Part two examines Bioware, the most popular American RPG studio. All Bioware games share the same flaw: they're badly written. Bioware can write excellent, memorable, and unique characters, but they can't write a plot without using every cliche they could think of. Bioware more or less originated the concept of freedom of choice in RPGs, which makes them better than Japanese RPGs where the plot has absolutely nothing to do with your input and you may as well be watching a TV show with menus. A TV show that makes you watch parts of it again sometimes. Over and over again. So yeah, freedom of choice is better than that. But Bioware only ever gives you three options:
1. "I will help you find your dog."
2. "I will help you find your dog, but only if you pay me."
3. "I will find your dog so I can kill it. Because I'm evil."
You will either become really good or really evil by the end of the game, because there are no benefits from being somewhere in between. Go Manichaeism.
Baldur's Gate: Let's just lump Baldur's Gate I and II together because I never got very far in them and probably never will. BECAUSE THEY'RE BORING. Baldur's Gate II is somewhat less boring at the beginning, but after the prologue it gets boring again real quick. The Sword Coast is a mediocre, standardized fantasy setting at best. At worst? It's boring, and then you get killed by an ogre because your main character's not a fighter and only has 3 HP. Yes, under AD&D rules, low-level wizards are terrible, have 1d4 starting HP, and can only cast one spell once before they have to go lie down for 8 hours. Assuming that kobolds don't ambush you while you're sleeping. Not to mention that the combat system involves people standing around swinging swords at each other without actually hitting each other. Sometimes they aren't even looking at the combat. Good parts: miniature giant space hamster.
Knights of the Old Republic: Not the sequel, though, that was by Obsidian. Yay HK-47 and Jolee Bindo and all that, but this is the start of a pattern for Bioware. From this point on, their games will all involve an ancient relic, have a humorously violent party character (although Minsk was the start of that, actually), and have a level that takes place in a spooky research facility. Combat consists of using your most powerful attacks over and over again, like a Japanese RPG only you don't have to wait as long for enemies to die. And the main villain has no personality whatsoever. His only distinguishing characteristic is that he doesn't have a jaw. Good parts: go play through the game as a Dark Side female and tell me you don't love Carth at the end.
Jade Empire: Bioware read Bridge of Birds and really liked it, I guess. Me too. Anyway, they tried to make a martial-arts-based combat system that wasn't terrible. They failed, because all you have to do is jump around a lot and poke the enemy sometimes. If you're a magic-based character, you can poke them from a distance. Meanwhile, whatever character you're traveling with will stand around and do no damage. Since Asian philosophy doesn't follow traditional views of good versus evil, you can follow the path of either the "Open Hand" (which is all about helping other people) or the "Closed Fist" (which is all about teaching other people self-reliance by killing them and taking their stuff). This is completely different from good and evil. Over the course of the story, you will discover an ancient relic that holds the key to saving the kingdom, meet a humorously violent mercenary, and infiltrate a spooky underground production facility for golems. CLICHE SPOILER ALERT: Your master is actually evil and you were following his plan all along. The best part is that the flashback that get told over and over again to you, the story of how the emperor and his brothers decided to end the drought by going against the will of Heaven and enslaving the Water Dragon, is actually more interesting and less cliche than the plot you follow in the game. Good parts: John Cleese plays a European explorer and you can duel him and then he gives you his gun which is called Mirabelle.
Mass Effect: I just beat it today. The plot involves an ancient alien relic. Lots of them, actually. Over the course of the game you will go to a spooky underground research facility, and you will pick up a humorously violent companion. Oh, and one main-quest planet you go to has a corporate experiment on an ancient alien race gone out of control, and then the next main-quest planet has another corporate experiment on an ancient alien race gone out of control. Also, there are basically no side quests. Well, there are, but they're boring and sometimes don't even have dialog or any choices to be made at all. Combat plays out like a really bad first-person shooter. Also elevators, inventory, no tutorial, etc. The dialog system is pretty cool, until you figure out that it's actually really shallow and basically giving you only good, neutral, and evil dialog options. Then you just pick one direction on the D-pad and stick with it for the rest of the game. Good parts: there's actually a few moral decisions that aren't completely straightforward! Wow! Maybe next game they'll make situations with more than two options of resolving them! I was a Paragon, but it looks like they've decided to make Renegade to be more of a "bad cop" than an "evil bastard." So that should be fun.