Dragon Age: Inquisition, for all of its massive open-world exploring, gorgeous graphics, and patient, hours-long primary story arc, is very much a Bioware game. You go on missions, journeys, and boss fights, and return to a castle/spaceship/camp to chat with all the interesting faces you’ve recruited along the way. That’s their M.O. Fight, talk, and occasionally fuck. It’s a fairly simple formula, but it’s helped the studio create some of the most memorable NPC relationships in the history of videogames.
With that in mind, we decided to highlight six characters that we think best symbolize Bioware at their best. So yeah, don’t expect anyone from Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
I’m not here to state that Bastila was a particularly unique character. She was, and is, some moonlit, sultry-toned lady Jedi existing solely to pluck the heartstrings of young men slowly understanding the lovelorn potential of the rapidly flattening uncanny valley. I don’t remember much about our kinship, other than how it was very, very real. I remember convincing her to make up with her mother, leading to an unanimated, implied kiss, which set my world ablaze.
I’m not going to argue that she wasn’t an underdeveloped cliche of space-fantasy pomp, nor do I know why literally every single Jedi in the universe seems to break the whole “no marriage” thing. But still, my brief starship love affair with Bastila Shan was the first time I realized videogames could give me butterflies, which is why I still care enough about videogames to be writing this 11 years later. BioWare popped so many of our cherries it sorta feels like a federal offense. That counts for something, even if they weren’t all for grown-ups.
Bioware doesn’t always get this right. There’s always the chummy, boilerplate DPS dude you get shacked up with five minutes in. In KOTOR it was Carth, one of the most self-righteously boring characters in RPG history, who’d swing between muddy tactics jargon and inexplicable outrage whenever the plot desired. We’re talking about huge armadas threatening the extinction of the entire galaxy! Your binary obsession with abstract justice isn’t helping matters Carth!
Maybe that’s why I loved Alistair so much. He was the complete opposite. Certainly capable of taking The Big Things seriously, but quick with a joke, scarcely cracking under pressure. He was the one time in Bioware history where the boilerplate starting dude turned out to be someone worth investing in, which set the scene for a Dragon Age universe that took itself far more seriously than your average fantasy template.
Look, I just have a thing for the holy assassin. That dude meditating in the dank corners of the starship, regretfully efficient in his bloodshed. Moping on the memory of his late wife, or his terrible absent fatherhood, or the general nihilism of a doomed species living on a distant planet. That guy is always the best. Thane is king, now and forever.
I’m including these two in the same blurb for the simple, underused power of the trilogy-teased romance option. Videogames are all about gratification. You save the world and get the girl or boy.
That’s just how things are done. But for some reason, be it lack of disc space or a conscious decision to hold back, Commander Shepard couldn’t woo the bodysuited Tali’Zorah nar Rayya nor the stone-faced Garrus Vakarian. You could try, but you would fail. The code would not bend to your lascivious desires.
But that changed in Mass Effect 2, where Bioware blew the doors open to all sorts of crew-incestuous interspecies relations. These romances no longer lived in our imaginations and winding fanfic databases. Good things come to those who wait! If you’re telling a story over the course of three games, shouldn’t the payoff linger at the end? Those years-long gaps between Mass Effect’s few lines of flirty dialogue, Mass Effect 2’s blossoming romance, and Mass Effect 3’s ultimate reveal of the woman behind the mask is pitch-perfect videogame storytelling. It makes me wish Bioware would do the same thing, only with it ending in bitter unrequited love.
Bioware always did artificial intelligence very well. Legion remains one of the most memorable characters from the Mass Effect universe, with all his synthetic, quasi-spiritualistic processing, but it’s a tradition that starts all the way back with a burgundy assassination droid out in Tatooine named HK-47. There was something great about rolling with HK and his completely open, hilarious disdain for flesh and blood—after all he was programmed to make those meatbags tremble. There was a coldness, the knowledge that in the wrong hands he’d be perfectly happy to put a hole in your back, but that made the relationship that much more unique.
Luke Winkie is a writer living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.