Bioware: What We’ve Learned From Bethesda, And What Makes Us Unique

Bioware: What We’ve Learned From Bethesda, And What Makes Us Unique

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?


  • Bioware RPG’s are my favourite, followed closely by Bethesda. I pretty much by every product on launch that either of those companies has released.
    A friend asked me if Dragon age is any good before I had had a chance to play it;
    I said “it’s a fantasy rpg and it’s Bioware. It’s good”.

    I think Bioware has a better grasp of epic cinematic experiences while Bethesda is undisputed king of the immersive environment. I spent more time in Fallout 3 than Mass Effect, but I enjoyed Mass effect more.

    • I wouldn’t say that Bethesda hold the immersivity title. True, I did play Fallout 3 a lot more than Mass Effect, Dragon Age is rediculously immersive.

      It’s the first game that’s actually managed to get me to make moral decisions based on their own merit rather than the rewards I might recieve. Also it has characters that don’t just give you their life stories at the drop of a hat (Sten).

      To me Fallout 3 was just a dungeon crawler with a slightly better story line than most. The supporting characters just weren’t interesting enough.

  • I personally can’t stand Bethesda’s games. Too much sandbox, not enough structure. I realise that’s what most people actually like about them though.

    I think when we do put a feature in a game we do a good job of it.

    *cough*Mass Effect inventory system*cough*

      • I seriously do not understand what the problem is with the mass effect inventory system, I actually found it quite simple and i liked how it highlighted stats that were better than those on your current weapon. The only problem I had with it was the vendor screen had all your items in one list rather than separate ones according to what type they were, but by the end you pretty much just equip the good stuff and vendor everything that’s left over.

        • You must not have played the Xbox 360 version then!. Despite my undying love for Mass Effect, I have literally never encountered such an atrocious excuse for an inventory and squad management system in a game in my entire life.

          There are so many offenses it’s unbelievable that the system got past alpha-stage testing. It looks like it was designed for toddlers, has no way to skip to the bottom of long item lists organized by item value (an absolute PAIN when selling items), resets to the top of lists when omni-gelling stuff, scrolls uber-slow, 150 item limit, I could go on all bloody day.

          Fallout 3 is the complete opposite in the interface department on the 360. Tons of options, fast clicky menus, everything in one place, a currency system that actually means something, really well-done. I’m playing both games simultaneously and I almost want to cry when I go back to ME.

          • I played the xbox 360 version first and then the PC version and whilst the PC one had improved the inventory system, I didn’t really have a problem with the xbox one, except for having to switch between lockers to equip my whole squad. If you want an atrocious inventory system try Two Worlds. I do like the fallout 3 system as it has stood up to my insane hoarding.

  • I think they both make fantastic games, but i have absolutely love Bethesda’s game ever since i first played elder scrolls 2 demo on the pc, it blew me away and Fallout 3 is my Fav game of this generation.

    What i think make Bethesda’s games it they make the small moments just as important as the big ones.

  • I agree with Greg’s take completely. Interestingly there was a similar article with Bethesda talking about the difference between them and Bioware that drew pararllels.

    I would sum it up as:
    The settings of Bethesda’s games are suited to their signature ‘sandbox’ style.
    The settings of Bioware’s game are suited to their signature story driven ‘Bioware’ style.

    The interesting thing is that their products are lumped in the same category but are so different they really don’t complete with each other.

    They’re both utterly fantastic companies.

    I am just glad some proper RPG companies still exist out there and are not being dominated by publisher timetables.

  • Personally I think Bioware’s signature is their dialogue system:

    NPC: “Greetings Sir, could you spare a coin for a poor beggar?”
    1. Sure good fellow, have 10 gold (Good Alignment Response)
    2. Sorry, I can’t spare any at the moment (Neutral Alignment Choice)
    3. Get away from me you mangy cur! (Evil Response)

      • Bioware did the original but handed recommended LucasArts go with Obsidian for the sequal. Bioware had started development on Mass Effect and wanted to do their own IP. My understanding was that LucasArts wanted KOTORII on the shelves early and Obsidian never got to finish the project. Shame I thought it was a good sequal except for the unfinished ending. 🙁

        • Yeah, I believe LucasArts moved the release date forward – from Feb/Mar to early December or something like that – leaving Obsidian little choice but to cut out entire sections of the game in order to get it done.

          • Yeah Chris Avallone mentioned in an interview that LA pushed for the tight dev cycle in order to get it out quick…and Obsidian agreed to it, something which he regrets now.

            Black Isle and Bioware have always been my most favourite RPG studios, and Bethesda joined that list with Fallout 3.

            Im hoping that leaked Sega/Sony document ment nothing and the reason Alpha got pushed is to give Obsidian the time to make it a brilliant game, because those devs have some of the greatest RPGs ever on their resumes.

        • Funny how they used essentially the same excuse for the shoddy releases of NWN2 and its first expansion. You’d think they’d have learnt to buy a calendar by then…

          Thank crap at least Sega has a decent project manager and is letting them work more on Alpha Protocol.

  • I do love both developers but I’d have to say Bioware edges out Bethesda. Bethesda’s games have some great characters and stories but they constantly lack the party features. Being on your own all the time can get a bit boring. But I know that’s how Bethesda like it.

    It was a shame Bioware let an outside company do a bad port for Mass Effect to PC and how the DLC was implemented in the game was pretty poor. However the core game itself was outstanding. The last time I sat literally on the edge of my seat playing a game was the last few hours of Mass Effect. That says something for story which is critical for an RPG.

  • that mage lady looks so calm. i guess she is casting some kind of buffing spell rather than so fireball for massive damage.

  • I prefer Bioware. Even though i didn’t much like the Baldur’s gate series, my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed KOTOR, and I had a blast with Mass Effect, despite the awful inventory system. I’m quite excited about Dragon Age, and just haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy yet. I prefer the sense of depth to their characters, and the polish they give the voice acting, particularly in Mass Effect (Would you rather be a snitch, or a corpse!?)A great moment was getting Balzaar to kill Mission in KOTOR. That was gold, but so evil.

    Bethesda make interesting games too, and even though I’ve only really delved into TES:Morrowind and Oblivion, they both provide an interesting sense of freedom of choice for the player. But I’ve found the voice acting and ‘metagame’ parts really bug me. I found it really irritating that all Dunmer sound the same. And I kept feeling like I had to manipulate the system of skills to get what I wanted. It just didn’t feel very natural to me, even though that’s arguably what it’s designed to be. And many of the quests in Oblivion didn’t have the kind of impact that most of Bioware’s quests have for me.

  • Just how much did Bioware contribute to Baldurs Gate/Fallout anyway? No one ever says Black Isle Studio, it’s all Bioware this and Bioware that.

    Black Isle is the name I think of behind those great games, not Bioware.

    • As I understand it, Bioware developed Baldur’s Gate, while Interplay/Black Isle Studio’s published the game. Bioware was no associated with Fallout in any way.

  • I recon, that the freedom of movement in Bethesda’s games, as in jumping for one and falling off a cliff for another. And Bethesdas realtime combat system and immense 1st person open world. Mixed with deep story and constantly evolving characters of bioware. Would make a great game. I recon they should do a collab game.

  • Old story so very late to the party. I found it by googling Bethesda versus Bioware just to see if there were any articles out there on the topic.

    As someone who enjoys them both, I can see that despite allegedly being in the same genre their games are really very dissimilar. To me, Fallout 3 is the gaming equivalent of reading a long picaresque novel. Mass Effect 2 is like watching a Firefly boxset.

    In fact, Bioware ought to pick up that license, because in structure, it matches their games very closely. A motley spaceship crew, recruited one by one, off for a bunch of different missions in every corner of the galaxy, with plenty of faceless villains who can be copy-pasted for the fighty bits! It even has a lead who’s so morally ambiguous the be a hero/be a badass conversation options would be practically canon. Not to mention the Whedon die-hards who would pre-order the collectors edition on day one.

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