get love' nature, that I'm romancing a computer.

I don't particularly need the romance to be tied into the main plot (though it certainly helps), but I'd really like for the romance partners to be more aggressive, or at least proactive. I'm going through Dragon Age: Inquisition now, and I'm feeling glad that I picked Josephine because I actually see her regularly on my way to the war table. If I'd started a romance with Cullen or someone else in the far corners of the camp, I know I'd forget about them. At the same time, I remember overhearing a pair of Chantry sisters who used to gossip about spending the night with Iron Bull; how is it that this person the game tells us over and over is an incorrigible skirt-chaser never hit on my Inquisitor, an attractive woman? It's meant to add flavour to the world, but it just reminds me that I have to be the active agent in every scenario, from friendships and romances to personally walking the grounds and talking to all the people working for me to find out if there's any problems that need solving.

If I ever came back to the castle after a long mission in the Hissing Wastes to find Josephine standing on the steps with a cold mug of ale, it would make the experience of romancing someone feel much more valuable and worthwhile, that she actually cared about our relationship rather than just accepting it.

I fail to see the exact problem. While I am aware of the constant swirling maelstrom that is "Romance" in role-playing games they are still purely optional for the developers. Bioware, and EA largely, want to have as big a net as possible to catch as many players as possible and since they have the deep pockets for development they can endeavor to do so. If people complain then that is their problem, as long as Bioware and EA keep making money they will be out of F's to give.

I like romance in games when they add to the story, and they also have the all important bonus of making it seem like the player has more choices in a game. Mind you, I know of very few games of note that actually bother delving into such matters other than those bizarre adventure indie sims that keep popping up on Steam (while I am sure a few are good).

Not all games approach romance the same way. Games like Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Mount & Blade: Warband have a purely marriage based system based more on player choice or bonuses than story. Lots of games have the odd brothel you can saunter into for a riveting fade to black scene. And then there is the Witcher... lets move on.

My point is, there really is no problem. Bioware is still making money, and if the fans complain then they will complain. Not like they listened to their fans when we asked for new wardrobe in Dragon Age: Inquisition for Skyhold.

That's not the romance trap, BG2 is the BioWare romance trap. You didn't lose party members in KotOR/ME, like you could in BG2. If you initiated the subplot unwillingly and broke it off at critical eventflags, then you painted yourself in a corner. And party balance was an important part, you could screw yourself over big time there.

I've never known Bioware as anything other than a studio that creates wishfulfillment games. It's not just that you're able to get into almost everyone's pants, you're always the most awesome Choosen One in the universe.

In regards to the romances, I don't think there's any half way. Bioware either needs to appeal to as many orientations as possible or just scrap the romances all together. Because as soon as you give the choice to romance one or two characters of a certain orientation, players of an unrepresented orientation will demand their fair share.

This is why I always rather have a set romance in games.

Personally I blame it squarely on the one thing that has become something of a dirty word to me in gaming now: "choice". The concept of player agency effecting the story itself.

There is this fetishistic obsession in western RPG games to give the player more and more choice and story influence. Its not good enough to play a role in a story, it must be possible to "put yourself" in the game and make all of the same choices that you would do in that situation to influence the story in a particular direction. I really don't understand the appeal of just making a character based on yourself, but there always seems to be a huge market for it.

Compare and contrast with a lot of classical JRPGs. You play the role of a character and follow and experience their story. In playing the game you're playing the role of that person rather than playing the role of yourself pretending to be that person.

Western RPGs on the whole have huge problems with their story and with associated story elements being totally disconnected simply because its easier than trying to integrate every possibility. Bioware made noises towards doing exactly that for ME3 and we all know how well that turned out for them.

Having choice is not necessarily a bad thing; but it isn't an inherently good thing either. And playing the role of a character in a linear story may be more limiting, but can be much more liberating for the story itself. I'm not sure there is any way to match the two together without a gigantic effort to thoroughly integrate every single possible choice that can be made in a game.

I'm writing a KotOR retrospective, and I was just comparing the old romance elements to the shit we see in modern BioWare games with disparate character relationship subplots. You hit the nail on the head.

This seems like an introduction to a longer and more interesting article.

I think we should move away from integrated plot romances and focus more on friendships. Like Shamus said, the KOTOR friendship missions were written well but were tangential to the plot. Witcher 3 was fucking great for integrating Geralt's relationships into the plot and made them feel meaningful.

Shamus Young:
A gay man and I can both enjoy another zone where we shoot some more bad guys, but we don't both benefit from the option of romancing Tali.

Not to be glib, but-- well, yes to be glib; Mass Effect's combat was always a bit naff. The character writing? Was of a very high quality. Gimme more BioWare chitchat (I can hear Yahtzee's soul screaming right now... ), and I'm fine with less BioWare combat. But, obviously, it is all subjective, so, er, yeah... Opinions.

The content in the main story is ostensibly there for the benefit of everyone, but romance options only appeal to a sub-section of the audience, and therefore exclude everyone else.

Perhaps, but some people play primarily for the character dynamics - vanilla or romantic - and not the plot. I think BioWare are great writers, but their plots and core arcs aren't really up to much. I end up replaying all their SP RPG's, and it's never for the main story.

/edit

Didn't see/read this post:

Lightspeaker:
There is this fetishistic obsession in western RPG games to give the player more and more choice and story influence. Its not good enough to play a role in a story, it must be possible to "put yourself" in the game and make all of the same choices that you would do in that situation to influence the story in a particular direction. I really don't understand the appeal of just making a character based on yourself, but there always seems to be a huge market for it.

Who says that's what people do? It's an RPG - I create an RP, and play the game. None of my Wardens, Hawkes, or Inquisitors are 'me', and they're never supposed to be. That's the appeal I see in BioWare's approach, and I think a lot of fans share that.

A gay man and I can both enjoy another zone where we shoot some more bad guys, but we don't both benefit from the option of romancing Tali. The content in the main story is ostensibly there for the benefit of everyone, but romance options only appeal to a sub-section of the audience, and therefore exclude everyone else.

I agree with everything but this. I (straight guy) have yet to play a gay character but I play women all the time. My Saints boss, half my Skyrim characters, the list is extensive. My Shepard was male, but if he had been a she, she would totally have got with Garrus. I don't have to be a woman to play one, or to explore and enjoy options I wouldn't or couldn't choose in real life, for example every single nonhuman in any game ever. Does it really matter that the blue-skinned space babe was "designed for straight males" when anyone who plays the game knows "she" is really the psychic projection of an asexual, fundamentally inhuman being?

Personally, I was rather glad with how Bioware handled the Mass Effect romance options in the end. Having such a wide choice was a breath of fresh air compared to most games which offer no choice at all; "This is your LI and you love her because plot".

Sure, people may have complained about the romance options; but how many people didn't? How many others were satisfied?

Even worse is that the romance options in the newer Bioware RPGs are all pretty awful given that they are written to BE romances. One or two remarks and suddenly you are being railroaded into one. It never feels natural. They should definitely go back to the days of working them into the story and you either pursue them or you don't. I feel like the trend towards making RPGs that just offer millions of options, end up pleasing no one. It all becomes just really bare bones because those writing the story have to appease so many different variations.

My favorite RPG 'romance' was Nameless One and Annah of the Shadows in Planescape: Torment and that was barely even written as one. It just kind of evolved naturally over the course of the game. Another notable mention from Bioware itself was Tali being way more interesting in Mass Effect 1 when she wasn't a romance option, compared to 2, where she was throwing herself at you because "Fans wanted to romance her". She became far less interesting.

Casual Shinji:
I've never known Bioware as anything other than a studio that creates wishfulfillment games. It's not just that you're able to get into almost everyone's pants, you're always the most awesome Choosen One in the universe.

Well, they tried it with Dragon Age II, giving you a smaller and more personal story, and people roasted them for it. On a side note, I found that game the most engaging in terms of inter-party relationships, because the party felt much more active and 3d than usual. I still remember walking into the tavern and seeing Varric and Isabella sitting around and having drinks, not because there was some big plot thing they needed to deal with, but because they both live there, they both like to drink, and they both like company.

Darth Rosenberg:

Lightspeaker:
There is this fetishistic obsession in western RPG games to give the player more and more choice and story influence. Its not good enough to play a role in a story, it must be possible to "put yourself" in the game and make all of the same choices that you would do in that situation to influence the story in a particular direction. I really don't understand the appeal of just making a character based on yourself, but there always seems to be a huge market for it.

Who says that's what people do? It's an RPG - I create an RP, and play the game. None of my Wardens, Hawkes, or Inquisitors are 'me', and they're never supposed to be. That's the appeal I see in BioWare's approach, and I think a lot of fans share that.

I don't do it either. I have tons of characters in various RPGs who are...I guess you could say 'aspects' of my personality but are most definitely not me. And some that are most definitely nothing like me at all. None have ever been me. Ever.

And I never denied that some people do that (because I do it). However unless you've been deliberately avoiding any topics on RPGs for the past few years then I find it hard to believe that you've missed that there is a huge segment of RPG fans who consistently state roughly along the lines of: "Oh I wouldn't play an RPG if I couldn't make myself in it because I can't get immersed otherwise".

It is actually something I've seen VERY frequently cited as a reason for not liking JRPGs. "Oh I couldn't make myself the main character so I don't care about any of it and can't be bothered. All games should let you make your own character." There is a significant section of RPG players who flat out cannot play a specific character in a story. They must be playing as themselves playing a role in a story. And its poisonous to western RPG storytelling.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Casual Shinji:
I've never known Bioware as anything other than a studio that creates wishfulfillment games. It's not just that you're able to get into almost everyone's pants, you're always the most awesome Choosen One in the universe.

Well, they tried it with Dragon Age II, giving you a smaller and more personal story, and people roasted them for it. On a side note, I found that game the most engaging in terms of inter-party relationships, because the party felt much more active and 3d than usual. I still remember walking into the tavern and seeing Varric and Isabella sitting around and having drinks, not because there was some big plot thing they needed to deal with, but because they both live there, they both like to drink, and they both like company.

I will never understand the complaints about DA2 honestly, it was a legitimately good game with a few glaring issues (hello, copy and paste dungeons). Its story wasn't exactly the strongest but it had incredibly solid character writing and background stuff. The things you mention here are almost a blueprint for what they did in ME3 on the Normandy with little character interaction things going on all the time. Made the ship feel much more alive.

Casual Shinji:

In regards to the romances, I don't think there's any half way. Bioware either needs to appeal to as many orientations as possible or just scrap the romances all together. Because as soon as you give the choice to romance one or two characters of a certain orientation, players of an unrepresented orientation will demand their fair share.

With that in mind, Mass Effect 4 must have a furry option... and possibly a Hanar romance to win over the Japanese audience (heyo!)

Seriously, I am curious to see what Mass Effect 4 will be like. Bioware seems to learn with each new game (except dropping AI Tactics in DAI was stupid) and hopefully they'll have enough party members to give most people the options they like.

The banters are the real Bioware gold, more than the romances, but I think the romances do give us some great moments in gaming (e.g. Garrus/Femshep tango in the Citadel DLC.)

I don't agree they should be dumped entirely; just because some of them have been clunky and checkboxy, these are still feature requests ... a good many people enjoy the content. Just not the Bioware forums, things are a bit ... different there. :/

You know, if I was the 2% as I am in certain tastes, I really shouldn't be surprised in an all encompassing game or what have you the options are limited. Yes, Straight is the most common. It will likely always be. If I was that miffed I'd go to something more targeted to my taste. Yes as a straight person in an all homosexual game I'd be bored romantically. Boo hoo, it is my turn to feel the same way the tiny minority feels in many only straight games. Can't appeal to all, you simply can't.

I saw the title and thought we were going to have a discussion on how impossible it is to NOT romance Alitair... or maybe I'm just obsessed with Dragon Age.

I adore romance in adventure games, I truly do. I adore romance in video games in any way I can get it. And to be honest, if a game does not give a romance, I have to invent one in my head for the world to feel a little bit more, well, more. I love Bioware's take on this. It's my favourite by far. They definitely should never be dumped entirely. I love the stories of friendship, the romances and seeing how they have an affect on the world. It's fantastic.

ProfMcStevie:
You know, if I was the 2% as I am in certain tastes, I really shouldn't be surprised in an all encompassing game or what have you the options are limited. Yes, Straight is the most common. It will likely always be. If I was that miffed I'd go to something more targeted to my taste. Yes as a straight person in an all homosexual game I'd be bored romantically. Boo hoo, it is my turn to feel the same way the tiny minority feels in many only straight games. Can't appeal to all, you simply can't.

And the response that gets a condescending 'boo-hoo' from you is enough discouragement to prevent a lot of game companies from not targetting straight people.

"Something more targeted to my taste" for non-majority (or extremely fucking loud minority) people options tend to be restricted to terrible indy games and shoddy flash junk.

And this is why I prefer Japan's approach to romance. I have encountered all of ONE love story in Western gaming I bought and that was Jackie and Jennie in The Darkness which is why the events that happens in those games are such a sucker punch. Other than that, most of it is just typical "we must have romances in gaming because of some odd notion of copying D&D verbatim." In terms of actual relationships I buy into, Japan wins in that category by a landslide not just in quantity but quality, whether it be Gwendolyn and Oswald or Velvet and Cornelius in Odin Sphere, Lenneth Valkyrie and Lucian in Valyrie Profile, Luna and Alex in Lunar: The Silver Star, Aeron and Elena in Pandora's Tower, Tifa and Cloud in FFVII, or of course Fei and Elly in Xenogears.

The thing is, this is a problem that needs to stop. I don't really feel for a lot of relationships people try to write, mostly because they are completely superfluous. In Bioware games for instance, they come off more like fanfiction fodder than a logical relationship between two people.

Scow2:

ProfMcStevie:
You know, if I was the 2% as I am in certain tastes, I really shouldn't be surprised in an all encompassing game or what have you the options are limited. Yes, Straight is the most common. It will likely always be. If I was that miffed I'd go to something more targeted to my taste. Yes as a straight person in an all homosexual game I'd be bored romantically. Boo hoo, it is my turn to feel the same way the tiny minority feels in many only straight games. Can't appeal to all, you simply can't.

And the response that gets a condescending 'boo-hoo' from you is enough discouragement to prevent a lot of game companies from not targetting straight people.

"Something more targeted to my taste" for non-majority (or extremely fucking loud minority) people options tend to be restricted to terrible indy games and shoddy flash junk.

It's still a miniscule boo hoo to people who don't know what it is like to not be able to be the person you want as a reflection of yourself as freely as a straight person can. People complain, people will always complain. The fact that some people find merely that discouraging should if anything give you some reason to put it in small stuff and work up or something. Being discouraged that easily should be rather questioning of the developer, have you SEEN how fucking petty and trivial people are to different things, even if it probably is better? try fucking with a kids breakfast patterns. Go ahead. I'll wait.

I am fully aware that it is mostly bad indies and horrible flash junk, for my particular like I end up going to the fucking cesspools of flash game gifs and rummaging through hellish mistreatment of people to try and find one that doesn't make me hate myself a little bit. There is a lot of trash, as there is in all things. There will always be those that will happily create content for the tiniest, microscopic demographic. Being straight may give me more options, a lot of them are still usually shit though.

Am I the only one who doesn't like the KotOR romances precisely because they seem so forced? You can say "They rise from the plot" but the fact that they both fall for you regardless of who you are seems wrong. I hate Bastilla, call her out whenever I can, act as a dark side jacknife and...she still falls head over heals for me. That simply doesn't make sense.

Furthermore, if you don't like either and decide not to pursue them, it feels like the game hates you for it. You obviously are supposed to romance them, so Carth's "YOUBETRAYEDME!" and Bastilla's "I will seduce you to join the dark side!" acts don't carry the same weight when you haven't been particularly close to them. It feels like I'm mising a key part of the plot becaue I don't like the one love interest I'm destined to choose (both of whom are pretty uninteresting compared to the other characters in the game).

I'd rather not have the romances tied into the main plot for that very reason: the plot falls apart if you don't pursue them.

Instead, I'd like to see more depth in the romances, with the main plot effecting them rather than requiring them.

Mass Effect 3 actually falls victim to this exact problem. Despite the myriad of options in ME3, the game quite clearly wants you to romance Liara. Every scene between Shep and Liara, especially their last one, has an undercurrent of romance. If you don't romance Liara, it just feels creepy. She seriously feels like the unrequited lover who just won't go away, but the game gives you no way to acknowledge that.

Rather than have the romance drive the plot, it SHOULD be secondary. The plot should effect the romance, not the other way around, and the romance should effect the character you're romancing. If the romance is only there because the plot demands it, it feels shoe-horned rather than a bonus for people willing to put in the time (and suffer through awful romantic dialogue).

Romancing Merril in DA:2 or Blackwall in DA:I felt much more rewarding than romancing Carth or Bastilla because of how Merril and Blackwall's personal quests effect your relationship and force you to evaluate how much you care about them vs how much their behavior tests your ability to forgive, not because the game developer tokd me "Your character really loves Merril because...um...she's the only one in the party that will let you in their pants?"

Rather than just forcing one romance on the player, Bioware should work on developing deeper and more realistic ones.

Shamus Young:
The BioWare Romance Trap

While it's easy to blame BioWare for this mess, it's worth noting that they got here simply by giving fans what they asked for.

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I disagree. Bioware's romances since at least Mass Effect 1 were always designed to garner publicity. They used the "we're being inclusive" badge to promote their games to people with orientations which had to date been overlooked in videogames, and to gain a lot of free publicity from every gaming news source out there in the process. I have never been able to see that as anything other than a cynical marketing ploy (let's leave aside the point that it almost certainly did have a positive effect on gaming in general) - and by marketing themselves as producing inclusive games, they were always opening themselves up for criticism that they had not successfully made a game which was inclusive for everyone.

Another way of going about it might have been to include fewer romances, which advanced the plot of the actual story; and in doing so they were free to choose the gender/orientation of their characters and have that have a meaningful effect on the plot/deepen the characters. Instead, they've ended up with their characters' orientation effectively being a meaningless, whilst at the same time a defining feature of the characters.

I love romances...

<.<
>.>

Ok, the female/female options, but seriously. When Fallout 4 was announced that there would be romance in the game, I was all giddy! I think an element of the romances when it comes to BioWare games is not so much how it integrates with the story, but how it affects your character. In Mass Effect 3, the romances served no purpose at all for even your own character. If you want to dial up the pathos involving Shepard chasing a boy who is alone in the woods, don't follow it up with Shepard waking up naked next to their lover. Don't do both!

Dragon Age Inquisition I thought handled the romance pretty well. I romanced Sera on my first go through and really appreciated how they left the ending scene between you and the character you romanced. It may not be integral to the story, but it's important for the character and that can be enough.

I would have like it if they didn't hit the Relationship Reset Switch at the start of every game, it would have made a much more engaging story if you and the same person were able to work at staying together over the course.

Just make every romance option available to our hero then. That wouldn't even neccesarily mean that everyone romance option is bisexual if you merely look at your storyline, except if the character express they are. Hell they could be open for both female and male players and still claim in either storyline to be 100% straight or gay.
But I'm sure people can't have that, way too reasonable.

how bout they try with a couple that knows each other, has growing pains and rekindles or recommits to each other, or learns more about each other instead of the always at first sight stuff. They can still be beautiful, but just have some time in.

You can get more natural dialogue from the get go, when characters dont always have to acquaint themselves, and familiarize with each others habits.

Or depending on the game, look at Brothers: Tale of two sons. Dependent mechanics can facilitate artificial bonding through struggle too. Thats a symbolic way of communication, in a mostly adventure and combat driven scenario.

hazydawn:
Just make every romance option available to our hero then. That wouldn't even neccesarily mean that everyone romance option is bisexual if you merely look at your storyline, except if the character express they are. Hell they could be open for both female and male players and still claim in either storyline to be 100% straight or gay.
But I'm sure people can't have that, way too reasonable.

This can easily lead to weak characters. Characters usually have much more depth when fully realized, sexuality included. You can fully integrate with the story a strong gay character, or bi or straight or asexual or whatever. A character that can be any of those things can end up being bland.

Of course, not all games need to have the same formula. The ideal is not have the issue "resolved" - the ideal is an enormous variety of quality titles with several different approaches (including no romance at all and story-based unique relationship) without people freaking out because they wanted an option to romance Dandelion in The Witcher 3.

This notion that every RPG must have the same features is terrible. Fallout 4 might be an excellent game, but I keep thinking that it could be something truly special if they pursued fresh ideas instead of copying Bioware and Minecraft.

I understand that you have to be successful commercially, but those big companies are piratically making the same game now, just mixing and matching a couple of templates.

Rose tinted glasses im afraid.

Besides KOTOR maybe all romances in any RPG made by bioware where completly seperated from the plot. In baldursgate 2 when the concept was first explored the romances didnt really feature into the plot, at all. It didnt matter in the grand schemes of things if it was Aerie, Viconia or jaheira that you romanced. All it could do is mess up your group when the bitchfight over the main character reached its screaming finale because you where to much of a player to make your intentions clear to them from the beginning. (still viconia telling Aerie to F off was still pretty funny)

As with all things in the free market the people at bioware should look at their audience and decide accordingly to whom actually plays their game.

You cannot please everyone, and any attempt at doing this will actually have a negative effect on the product. As can be seen by the ever increasingly cheesy romances, their insignificance to the main story arc and the ever increasing number of bisexual "i dont care aslong as its the main protagonist im boinking" characters

As someone who doesn't really care about the "romance options" in a game, I'm kinda glad it is peripheral ( or at least not directly tied to the main story) and have their own little side-stories to tell. Having said that, it would be kinda cool if, for example, someone you were involved in was in danger and you faced the option of either saving them or saving the king ( or whatever the main story is about) then facing the repercussions.

I guess that's why I like jrpg's since they tend to follow a linear progression and why I dislike open world/ sandbox games. As much as I enjoyed Skyrim I didn't play that game for the plot but to wander around and fall off mountains. Same reason I didn't bother with romancing anyone in ME 1-3, just wanted to form a bad ass group ( well hello Krogan and Garrus).

I will say though, in DA:Inquisition I ended up pursuing Cassie just because her interaction with you is hilarious. How much better would it have been if say she disagreed with your choices and ended up putting the Chantry against you? Now there's some weight to your choices. Doing that for all characters though would be a headache and time consuming, perhaps if they weren't so numerous or your options were more limited. But then I'm sure people would complain about being limited.

Interesting read, I've enjoyed the last few articles from you Shamus keep it up.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Well, they tried it with Dragon Age II, giving you a smaller and more personal story, and people roasted them for it. On a side note, I found that game the most engaging in terms of inter-party relationships, because the party felt much more active and 3d than usual. I still remember walking into the tavern and seeing Varric and Isabella sitting around and having drinks, not because there was some big plot thing they needed to deal with, but because they both live there, they both like to drink, and they both like company.

I think this is why DA2 (despite its vast number of flaws) remains my favorite in the series, and probably in my top 3 Bioware games in general. I personally think their character writing was in peak form for it. The party, including Hawke, was a group of fully realized characters, not cookie-cutter archetypes or flat characters. I found the Mass Effect companions and romances to be rather hit or miss, and while perhaps it's just a result of not caring too much for many of the characters, they seemed rather dull. Liara frankly felt wildly inconsistent in personality, Jacob James Kaidan and Ashley were utterly dull, while Jack felt like a facsimile of a human being made out of depressing and edgy sci-fi tropes. I feel the same way about 1/3 of the party in DA:O, though for the most part I found them a little more interesting than the boring companions of Mass Effect.

Perhaps my memory is failing me, but the party members of DA2 seemed to have more meaningful interactions with Hawke and each other during quests or while wandering around Kirkwall than most other Bioware games. They also had definitive character arcs that you could influence, but remained true to their personality with more emotional payoff than say, Oghren's attempt to hookup with his ex, or Wynne's spirit subquest. The fact that Anders comes onto you when you meet him, and is demonstrably hurt if you shut him down was an interesting change in the usual character dynamics of these kinds of games, and the fact that he acts independently of you as often as he does was something that I thought was really cool. At least that's the kind of stuff I found most compelling about DA2, if only the rest of the game was as fully realized as the character writing. I still think if it had been given time to get finished it would've been one of Bioware's crown jewels for actually breaking their formula and trying something new. Instead we got a turd of a game surrounding the diamond of potential it had. Alas, combining unfinished environments with terrible pacing issues caused by the massive timeskips and the rushed finale that threw away almost all the interesting writing in favor of a railroad seems to have soured everyone's opinion of the direction the game was going. Which is too bad, the intimate stories smaller scale RPGs tell have always been more appealing to me, if they could've gotten a AAA game that pulled that off we might see more of them.

zinho73:

This notion that every RPG must have the same features is terrible. Fallout 4 might be an excellent game, but I keep thinking that it could be something truly special if they pursued fresh ideas instead of copying Bioware and Minecraft.

I understand that you have to be successful commercially, but those big companies are piratically making the same game now, just mixing and matching a couple of templates.

I strongly disagree. Ideally of course, all developers should take as many cues from the most positively received features and mechanics as possible of other games in the intended genre and especially series if it has one and improve upon those to the best of their ability, anything fresh and new being added on top of that. The reason being that while it sounds good in theory and what so many ask for, the vast majority of the time games that try to come up with and make extensive use of "fresh" ideas end up coming up with and using terrible ideas and thus being crap. Fresh ideas need to build upon a solid foundation of old but good ideas to work the bugs out of first, otherwise they won't live up to their potential.

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