BioWare is an Canadian video game developer based in Edmonton, Alberta. They are known for developing Western RPGs. Formed in 1995 by three doctors,note hence the name "BioWare"; their first products were patient simulation software they originally did mostly licensed games but they've been creating their own universes since 2005.Let's just say that some of their RPGs have developed a reputation for being the video game equivalent of door stoppers, in the best sense of that term. You play a BioWare game because of the dialogue trees, the hours spent on developing side characters, understanding the world, and reading the Codex. The writing tends to be of good quality too, reinforcing how you play a BioWare game for the story, not for the gameplay.BioWare is part of Electronic Arts. For a while, a number of other EA studios were also under the BioWare label. Mythic Entertainment, Victory Games, and EA 2D (incorporating KlickNation) have all been considered part of BioWare at some point. However, those studios have mainly been spun off again (or closed) since then, leaving just the "core" BioWare (meaning the original Edmonton studio, an MMO-focused studio in Austin, and an offshoot in Montreal). BioWare has been split from EA Games into their own label, meaning that they have their own advertising staff, and even their own online TV channel, BioWare Pulse.Compare and contrast Obsidian Entertainment, with whom BioWare has a surprisingly fond relationship. Both companies had close links to Interplay and both specialize in story-driven Western-style RPGs, but, as one commentator put it, "Bioware is epic conflict spiced with personal, while Obsidian is personal conflict spiced with epic."
BioWare RPGs are sometimes called a genre itself. While it's not exactly true, their RPGs are indeed unique. They have a number of persistent tropes that move from game to game, and only setting is changed.This being said, worldwide popularity, influence and acclaiming of BioWare games once again proves to the world the fact which is well-known in our community: Tropes Are Tools.
List of tropes persistent in BioWare RPGs:
Action Girl: The majority of the recruitable female characters.
All There in the Manual: The Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, plus The Old Republic, have an in-game Codex providing background information on characters, locations, species, organizations and technology encountered.
Always Chaotic Evil: Often subverted. Drow, krogan, geth, qunari and many other examples come to mind. Played straight in other works.
Anti-Hero: There's nothing stopping players from taking this route if they wish.
Anti-Grinding: This doesn't mean there isn't pointless combat (far from it), just that it has no reward and appears in fixed places.
Astroturfing: An employee of BioWare went to the Dragon Age II Metacritic page and gave the game a 10. While this isn't an example of astroturfing (EA described it as the equivalent of voting for yourself in an election), it did inspire a case of astroturfing astroturfing, where fans of The Witcher went on The Witcher 2's Metacritic page, gave the game of zero, and pretended to be BioWare employees.
Badass: Seriously, name one character from the games who doesn't fit into any badass subtrope. Mass Effect 2 is an excellent example, since your mission is to recruit a Badass Crew.
Bi the Way: Knights of the Old Republic was to include a gay love interest, which reportedly didn't sit so well with LucasArts. Since then, all games included at least one bisexual love interest of either sex that are open to same sex relationships. True to the trope, this is never treated as something unusual by the games, mostly because their "bisexual" characters have nothing changed by the PC's sex.
Betty and Veronica: If a BioWare game includes more than one female NPC who can be romanced, it's a safe bet that one of them will be a cute, innocent Girl Next Door while the other will be a more exotic, seductive Femme Fatale. Some examples include:
Leliana and Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins are somewhat of a subversion - Leliana (the Betty) turns out to have been a spy and master seductress in her past, while Morrigan (the Veronica) is possibly the most innocent of the party members when you think about it. She owes much of her aloofness and Straw Nihilist / Social Darwinist tendencies to her mother, who viewed men as tools at best and was grooming Morrigan to be a vessel for her soul.
There's also a rare male example in the form of Alistair, a shy virginal templar, and Zevran, a hypersexual assassin.
Perhaps the most blatant example of this trope is Merrill and Isabela in Dragon Age II.
Of course, some of those options exist in these games, but Mass Effect 1, Dragon Age: Origins, and sometimes Jade Empire avert this. Dragon Age: Origins is particularly good at it, due to a lack of Karma Meter. You can come up with a good, rational reason to do just about every evil thing. To the point where one can measure the development of BioWare's storytelling and karma meter use in their ability to challenge the player with hard choices. The Dragon Age: Origins expac in particular has a choice which seems to have no "correct" answer and likewise the conclusion of Legion's loyalty mission gives you a truly difficult decision to make with no correct answer (though one is considered paragon and the other renegade).
Most background characters, many of who aren't related to quests or the plot, receive some serious fleshing out as well, such as in Mass Effect where you learn why some of your crew mates are xenophobic and can help them work on overcoming it, or get drunk with Dr. Chakwas and learn why she chose to work with Cerberus. Even your often doomed Guest Star Party Member shows character development prior to or post-death if you talk to or about them
Darker and Edgier: Their later work tends towards this. Despite sharing somewhat similar design styles, uniformly excellent writing and a signature character style, Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect might have been made by different companies. If one takes the Darker and Edgier path through Knights of the Old Republic, there's a definite trend. The difference being that Knights of the Old Republic leaves the option to the player.
Dark Is Not Evil: A frequent theme, although games like Knights of the Old Republic play this trope straight.
Deadpan Snarker: Seems to be the prime tenet of BioWare games—at most two or three companions will won't sway towards snarkiness.
Dialogue Tree: This is the reason why BioWare games are considered doorstoppers. Dialogues are plentiful.
Enemy Mine: The main protagonists of several games can be played with this motivation.
The Dalish Warden in Dragon Age: Origins can state their sole reason to defeat the Blight is to save their own people.
In Mass Effect 2 Commander Shepard is forced to work with the Illusive Man to stop the Collectors.
Evil Is Petty: Inevitably, being evil in a BioWare game will mean "be a rude, selfish jerk".
Dragon Age is a bit better about this, what with the lack of a Karma Meter, but gaining the approval of "evil" party members will take you down the path to jerkassery nonetheless.
Renegade Shepard has generally been the victim of inconsistent characterization throughout the Mass Effect series. While s/he generally acts like an ignorant thug, there are some moments at which s/he seems almost like a Magnificent Bastard, like at the end of ME1, in which he and Udina orchestrate the rise of a Human Led Council to replace the one Shepard left to die, securing humanity's position as the galaxy's dominant race. or in the genophage arc of Mass Effect 3, during which Renegade!Shepard dupes the Krogan into thinking the genophage has been cured when it actually hasn't, and informs the Salarians of this deception, securing both their aid and that of the Krogan.
Flavor Text: Weapons usually have a description, as do other items (planets in Mass Effect, for instance, have up to three or four paragraphs of description, even if you aren't supposed to stay more than ten minutes on them).
Fighter, Mage, Thief: Averted only in D&D-based games. Mass Effect represents this trope with Combat/Biotics/Tech.
Genki Girl: One of the romanceable females will usually be this.
Good Feels Good: Being a Nice Guy in their games can make you feel all kinds of awesome. Being a bad guy often leads to a feeling you need a hot shower and scrub-down with a wire brush.
Good Is Not Nice: Often entirely up to the player, but Mass Effect and Dragon Age allow a lot of freedom with this trope
Hide Your Gays: Can be charted pretty well from being played straight to being completely averted. Knights of the Old Republic had it vetoed by LucasArts, Mass Effect 1 had gay romances scripted but removed at the last moment, the options becoming available in Jade Empire, Dragon Age II finally gave equal amounts of options, regardless of gender (outside of one character), and Mass Effect 3 is their first game to feature romance options that exclusive to the same gender. This trope is coming into play with The Old Republic now, with similar flashpoints as Dragon Age II had — namely, people complaining that it lacks a same-sex romance option, and those railing against the possibility of such an option in their MMO. Apparently it will be an option, but in a post-release patch.
Karma Meter: There's usually one of some degree. BioWare used a standard Good vs Evil meter for all d20 games (all of them are licensed). Thus, Jade Empire and Mass Effect are criticized for narrowing moral conflicts down to two choices — heal the kitten vs. kill the kitten, despite Open Palm vs. Closed Fist is more like Altruist vs. Social Darwinist, and Paragon vs. Renegade are more like Idealism Versus Cynicism, Paragon sometimes even acts exactly like a Closed Fist adept would. Thus, there's no Karma Meter at all in Dragon Age, which was replaced by Relationship Values. In general, the PC's good/evil actions is reflected by which characters relationship values will build up the fastest. For example, choosing the heroic and unambiguously "good" choice will lead like-minded, good-aligned characters to approve of your actions, making it easier to build camaraderie, loyalty, romance, etc. with them by opening new dialogue options and plot elements while simultaneously leading the more morally ambiguous members of your group to disapprove, which leads them to shun any efforts of building relationships with them by limiting said choices and quite possibly making them dislike you altogether. So the karmic dichotomy still stands, but only on the characters' front. You can just leave them behind while being morally questionable without repercussion, aside from one flagrant defilement of a major religious figure's remains.
Baldur's Gate finished with the Throne of Bhaal expansion which offered the player character a choice between finishing as a Good God/Evil God/Staying Mortal. Outlined with text epilogues.
Jade Empire had different endings based on your Karma Meter, the romantic relationships between yourself and your followers and their Karma meters as well. It also had hidden pasts for two characters resulting in about three or four different endings per follower on top of the three main endings for your own alignment (Good/Evil/Dead/In Love With Hero/Secret Past/Secret past and In love with Hero/Evil with a secret past whilst in love with the hero... and you get the idea). These epilogues were only played after the main ending cutscene, however, which was chosen from 3 possibilities depending on whether the main character was good/evil/an idiot.
Dragon Age: Origins had genuinely different ending choices that would change who died and lived (including the Warden) and the fates of various characters over the course of the game were spelled out by epilogue text-cards.
Boo, the Miniature Giant Space Hamster, makes appearances in the Baldur's Gate series. You can buy a space hamster with a knowing smile in Mass Effect 2.
Chiktikka Fastpaws is a raccoon sidekick of a god that Aerie of Baldur's Gate invokes by saying, "faster than Chiktikka Fastpaws!" Chik'tikka vas Paus is Tali of Mass Effect's combat drone. She'll shout "Nothing's faster than Chik'takka vas Paus!" during combat. She'll also shout "Go for the optics, go for the optics!", which is a reference to the aforementioned Boo and the shout his owner Minsc will say.
Really, every BioWare games after the early ones with nothing to call to has at least one company Mythology Gag in it.
Baldur's Gate: "Lord Foreshadow", who was heading to Neverwinter.
Old Save Bonus: Started with Baldur's Gate where a character imported from the first game could have better stats and some items that could be use to forge new gear. Taken Up to Eleven during the Mass Effect series where an imported character would carry over a huge number of decisions from the first game that would majorly impact the second (and a number of minor impacts too). Expect this to go even further in the third game.
Optional Party Member: Despite the fact each of them gets truckloads of Character Development and enough dialogue to fill a novel, only about two of your party members will actually be important to the plot. Generally a male and female lead, who will probably love interests.
Not so in Dragon Age II, where almost every cast member has a main plot role, even the optional party members such as Isabela.
Mass Effect 3, while you start out with James and either Ashley or Kaiden, it turns out that Liara and EDI become much more major characters. And only Javik is optional in Mass Effect 3, unless Tali or Garrus died in Mass Effect 2.
Optional Sexual Encounter: Played straight with Baldur's Gate II and Neverwinter Nights, but tends to be subverted in many of their other games by having lasting, serious consequences for the player's actions. Mass Effect,Dragon Age, and Star Wars: The Old Republic do both, with optional encounters early in the game and serious romantic interests later.
Planet of Hats: Generally averts this in their games, taking stereotype races or cultures and deconstructing them. Most notably averted in the Mass Effect series.
Railroading: There's usually a point around the end of the second/beginning of the third act of a Bioware game where you have to make a major choice, usually picking between NPC factions or a particular Sadistic Choice that dictates the rest of the plot (The Sith or the Jedi in KOTOR, the Mages or the Templars in Dragon Age II, etc.). The player may attempt to find a reasonable compromise, but these are either ignored or handwaved by the characters in the game, as a wink at the player that this would probably be a workable solution if you were dealing with rational actors.
Mass Effect: Ashley, Liara and Tali from the first game. Archangel, Legion, Tali (again. Twice), arguably Jack and Grunt from the second game. In retrospect, Wilson is a subversion, since he's the one who coordinated an attack on the facility on behalf of the Shadow Broker. An awful lot of people meet Shepard and the crew as they come in during a Big Damn Heroes moment as well.
The Awakening expansion has Anders, Oghren, Sigrun and Justice all traditionally rescued, while Velanna subverts this because the Warden was actually rescuing trade caravans from her. Likewise, Nathaniel is first encountered in the dungeons after being captured during an attempt to murder the Warden.
In Dragon Age II, Hawke and family meet Aveline by saving her and her husband from darkspawn. Flemeth again introduces herself after rescuing Hawke and company from darkspawn.
Baldurs Gate 2: Branwen, Dynaheir, Viconia, Yeslick and Xan in the first game; Aerie, Cernd, Haer'Dalis, Viconia (again!), Mazzy and arguably Minsc and Jaheira in the sequel.
Knights of the Old Republic has you rescuing Bastila (or as she'll insist, her rescuing you) from the Black Vulkars. Carth's the one who pulled you from the escape pod wreck and nursed you back to health. And not only do you rescue Juhani from her self-imposed exile in the grove, but as Revan, you also rescued her from slavery.
Romance Sidequest: Basically a trademark of BioWare games. Starting with a minor sidequest in the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion to Baldur's Gate and implemented as a major feature in Baldur's Gate 2, after which it became a staple of their games.
Troperiffic: Dear God yes. A notable example being the Mass Effect series which after only two games, three books and two comic series, has over thirty pages on this site. Mass Effect 3's main page had a good 150 tropes on it before it was even released.
True Companions: Usually what the party becomes by the end of the game, though certain members will always despise each others.
Tsundere: One of the romanceable females will be this.
Video Game Caring Potential: Invoked early, often, and hard. Many a Dark Side / Renegade / Closed Fist action has been thwarted because the dog has been so well-developed you can't bear to go through with kicking it.
Mass Effect 2 can be completed in a few hours by just sticking to the main quests. Doing so results in all of your crew dying horribly so most players (unless they're trying for the bad ending) spend hours carefully upgrading the ship and completing squad members' loyalty missions.
Same with Mass Effect 3, where rushing through the game can result in major galactic devastation.
Special mention goes to Dragon Age II on this front with just about every dialogue choice having a snarky option. Pick enough of them and Hawke's incidental dialogue (battle cries, comments outside of normal dialogue scenes, etc) will simply ooze with snarkiness.