BioWare Is Kind Of An Anomaly On Consoles


Playing the Dragon Age Inquisition trial EA put on Origin and discussing how it handles its combat system made me realize something about what BioWare is trying to do. You ever think about how many other western developers released party-based RPGs on consoles?

If you look at all the non-BioWare western console RPGs like Elder Scrolls or The Witcher, they’re pretty much all games where you control a single character in a mostly action-oriented combat system. As far back as I can remember Dragon AgeMass EffectJade Empire, and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic have been the only western attempts at the party system to make it to consoles in a big way. Every other offline game I can think of where you manage a party has been Japanese. There might be some other more obscure (or much older) examples I haven’t thought of. Maybe Obsidian has done at least one? This is despite there being a huge tradition of western party-based games on PC going back to UltimaWizardryMight & Magic, Wasteland, or Divine Divinity.

When I started getting into battles in the Inquisition trial I immediately noticed how far BioWare has gone in straddling the line between an action-oriented game where you just hack n’ slash, and a more strategic game where you stop and micromanage your party. Maybe BioWare has been doing this all along but Inquisition is actually the first BioWare game I played extensively with a controller. Micromanaging a party just seems like the natural thing to do when using a keyboard and mouse. Inquisition’s “hold button to keep attacking” and “hold button to advance time” ideas feel like BioWare is trying out new things, and I realized it’s because almost no one else has really been trying to make strategic real time party-based RPGs work on a controller.

Even today most Japanese RPGs where you work with a party are turn-based. Western ones are starting to make a comeback but they’re all on PC right now. Even Japanese developers didn’t really start trying to do real time party battles until the PS2 era with divisive games like Final Fantasy XII, from which the Dragon Age series has pulled a lot of inspiration. Xenoblade Chronicles has been one of the only other followups.

Maybe when the first really popular western RPGs on consoles — mainly Bethesda’s games, ended up being single-character affairs, publishers and developers kind of stuck with it. It’s probably the fact that console game pads from the beginning have been designed around controlling a single character in an action-oriented experience. Managing more than one character with a game pad has always been an awkward thing to design. Big publishers have pretty much given up trying to make tactical squad-based shooters on consoles for instance. Sports games might be the only area on consoles where we have a lot of experience controlling a team of people in a real time situation.

This is why I’m interested in seeing the reception to the upcoming console versions of Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 2. I hear a lot of people went to Original Sin to get their classic PC RPG fix after BioWare made too many concessions for the console audience, and now the console audience will be exposed to Original Sin.


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