BioWare, being a longrunning studio with a rich history of franchises, has accumulated a lot of Original Sins of its own over the years.
- Romance plots were originally rather subdued, some romantic relationships having different requirements to set off a relationship (especially in Baldur's Gate, where playing nice is a good way to have your advances rejected by your prospective love interests). An early sign of this trope was in Knights of the Old Republic; a female player character lost out on one romance-specific conversation with Bastila. However, a male player character (or a female player character not playing the romance) lost out on almost half of Carth's dialogue tree, and a large chunk of the character arc as a result. By Dragon Age II, certain party members had little or no role in the story beyond their romance, which caused the game to suffer.
- The focus on epic storylines, intricate plotting, and massive worldbuilding started hitting a brick wall as early as Jade Empire, where there were far too many characters and background for such a short game. It wasn't a problem back then, because the worldbuilding was kept to the background, and the story was easily followable. Spread out over three games in Mass Effect, the plotlines became increasingly complex, but the realities (read: limitations) of CRPG technology led to having to railroad a Gainax Ending to the series and some potentially universe-changing events being relegated to the background (such as the fate of the Rachni, an entire species that you decide the fate of, not being mentioned at all beyond the sidequest where they appear in 3).
It's also biting them hard with Star Wars: The Old Republic, where their ambitious writing (eight character classes, each with their own story arc) and production values (top-tier voice talent) has led to a very satisfying process of leveling from 1-50, but budget cutbacks from Electronic Arts means they've abandoned the individual class stories, leaving a generic, repetitive grind (the story arc only differs by faction) for anything past the initial story arc.
- As this article by Jason Schreier for Kotaku describes, BioWare has always had very ambitious ideas for games with a lack of practical strategies of how to implement them, with upper management relying on the old "BioWare Magic" to see them through: a sort of "everything will come together at the last minute" attitude that had gotten them through the Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. But relying on "BioWare Magic" has caused EA and BioWare upper management to ignore production issues that BioWare has always had — poor leadership, communication, and time management, an inability to take criticism or feedback even during development, lack of a central vision for everyone to work toward until the very end, and prolonged crunch times resulting in staff having breakdowns, doctor-mandated "stress leave", or leaving the studio entirely. On top of all these problems, the expectations of modern gaming have added the challenges of switching towards live service titles (which require constant post-launch support) and dealing with the increasing complexity of game engines like Frostbitenote .
Eventually, this caught up with Bioware and started negatively impacting the critical and fan reception of their latest titles. Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem are considered So Okay, It's Average at best, disappointing follow-ups to their beloved Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age titles at worst. It was forgiven at first because their games were of very high quality, and had a consistent leadership that was able to keep the development teams focused on their objectives, but with Casey Hudson leaving early in Anthem's development, there was no one left to do that job, meaning that "BioWare Magic" did not manifest and all the flaws of a pair of mismanaged productions were visible for all to see. A number of BioWare staffers who worked on Inquisition outright said that they wish that game flopped, feeling that its success vindicated BioWare's worst excesses in the minds of management and led directly to the debacles that were Andromeda and Anthem.
Mass Effect series
- The Reapers lost a lot of their mystique over the series, originally starting as beings with a frightening hatred for organic races (and disdain for "lesser" synthetic ones as well) with motivations that could not be understood and, even if we tried, would probably horrify us more. This decayed throughout the series, naturally being hit hardest during the ending, where they were given a sudden backstory as Well Intentioned Extremists led by a child-AI created from an embarrassingly stupid case of Gone Horribly Right. This, however, can first be traced to Mass Effect 2, which gave the Reapers (via Harbinger) more speaking lines, as well as revealing that Reapers themselves are made of organic species whom they've seen worthy of "ascendance". That right there brought their motivations down to understandable levels and hinted that they believe they're acting in organic species' best interests. It was forgiven because Harbinger was a Fountain of Memes, and their motivation was deliciously ironic (Here we have a species so evolved they can't even mate normally anymore, and for all their talks of having goals "outside of your comprehension", they're guided by their most basic instincts.)
- In the first Mass Effect, the Reapers are presented as a threat so wise and powerful that the only way you can win is by not even letting them fight directly — even trying to use or study their technology results in going mad or becoming their slaves. Via the Keepers, it's established that their schemes have been in place for thousands of years and are so subtle and thorough that even the player can't see it coming. Their only weakness is that they must rely on weaker servants to carry out their will, while the Reapers themselves didn't even see Shepard as an inconvenience. By the second game, Shepard and his crew are hacking into, overriding or outright stealing Reaper technology, and had the Reapers (this time in direct control via the Collectors) springing traps for Shepard that fail time and time again. This reduced the Reapers into adversaries which could be outwitted or Out-Gambitted, rather than all-knowing space deities. It was forgiven because the Collectors debuted in the series by killing Shepard, cementing themselves as major threats, and no one could have predicted Shepard returning. Further, it was understood that the heroes simply got lucky using Reaper technology—Cerberus sacrificed countless lives researching it, and the horrific consequences were beautifully shown in the "Retrieve the IFF" mission. In the third game, however, we're flat out told that the ancient, all-wise, all-powerful Reapers are scared of you, and then we're immediately introduced to a MacGuffin which takes away all mystery of how the hell you're supposed to win against such overwhelming odds.
- As pointed out on 1d4chan, the first two Mass Effect games, while still extremely good, had quite a few omens of the problems that arose in Mass Effect 3; powers being made redundant, story-vital characters and events being left to DLC, a drop in character development, EA butting in where they don't belong, and a decrease in making vital choices. All of these things were present over the first two games but were either barely noticeable or well controlled. The third game was merely the point where these issues really started impacting the quality of the game.
- One of the biggest critiques of the third game was that, despite the claims that the campaign would be vastly different depending on prior player choices, the plot still ends up playing out basically identically regardless of what choices were on your save file. But this problem of having to write the story around this idea was pretty evident in 2, which, rather than address a lot of the first game's hanging plot threads, many of which were resolved by player choice, decided to simply move the focus of the story so that the consequences of what the player did were unseen. A good example is that, in 1, the player has the option to let the Council die: obviously, this would have massive effects on the galaxy as a whole, so in 2, the game mostly skates around the question of what's going on with the Council and sets the story outside of their sphere of influence. 3, though, had to go back to the galaxy and 1's plot threads, and the result couldn't help but show, when the player can see for themselves that the consequences of the most powerful governing body in the galaxy being killed were "in a few years, they will be comprised of a different group of Suspiciously Similar Substitutes."
- The Character Focus put on Liara became obvious in the third opus (where a large part of the fanbase treats her as a Creator's Pet) but was already present in the first game, where she was a very exaggerated version of The Cutie, practically worshipped the ground you walked on and had only one obvious way to fail a relationship with her.note . However, in that game, Liara was only nominally important in that her mother was The Dragon. Even then, you could choose to deal with Liara as much or as little as you wanted; if you so chose, you could save recruiting her for the penultimate mission in the game. In the second game, she has a DLC centered around making her one of the most influential people in the galaxy and your second squadmate doesn't talk at all after she shows up. She also gets shilled in the Genesis digital comic, where, contrasting with the others squadmates (who are described with a neutral sentence), she is described as "as beautiful as intelligent" and "without her help we couldn't have done it". In the third game, she's your first alien party member, one of the most powerful people in the galaxy, one of the few characters guaranteed to survive to the very end, and is present in a number of touching/personal scenes regardless of whether or not she's their Love Interest, where the other LIs would have made more sense.
- Shamus Young points out in his retrospective about the series that the problems with the third game's writing — and by extension the ending — can be traced back to as early as the second game. Due to the shift in writers, the second game introduces a completely new plot only tangentially related to the Reapers, compensating with Rule of Cool, World Building and introducing new characters. When Mass Effect 3 made a similar shift back, it had to rush in order to make up for lost time and suffered for it. He also points out that Shepard themselves is symbolic of these problems; in the first game, Shepard made themselves "special" by doggedly unraveling the mystery of Saren and Sovereign and literally becoming the only person who knew the Awful Truth. In the second and third, they're "a hero, a bloody icon" that has plot forced upon him/her because they're now The Chosen One.
- Young also discussed the increasingly all-consuming importance of Cerberus. In the first game, they were depicted as a black ops group gone rogue, and their presence was limited to side quests. In the second game, they were given a substantial jump in importance, both to the plot and in the setting, that felt incongruous with their apparent incompetence in the first game. But it at least made some sense; you were embroiled in a different sort of story from the last game, excusing the change in antagonist and tone, and it wasn't that out-there that Cerberus might have its own little corner of the galaxy. In the third game, though, despite the fact that the plot is supposed to be about the Reapers, Cerberus is still being a Spotlight-Stealing Squad and fighting you more often than them, the Illusive Man is still dragging you into unrelated speeches, and this random bunch of paramilitary racists that spent the whole first game trying experiments that didn't work and getting shot en masse by Shepard can apparently pull together a better army than nearly every other faction while in the throes of galactic war.
- Many have criticized the kett for being one-dimensionally evil, despite the geth, Reapers, and batarians being similarly straight up evil in the first game, only gaining depth and sympathetic traits in later installments. The difference, besides their raising the bar, was that the former two had the coolness and enigmaticness to remain impressive and reduced the latter to irrelevance, while the kett (who were allegedly supposed to be "empathetic") are neither particularly interesting nor particularly deep, and their motives are fairly shallow overall.
- Andromeda was frequently criticised for the quality of its character and facial animations, to the point where it is frequently blamed for tainting the game's reputation before it had even released. Mass Effect had never been amazing when it came to character animations. You can think of the Memetic Mutation caused by things such as the overuse of Going Through the Motions, or Male Shepard's Uncanny Valley attempts at smiling, as a precursor to the mockery Andromeda would receive. The difference was that the original Mass Effect trilogy still always put its best foot forward when it came to marketing itself, while Andromeda didn't exactly obscure the lack of polish pre-release, and it simultaneously served as a handy symbol of the behind-the-scenes development troubles caused by outsourcing the animations to a support studio.
- The structural issues of the trilogy, as pointed out (again) by Shamus Young, can trace their origins all the way back to the Baldur's Gate series. Both series started out with simple plots revealing world-changing consequences to be followed up in future games, only to have the second game put the overarching plot to the background in favor of a darker, more personal conflict with a new antagonist, leaving the third game to hastily wrap up the main arc. But with Bioware still a relatively new studio at the time of Baldur's Gate, expectations were lower; at the time it was virtually unheard of for any role-playing video game to have the level of continuity between new installments as Baldur's Gate did. The gameplay of the Mass Effect series also strayed further from its role-playing roots with each new title, while Baldur's Gate built upon the first game's mechanics, making the gameplay deeper rather than simpler.
Dragon Age series
- In a way similar to Mass Effect, 1d4chan also point out that this applies to Dragon Age, as well, only to a much sharper degree; every base breaking aspect of the second game was present in Origins. There was pointless DLC, divisive or unlikable characters, and the first expansion pack Awakening was visibly rushed and had loads of Game Breaking Bugs. Thing is, it was all kept in check there, and plenty of work was put into Origins to ensure it came out good. Dragon Age II was every problem with Origins made blatant due to EA forcing Bioware to bum-rush the game out the door. As good as Bioware is, a game of the same quality level of Dragon Age: Origins being completed in less than a year just wasn't going to happen.
- One area that Dragon Age: Inquisition received criticism for was its Story Branch Favoritism in regards to races, where an Elf player character had the most involvement in the story, as well as romance options in the game. Origins always had this problem too, as a Human Warden Cousland background had the most diverse set of options for them in terms of the endings, outcomes, and romanceable partners. However, Origins had the player origin mechanic to make this less impactful, allowing each race and/or class combo to have their own unique storyline. For example, a Dwarf would have a lot of involvement in the Orzamar plotline than they would as an Elf or Human due to having two different background options (commoner or noble), while an Elf Warden would have unique lines and reactions depending on what background they came from such as the City Elf versus being a Dalish Elf. By contrast, Inquisition has no mechanic like this except for war table missions, meaning that an Elf Inquisitor gets more focus in the story than any other race, while Dwarves and Qunari have practically no personal involvement, and even a Human Inquisitor gradually gets pushed to the side in favor of Elf lore.
- Speaking of elves, Dragon Age: Inquisition got some flak for depicting human characters as more capable of recovering ancient elven knowledge than elves themselves, with Morrigan presented as the Elvhen/Eluvian Expert for the Inquisition over a Dalish Inquisitor, elven companion Solas, or even DA2's Merrill, with some thinking it's justified since Morrigan was unknowingly raised by the ancient elven goddess Mythal, and others feeling this begs the question of why Mythal feels that human women like Flemeth and Morrigan are more worthy to inherit her ancient elven knowledge and godhood than any elven women. However, this has been present since the Dragon Age: Origins Witch Hunt DLC, which involved human mages Finn and Morrigan uncovering more about ancient Elvhenan lore as a side hobby than any Dalish have uncovered after centuries of dedicated study. Moreover, Morrigan's ability to safely restore an eluvian is never questioned by other characters or the narrative, while Merrill is endlessly browbeaten by and failed at the same. However, while these started out as fairly minor stories and side characters in the earlier games, with Ancient Elvhen history and lore being pushed to the forefront in Dragon Age: Inquisition, many players found it to be an unavoidable and obnoxious case of Screw You, Elves! gone too far.
- Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition were criticized for the number of unlikable companions the party had, ranging from Carver being seen as annoying for Wangst reasons, to Sera being a Hypocrite with a strange view on the world. Origins had issues like this as well, Morrigan and Oghren being the most infamous examples, to the point of "Morrigan disapproves" quickly becoming a meme. The reason characters from Origins were still considered great, however, was that each one had Hidden Depths that allowed the player to see them in a different light. Morrigan had moments that showed her having a certain degree of naivety in her views, on top of being able to witness her character arc develop naturally as the game went on, while someone like Oghren was given moments to show that his drunken antics were from a feeling of failure due to his past, all of which helped them feel more real and relatable. Later games tried to make the characters more complex with darker pasts and more in-your-face personalities, but instead caused them to feel less real, more static, and never developed outside of their one specific character quest.