The paths of Bioware and Bethesda have followed a similar trajectory. From PC specialists to huge recent success on console, the two studios represent the top tier of western RPG development. I asked Bioware’s Greg Zeschuk to identify the unique strengths of both Bioware and Bethesda.
Zeschuk told me he’s been a fan of Bethesda’s game for the best part of two decades, from all the way back to Elder Scrolls: Arena and Daggerfall right up to Fallout 3. He says he admires how Bethesda specialises, producing games that are distinctively theirs.
“For me, Bethesda is probably the best in the world in terms of creating a sense of place,” he says. “The world seems so real it actually feels like you’re there. I think if you were to describe their superpower, that would be it. Fallout 3 was utterly believable as the area around Washington DC.
“Another thing that was actually very productive we learned from Oblivion is how a game is the sum of its parts, but often something greater than that. If you picked Oblivion apart, you could nitpick about certain things, but when you put it all together it was just a spectacular package. And in fact, it’s that package that’s the impressive thing. And I think that was a great learning for our Dragon Age.”
In parallel, Zeschuk believes what makes a Bioware game utterly distinctive is the high level of integration of story into the overall experience:
“There’s folks that do similar stuff, but I think you could almost say they do it in the Bioware style. We were the first to do it that way. If you look at, for example, how story is presented in a Final Fantasy, it’s very different to what we do. I think if you can identify a Final Fantasy style game then I think you should be able to identify a Bioware style game.
“Another we do – and maybe it’s not in the easily identifiable way – is we never compromise,” he continues. “By that I mean we never release a game with features or elements that are not as good as they could be. You can always disagree with the way it was implemented or what was implemented, but I think when we do put a feature in a game we do a good job of it.
I asked Zeschuk if he would agree that perhaps Bethesda makes the more ambitious games but that they lack the polish of a Bioware game.
“I think that raw ambition comes through in both our products,” he says. “And somehow what [Bethesda]build is magnified in some way. I mean, you can never polish every single aspect in a game the size we make; we just have to make sure we polish the right stuff.”
Zeschuk laughed when I then ask him if that was why Dragon Age has taken six years to make.
“Yeah, somewhat!” he says. “I think it was really daunting to create, in our minds, the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. I think it’s reflective of why there has never been a Baldur’s Gate 3. You know, you have this beloved product, and its very distinctive and detailed, and it’s very hard to recreat them or create a game in a similar vein. The sheer amount of stuff you have to put in it – that’s just an incredible undertaking.”
Can you identify what makes Bioware and Bethesda games unique or distinctive from each other? What style of RPG do you prefer to play?