BioWare has been one of the most prominent Western developers of RPGs for decades now. They made their mark on the industry early on by crafting deep stories told with a level of writing that was otherwise absent from video games as a whole. Not only were they masters of crafting original stories, but they even managed to inject new ideas and twists on existing franchises. In those early days, BioWare was strictly a PC developer, but have slowly transitioned into developing more console-focused experiences and are arguably more known now for these games than their earlier works.
After so many years releasing dozens of games, BioWare has given us some absolute classics — as well as some major disappointments. No developer is perfect, and BioWare is proof that even sequels to critically acclaimed games can fall short of their predecessor for one reason or another. We felt it was time to look over the entire BioWare catalogue and list their best games of all-time. The top spots in this list in particular were hard to put in order, and depending on the franchise, setting, or gameplay style, you will probably order them slightly differently, but for the most part the games at the top of this list are agreed to be among the best this developer has ever made.
Taking on the Star Wars license, especially at the time BioWare did, was certainly an intimidating task. On one hand you have the almost legendary status of the original trilogy to live up to, but also the poor taste to overcome that the prequels left on the many in the fanbase. In an effort to avoid retreading old ground, and potentially angering fans, the team at BioWare made the genius decision to place their original Star Wars game thousands of years before the events of any film. That gave them complete freedom to tell their own unique Star Wars story without having to worry about contradicting any existing lore.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is rightfully placed among the best media related to Star Wars ever created. The story of your character, who begins the game with amnesia, is fully driven by your choices and actions. Depending on what you do, or don’t do, you will either tend more toward the light side or the dark side of the Force, but even then you never even have to wield a lightsaber if you don’t want to. The combat is basic, but with tons of different builds and skills to experiment with. We can’t forget the cast of party members, either. HK-47 alone is worth the price of admission, but the rest of your crew are worth investing some time in as well. All told, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic set the blueprint for what the best of the best BioWare games would do in terms of character, choice, and RPG mechanics, but elevated for being better than most films in the franchise it is based in.
Of the Mass Effect trilogy, there’s an argument to be made between the first and second games as to which people prefer. The majority, it seems at least, consider the second one to be the standout, however, thanks to it being the most balanced game BioWare had made up until that point of satisfying gameplay alongside their strong writing and meaningful decisions. Those who prefer the first game often cite the deeper level of RPG systems, such as allocating skill points and the like, which was all streamlined in Mass Effect 2, but that helped the series reach a much wider audience that was expecting a more polished shooter experience.
In terms of story, while the overall plot of Mass Effect 2 is in a somewhat weird spot as the middle chapter of a planned trilogy, it still managed to satisfy most players and get them ready for the final installment. BioWare did somewhat slip by having an integral story beat added as DLC, which not everyone would get, leading to some confusion as to what happened between games. Speaking of DLC, though, this is where Lair of the Shadowbroker came, which on its own is seen as one of the best DLCs ever released. Just about everything in Mass Effect 2 was improved, from the cast, side quests, and removal of the Mako to name a few. While we would never recommend skipping the first game, many people enjoyed the series just fine jumping in at Mass Effect 2.
Ask any older PC gamer, or many Western RPG developers, what the most influential RPGs of all time are and there’s a very good chance they’ll mention Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. Even people who have never played a Baldur’s Gate game probably have heard the high levels of praise this game continues to get for just how good it is. To date it is still the 7th highest scoring PC game of all time on Metacritic, and second best if you narrow that down to just RPGs. While BioWare would eventually have a hit and miss relationship with sequels, Baldur’s Gate 2 certainly is their strongest one ever.
Set in the titular Dungeons and Dragons setting, Baldur’s Gate 2 is the peak of translating the full pen and paper role playing experience into a digital space. Sure, you can’t do anything you can think of like in a traditional game of Dungeons and Dragons, but this game comes really close. You have a wide cast of characters of different personalities, races, classes, and relationships to accompany you on the conclusion to the Bhaalspawn quest started in the first game. You can even bring forward your character from that game, too, which was still a novel concept at the time. The influence of this series is so strong that a third game, developed by another studio, is currently in production. If you have the means to, you won’t regret going back to this classic.
Starting a new franchise isn’t easy. Starting a new franchise that is planned to be a trilogy of games is almost begging for failure, and yet BioWare managed to do the impossible with the first Mass Effect. Not only did they create their own entire universe, with a host of races each with their own unique traits and histories that intertwine in various ways, but insert you into it without overburdening the player with hours of boring exposition or text. Yes, there is a very extensive codex with pages of lore to read through, but that’s only for players who want to really get into the details of things. If you just want to play the story, everything you need to know is presented organically.
Mass Effect was a vital step in BioWare’s transition into developing in the console space. It wasn’t their first game that came to consoles, but was certainly their biggest and most ambitious. They had to find a way to balance the complexity that their computer RPG players expected from their games, but the accessibility and more direct action that console players craved. While the gunplay was quite stiff, with not all that interesting or dynamic A.I. to fight against, and the menus a bit clunky, there was no other game that offered the same experience Mass Effect did way back when it launched. Thanks to the Legendary Edition, this first game is even more polished up, too.
Cementing the late 2000s as the peak of BioWare’s talents, not only did they create an entire sci-fi universe with the brand new Mass Effect, but launched their very own dark fantasy epic as well in the form of Dragon Age: Origins. Just like Mass Effect was to their work on their Star Wars game, Dragon Age: Origins was BioWare proving they didn’t need an IP like Dungeons and Dragons to make an amazing medieval-style RPG. The team took many lessons they had learned with their work on the evolving Mass Effect series, and refined and adapted many familiar systems into a game that was more than just a Mass Effect game, only with swords and magic. The combat in particular, which leaned more on their classic RPG roots, was the perfect level of complexity for console players.
Of course, both games had great stories, but Dragon Age: Origins took a few lessons from how Mass Effect handled the finer details and made them their own. Romance options in particular became much more of a focus, with a wider cast of characters you could, or depending on your created character couldn’t, develop a romantic relationship with. They also ditched the binary morality systems of going renegade or paragon, but kept the same level of choice in action and dialogue. That meant that players wouldn’t feel as much of a need to choose one option or path over another just to get more morality points, leading to more organic and true role playing.
The game that started it all, Baldur’s Gate was probably the best RPG anyone ever saw, or would see, right up until Baldur’s Gate 2 was released two years later. This game set up so many standards for the genre that we almost forget they had to come from somewhere. Before this game, and the Infinity Engine that powered it, there were no RPGs using the now standard isometric viewpoint and prerendered backgrounds to deliver levels of graphics otherwise unheard of. This is also where the mixed real and paused time combat system would start, which BioWare itself would use in many iterations for years.
While some other contemporary games attempted similar things, such as the original Fallout, it was Baldur’s Gate that actually tied all these systems and techniques together with a mature story that respected the player, but also demanded respect in return. The writing was diverse, sometimes hilarious and other times morose, but always captivating. RPGs were not a powerhouse genre at the time, so Baldur’s Gate had a lot to prove to be successful. Not only did the game overcome sales predictions, but paved the way for the entire genre to see a resurgence in popularity.
After a notable misstep with the sequel, which you’ll find near the end of this list, BioWare came back strong with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Taking full advantage of the then new consoles, the team had a lot to prove if they wanted to keep this series alive, and they managed to deliver on almost all fronts. Yes, this was obviously the biggest, best looking, and longest game in the series, but the newest quest in the world of Thedas was more than just a technical upgrade. The story returned to being a sprawling epic involving tons of characters, evil forces, and political intrigue. In all the ways Dragon Age 2 disappointed fans, Inquisition almost seemed designed to rectify.
You’ll play a new character, as is typical, who is specially equipped to deal with a new threat entering the world through magical tears in reality. You main quest is to recruit forces to aid you so you can close this breach which allows demons to enter the world. These new characters are a return to form in character writing for BioWare, with new fan favorites popping up, such as Iron Bull. The romance system is again back, with more depth and content, and so much content that memes were created about “leaving the Hinterlands” so players didn’t burn themselves out trying to do everything in the first zone. The main disappointment, at least comparatively, was the combat. It was felt like a bit of a step back for BioWare as a whole, but is certainly serviceable to carry you through the engaging story.
Read our full: Dragon Age: Inquisition review
Another game taking place in a classic Dungeons and Dragons setting like the Baldur’s Gate games, Neverwinter Nights isn’t quite the groundbreaking RPG that those previous titles were despite much greater ambitions. This game was BioWare’s first real attempt at something like an MMO, more on their first true MMO outing next, and allowed you to connect with up to 63 other players on a single server. Back in 2002 when this game came out, that amount of players was quite staggering. But the multiplayer was just one part of this package. It, of course, offered a gripping single player story mode with gameplay based on the 3.0 edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
What kept individuals — and all their friends on these massive servers — coming back after the campaign was done was the tools BioWare included in the game that allowed players to expand the experience almost indefinitely. The built-in tools for modding the game let players create entirely new quests for others to play through, including the option for one player to take the role of the dungeon master while others attempted to make their way through their campaign. Even now tools like these are uncommon, and when they are included are often unwieldy for most people to utilize very well. Neverwinter Nights didn’t do it perfectly by any means, but it certainly pushed itself to give players even more of a true Dungeons and Dragons experience than any other game they made prior.
This game was difficult to place in this list for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s an MMO that launched a decade ago and is still getting updated and expanded, so what the game was when it launched, what it was five years ago, and what it is now are all vastly different. Second, this was BioWare’s first attempt at making an MMO, and chose to revisit the same universe we, and many others, consider to be their greatest ever in the Old Republic series. Now they not only had to live up to the expectations people had for a Star Wars game, but also a follow-up to their own beloved series, and somehow make the dream Star Wars MMO gamers would no doubt expect this to be.
All things considered, BioWare did a pretty good job with Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was a huge hit at launch, hitting a million players in less than a week, and while the player base has been inconsistent since, the game ditched their original subscription model and has adopted a free to play system to keep the community active. There’s nothing that really makes this MMO stand out from the crowd, aside from the license, and fans have expressed some anger over how BioWare chose to treat some characters from the original games, but for those that want that Star Wars-flavored MMO, at the moment, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a universe with many stories to live out and create.
Read our full: Star Wars: The Old Republic review
To be fair, concluding a trilogy as ambitious as Mass Effect is nearly an impossible task. All the promises, story threads, player choices, characters, and so much more were expected to have satisfying conclusions, but also ones tailored to each individual player who made choices and formed relationships through two previous games. If Mass Effect 3 couldn’t give everyone the exact ending they thought they deserved, that wouldn’t put it this far down on the list. The fact that essentially no one felt they got an ending that represented or reflected a series built on player choice knocks it down to the number 10 spot.
Mass Effect 3, as a game, isn’t bad at all. Sure, there’s the sort of dissonance of running around doing side quests and hanging out at bars while the Reapers are presently wiping out all living things on several planets, including Earth, but if you can look past some of the more gamey aspects it is a very tense and engaging setup for your final mission with Shepard and crew. There’s nothing new that can be said about the ending, but even the writing and characters took a dip from its predecessors. Combat remained fine, and was even more of a focal point, but that’s not what most people wanted out of the conclusion of so many hours invested in this universe.
An often forgotten, or more likely unknown, title from BioWare was the timed Xbox exclusive Jade Empire. For the first and, unless they decide to change course with a new game, only time the team decided to not set their newest RPG in either an existing IP or brand new sci-fi or fantastical setting. Instead, Jade Empire is completely inspired by actual Chinese history and myth. It was a much smaller scale game then their usual offerings were, but that game them the opportunity to start experimenting with more dynamic and engaging combat systems to keep up with what gamers were coming to expect.
This is still a BioWare RPG, though, and has all the obvious signs of being one. Are there romance options? Not a ton, and none as interesting or in depth as their other games, but they’re there. Are there moral choices? Yes, and even before Dragon Age: Origins, Jade Empire stepped away from labelling your options as being inherently “good” or “evil”. The graphics, for the time, were also quite impressive. This clearly was a learning experience for BioWare, though, since combat quickly gets stale without much variety or complexity in that regard.
The infamous tale of Dragon Age 2 is one fans of the original game don’t need retread, and yet the result is still a major disappointment no matter what angle you look at it from. In fairness, this wasn’t BioWare’s fault. The game was originally just going to be DLC for the first game, then grew into something more sizable and shifted into a stand-alone expansion, but EA apparently stepped in and mandated that it be made into a full sequel. Not only that, but the timeline for the entire project was a mere nine months. With all those factors in mind, we should be praising BioWare for releasing a game that even functions, let alone is as coherent as Dragon Age 2 is.
But, that’s not what gamers do. Instead, just looking at the game as what it is, a piece of entertainment, it is a massive disappointment. The way some mechanics seemed to regress made this sequel feel more like the first game in a series rather than a successor. The writing was all over the place, with some actually good beats sprinkled in there, but lost among poor pacing and stretches of treading water. Playing the game was okay, but the environments were rightfully criticized for being extremely repetitive. You’d delve into the same exact dungeons time and time again, fighting the same monster types in wave after wave. The world still had tons of promise, but Dragon Age 2 just didn’t make you feel like a part of it.
Almost like a curse, BioWare can’t seem to complete a franchise without one objective failure. For Dragon Age, it was Dragon Age 2, and for Mass Effect, giving Mass Effect 3 some credit here, the absolute low point was the spin-off/sequel of sorts, Mass Effect: Andromeda. Having written themselves into a spot where a true sequel to their trilogy was basically impossible, and rather than create a prequel, it was decided to follow a mission launched during the events of Mass Effect 2 out of the familiar Milky Way Galaxy and into the titular Andromeda Galaxy, where the game couldn’t impact — or be impacted by — any events going on in the main series. The fact that this game didn’t mess with anything regarding the main series is about all that’s good about it.
OK, that may be a bit harsh, but only just so. You play as either the brother or sister Ryder twins this time around, looking for new habitable planets in this uncharted galaxy. Instead you and your expedition find new foes to deal with, and they’re far less interesting than the Reapers. The Kett, one of the few actually new races you meet in this game, are generic alien baddies, along with other mysterious threats like the Scourge that don’t really have much weight. Plus, the unacceptably buggy and unpolished state the game launched in made sure this entry would flop. Aside from a more fluid combat system, this is hardly worthy of the Mass Effect name.
Read our full: Mass Effect: Andromeda review
After the bomb that was Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare probably made the right call to start fresh with a new IP. It had been since 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins that the team had released a new IP of any kind, so it was long overdue. However, the result was what many considered to the final confirmation that BioWare had lost its luster. Anthem had one cool idea behind it, the javelin suits, and essentially nothing else. Just about everything this game did, or tried to do, went against what made people fall in love with their games in the past. Similar to Dragon Age 2, this game was also fell victim to a terrible development cycle, and we completely sympathize with the team pushing to make the best product they could, and yet even at the design level this wasn’t what we wanted.
So, what was good about Anthem? Well, the flying was kind of fun. Aside from that, BioWare clearly tried to go too far out of their wheelhouse, probably at the demands of their publisher. This game was mean to be a co-op title, with up to four players teaming up to take on missions. Sure, that could work, only the systems for teaming up, and how the game handled players joining people further ahead in the plot than them, was an absolute mess. In fact, even more than Mass Effect: Andromeda, Anthem was riddled with technical issues. Without even getting too deep into those, the loot system was busted, the classic RPG elements were stripped bare or completely missing, and total amount of content shallow. The team did promise to improve and add to the game with roadmaps and such, but even those were cancelled, leaving this game to rust.
We just had to mention this one for the sheer absurdity of it even existing. It almost sounds like a fake headline to say that BioWare, the makers of heavily narrative RPGs, were making a Sonic game, and yet it is true. Regardless of the how or why, this unholy collaboration actually exists and is as bad as it sounds. There’s just no part of this formula that makes sense. Either BioWare would need to make a platformer, which they never have, or Sonic, the character marketed on being fast, would be put into an RPG. We suppose what we got, a turn-based RPG starring Sonic, would be better than BioWare trying to make a high-speed platformer, but that’s not saying much.
Thankfully this game manage to avoid most people’s attention because Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a game made for no one. If you were a BioWare fan, you’d just bored by how basic and brainless of an RPG this game is compared to what you came to expect from this team. The only twist on combat was the inclusion of some timing based prompts you needed to hit, but otherwise was clearly aimed at an audience unfamiliar with RPGs as a whole. For Sonic fans, the weirdly deep story isn’t what would draw them to an adventure starring a blue hedgehog that runs really fast. And, despite the simplicity, also wouldn’t be grabbed by the tediously slow RPG battles taking the place of high speed obstacle courses. Tuck this game away as a bit of odd trivia, but otherwise stay away from this one.