BioWare vs. Bethesda: The Battle of the RPG Titans «

 

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BioWare vs. Bethesda: The Battle of the RPG Titans

We pit these legendary developers against each other in the ultimate Battle of the Time-Wasters.

 

The last month or so has seen our social lives utterly devastated by the release of Skyrim. And with Mass Effect 3 on the horizon, we can look forward to continuing to avoid our friends and loved ones when we finally stop playing in the snow with elves and move on to shooting/sleeping with aliens. It’s probably a good thing that the release dates of Bethesda and BioWare’s blockbusters never seem to overlap, but some rotten little part of me wishes they would be forced to go toe to toe in a knock-down, drag-out fight for the privilege of keeping me from getting anything done.

Once upon a time BioWare and Bethesda had a lot in common, but over the last decade or so the two premier Western RPG producers have drifted in such radically different directions that their games could probably be considered completely different species, or at least genres. Sure, we could just agree that different people like different things, and maybe some of us can even like both without any actual conflict of interest, but that’s no fun. We’d much rather argue about who would win in a fight.

The Protagonist

 

The most important aspect of an RPG would have to be the shoes you’re choosing to fill. After all, we’re ostensibly you’re here to play a role. If you’re playing a Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or Knights of the Old Republic, that means you’re going to be Shepard, Hawke, or a Jedi with amnesia. At this initial stage your input is mostly confined to a choice of hairstyle, picking from a handful of backstories, and the all-important issue of whether or not you feel like making protagonist’s face hilariously ugly. It’s everything that happens after and how the player reacts which differentiates their Shepard or Hawke from anyone else’s. Sure, you could make Hawke look like a white-haired old crone, but that doesn’t make much sense when her mom is still going to show up looking about 30, unless Hawke is the first ever RPG hero with progeria and somehow nobody gets around to mentioning it. The character might start off as kind of a stranger with this approach, but through hours of plot and dialogue choices the player becomes more and more invested.

In the case of Bethesda games like Fallout 3, Oblivion or Skyrim, near-ultimate freedom is offered in your character’s gender, race, and relative facial hideousness, but their backstory is either unalterable or completely irrelevant. What happened before you ended up in that prison, or chained up in a wagon, or were shot in the head and halfassedly buried in the desert? Nobody knows, nobody cares, and while that leaves you free to make up whatever you want in your head, that’s where it’s going to stay. You won’t hear this character speak, and even should you happen to be one of those odd ducks who likes playing in third person, you’ll never see them react to the dialogue or actions of others by doing anything other than staring straight ahead.

So it’s a tradeoff. In the case of Bethesda you can imagine up whatever voice and attitude you’d like for the blank protagonist, whereas BioWare will put you in the shoes of a more defined character and it’s up to you to leave your mark on them. Both are valid philosophies, but personally I prefer the one that doesn’t require me to over exercise my atrophied imagination, so the first point goes to BioWare.

 

 

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