There may never be a developer as influential as BioWare when it comes to RPGs. They have been making hits since Neverwinter Nights was released in 1991. It’s been over 20 years, and they are still going strong, carving enjoyable digital experiences out of pen and paper games like Dungeons and Dragons while showing off their own world-building skills in Jade Empire and the Mass Effect trilogy.
Typically, BioWare games have a few core concepts that vary slightly from title to title: a morality system, willing followers, and storyline elements that change depending on your decisions or who your character is. Players are always encouraged to create their own adventures within the world of the story, much like how tabletop RPGs are still played today.
BioWare’s formulaic structure does not always work to its benefit, and, initially, it didn’t work that well at all. Some of their games suffer from flat stories or confusing and challenging combat. Others fail when it comes to character development or game mechanics. None of their games are perfect, but, in a way, that’s their charm.
However, let’s get one thing out of the way right now. BioWare does not make bad games in the traditional sense of the word. Nearly all of their games are pretty good. Some are just better than others. The worst entries on this list, if developed by another company, would be considered decent, if not great, titles. When you are a superstar developer like BioWare, your games get held to a higher standard.
15 Worst: Neverwinter Nights
BioWare got in over their heads with Neverwinter Nights, the third-person RPG set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. The single-player campaign was lengthy but repetitive and forgettable. Players were promised a toolset that would allow them to create new monsters, dungeons, encounters, etc., giving them the power to literally shape their adventure and share it with others using the game’s DM Client.
This all sounded fantastic until players loaded up the game. The single-player campaign got rid of the popular party dynamic present in the Baldur’s Gate series, allowing players only one follower. Due to a lack of variety in textures and models, many of the levels looked the same—even when player created. Worst of all, the game’s constraints weren’t conducive to the spontaneity required for a true role-playing session. Mods and add-ons would eventually save NWN but, out of the box, it was a huge disappointment.
14 Best: Mass Effect 3
That’s right. It’s not a typo. I get it. After spending over 75 hours making nerve-racking decisions, watching Garrus make calibrations, and saving the universe one battle at a time, it’s safe to say that by Mass Effect 3’s end, gamers were pissed. However, the final entry in Shepard's journey got a lot of things right. Mass Effect 3 gave us power combos, expanding upon and improving the warp detonations present in the second game.
Gameplay wise, it’s the best in the series. The missions are integral and satisfying, the level design is above average, and both seamlessly support and enhance the story. Mass Effect 3 served its purpose. It gave us a fun game and closer. It moved us. I mean, remember how invested you were in the Krogan genophage?
It may not have been perfect, but it’s definitely better than its last few minutes would have you believe.
13 Worst: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Mass Effect 3 isn’t the only BioWare game that suffers from a lazy, throwaway ending. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood’s ending makes the end of Shephard’s tale seem Oscar-worthy in comparison. Without giving too much of the plot away, the game ends on a cliffhanger, which Sonic and Tails point out in their post-game dialogue. They then discuss, I kid you not, the history of Bioware and the team that built the game.
Outside of its ending, it features a watered-down dialogue tree that has no deep impact on the story. The battle system gets old quick, requiring players to poke and slide their stylus across their DS’ screen to attack. Even the quests are repetitive and uninspired. Players spend most of the game fetching items, often returning to low-level areas they have already cleared—and encountering weak monsters along the way.
Overall, it’s a mediocre RPG from a powerhouse developer.
12 Best: Jade Empire
Jade Empire is an action (martial arts) RPG set in a fascinating world inspired by Chinese mythology. Don’t let the landscape fool you, this is no Ancient China, bits of technology, like flying vehicles, quietly blend into its picturesque landscape.
A labor of love, BioWare chose to work on this title (an original IP) over the sequel to KOTOR, and it shows. The game’s captivating story and world are even more impressive when you realize it was created from scratch. There was no established lore to build on or fan base to rely on. It was a risk that paid off because of their attention to the little things—like working with an Asian linguist to create a fictional language for the elders. Not only that, battles happen in real time, there are plenty of martial arts skills to acquire, and, of course, multiple outcomes.
You’ll definitely need a second playthrough.
11 Worst: Mass Effect 1
Mass Effect was the start of arguably the greatest RPG franchise ever made. It gave us everything we wanted—space, an epic protagonist, and harrowing decisions. I mean, who doesn’t remember having to choose between Kaidan and Ashley (and always letting her die) on Virmire or deciding whether or not you should let the Rachni Queen live? The latter was a big choice that impacted the rest of the series.
Although the story ultimately improved (and dramatically fell apart at the end), the first game’s plot is as predictable as they come. In addition, it looks terrible in comparison to part 2. Not to mention, its clunky controls make combat unnecessarily difficult. If you die during a big battle, you are forced to watch the same cutscene over and over again until you win because they are unskippable.
Nice going, BioWare!
10 Best: Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
In a sea of mediocre Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic manages to stand above the rest. The game is set over 4000 years before the first Star Wars film, which gave BioWare enough distance to tell their own unique tale without betraying the feel of the wondrous world Lucas created.
Players control a soldier who is naturally gifted in the ways of the Force. As they move through the game, their morality is revealed as they choose from dialogue options leaning toward the Dark or Light side of the force. But they aren’t alone.
Two followers accompany them on their journey. During enemy encounters, players enter a paused mode where they can make equipment changes and assign up to 5 actions to each character, making for more dynamic and strategic battles.
This captivating tale from long long ago is everything you want in a Star Wars game.
9 Worst: Dragon Age II
Dragon Age II as a much shorter game than Origins set in a smaller world. That might have been fine its design didn’t make you painfully aware of this fact. Recycled areas and textures make every dungeon and cave look the same no matter its occupant, players are forced to play as a human, and you encounter the same enemies at every turn (demons anyone?).
These aren’t the only ways the game falls short. Players are restricted to a single city over a 7-year period. During this period, time skips advance the story but skip over crucial information (like characters you supposedly already know). The writing falls apart toward the end when you ultimately realize that your choices had no impact on the game’s disappointing (and linear) story. Ultimately, it leaves you feeling as if your choices had no impact on its plot, particularly if you decide to side with the mages.
8 Best: Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age: Origins is the game that started it all. Unlike Dragon Age II, it allows you to choose from three races—human, elf, or dwarf—as a warrior, rogue, or mage. Your choices affect the game right from the beginning, as your selections will throw you into one of six stories and ultimately affect how your character is received and treated by others in the world.
Choices not only affect the game but how your companions view you, forcing you to really consider the consequences of your actions. You want them to like you. Ignore their feelings, and you could lose out on stat bonuses for characters within your party, teachable skills, and the opportunity to get to know them better (everyone’s got a story). Really piss them off, and they’ll just leave your party.
Origins’ replay value is high. There’s no shortage of stories to tell and characters to romance.
7 Worst: Baldur's Gate 1
BioWare’s first RPG was a groundbreaking game that brought Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to life on computer screens across the country. However, while Baldur’s Gate didn’t age well and, by today’s standards, is unforgiving.
You start out as a low-level character unable to handle the much stronger enemies you encounter early one. What’s worse, the game doesn’t care if you understand how it works or not. Expect many deaths.
The story builds as slowly as boiling water and is peppered with a few, easy moral choices. The majority of your time is spent grinding (for the next dungeon) or going on non-narrative fetch quests. Oh, and don’t forget to listen in as your bland companions constantly talk over each other as you travel.
While not the best game, Baldur’s Gate laid the groundwork for BioWare’s future titles.
6 Best: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows Of Amn
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn cemented BioWare’s place in RPG-making history. Unlike its predecessor, the game holds up quite well. It allows players to shape their destiny, making choices that will place them on the path to good or evil.
Here, quests are story driven, and there is less grinding. Also, the game starts players off at a higher level, which makes for more interesting battles early on, as you’ll already have a few abilities to start you off.
The story is more nuanced and picks up where the previous game left off, with multiple storylines occurring along the game’s main storyline. Side and returning characters have more depth due to their diverse dialogue options (especially outside of battle), meaningful interactions, and the ability for romance.
The sequel improved upon its predecessor in every way and proved that BioWare was a force to be reckoned with.
5 Worst: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Once again, Bioware asks you to align yourself with the dark or light side of the Force, but this time in an online world of lightsabers, multiplayer brawls, and cantina shootouts. However, the game disappoints with its selection of playable characters, all of which are humanoid. That’s a pretty big letdown for a universe teeming with unique lifeforms.
The game also suffered from an identity crisis. It struggled to balance BioWare’s story-driven style with the typical grind fests intrinsic to MMOs. Needless to say, the bug-laden title went free to play less than a year after its launch, forcing players to either subscribe or purchase new content and features with Cartel Coins.
A recent update essentially split the game into two parts: single-player campaign and an MMO. Not only is this odd, but it's also too little too late to fix a game that really should have been KOTOR 3.
4 Best: Dragon Age: Inquisition
The world of Inquisition is on the brink of destruction. War has broken out, and there are rifts in the fade. It is up to you, the Inquisitor, to bring order to the chaos. As the Inquisitor, you must close rifts, acquire strongholds, and assign tasks to your advisors. You hold the fate of an entire land in the palm of your hand.
Inquisition is set in a larger world than DA: 2—with easily over 80 hours of gameplay. The power of choice returns to the player in a big way, allowing players to choose from four races (human, elf, dwarf, or qunari), three classes, and several options for the sound of your character’s voice.
Battles are more strategic as health doesn’t regenerate, and healing is no longer as easy as spamming a spell or carrying a bunch of items. This world is ripe and yours for the taking.
3 Worst: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Like just about every other worst game on this list, Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game. It serves its purpose of rebooting the series by moving the story to a different galaxy. One where BioWare hoped we could leave our precious memories of Shephard behind. Instead, they created a soulless game with a protagonist that couldn’t fill the shoes that Shephard left behind.
Andromeda does everything that a Mass Effect title is supposed to do. It gives us dialogue options, a protagonist out to prove themselves, a band of misfits, and an entire galaxy to explore. Yet, the story and gameplay still manage to be boring. Players have less control over combat, making power combos nearly impossible, and the game is inundated with inorganic side quests that you complete out of obligation (like a chore).
Andromeda is nothing more than the echo of a much greater game.
2 Best: Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is hands down the best game of the series. It marked a dramatic shift in not only the series but in how BioWare approached games going forward. The gameplay became more action oriented with a much-improved combat system that introduced us to warp detonations—the precursor to the power combos seen in the third game.
The compelling stories of its diverse characters make up for its simple main story. You learn so much about your crew—their past and shameful secrets—that by the end of the game you are willing to trust each other with your lives. The Suicide Mission, the most harrowing of the franchise, puts your bonds to the test, insisting you assign the right team members to each task or risk losing them forever. The world can take a backseat; you’ve got a crew to save.
ME: 2’s world feels real, and that is quite a feat.
1 Worst: Shattered Steel
There was no shortage of mech games in the 1990s with the Mechwarrior and Metaltech: Earthsiege games being of particular note. With such stiff competition, it is no wonder that Shattered Steel feels like nothing more than a run-of-the-mill mech game. There is nothing special about it to set it apart.
Not only that, but similar to Baldur’s Gate, Shattered Steel just doesn’t hold up—though its, now horrendous, graphics were on par with what was out at the time. The game suffers from a few problem but none more annoying than its poor collision detection. It results in such a low accuracy rate that you’ll find yourself running out of your very limited ammo after a single enemy encounter—with more on the way!
Shattered Steel wasn’t the best, and it wasn’t the worst, which is fine for any other developer but not when you’re BioWare.