You don't have to. All you have to know is lower armor is better. That's it.
Sorry but I don't want to spend hours learning how THAC0 works
Anyway OP, their all time magnum opus is Baldur's Gate 2, unlikely to ever be topped by them again.
If you want a similar type of experience without having to deal with all the old school trappings (though Baldur's Gate 2 Enhanced Edition makes the game run nicely on modern hardware), check out Dragon Age Origins. It's not as good, but still faithful to the spirit of their old games.
Mass Effect 1 is great on story and world building, but the gameplay is clunky.
KOTOR is another good choice, but it's dated.
Mass Effect 1 (you can skip the rest.)
BG2 (always seems to have great word of mouth.)
Then if you want a classic Bioware experience play Xenoblade Chronicles by Monolith Soft (Wii)
Both games have a universe you'll get utterly entranced by and immersed in. Even if you're not a Star Wars fan you'll still enjoy KOTOR.
Mass Effect 2 is one of my favourite games of all time. Such memories, I feel like I actually did it in real life. Can't believe it's been 7 years.
Well, I would argue one *might* start with Baldur's Gate. It's a lot rougher and not nearly as enjoyable, nor does it have some of the elements Bioware is famous for (e.g. romance), but it is nonetheless a good introduction.
Don't listen to anyone who doesn't tell you Baldur's Gate 2.
Baldur's Gate 2 is the clear pinnacle though. I'm replaying it again, this time with an item randomiser mod - still incredibly enjoyable.
The transition from typical JRPG to modern Bioware is pretty straight forward. Removal of anime aesthetic for questionable 3D models and animations. Alight tropes and stereotypes to more western cultures and finally add in some waifu/husbando stuff with a pinch of action and QTE.
Which game is the ONE?
As a note, I'm more of a jrpg player than wrpg.
Jade Empire uses action combat and has some nice chinese mythological setting. It is also fairly short so pretty great to get your feet wet in experience a bit of the Bioware writing, dialogue wheel and such. Dirty cheap and standalone but also pretty unique in its own gameplay.
Can't speak for inquisition but I thoroughly enjoyed both Origins and DA2. Origins feels more like an old school RPG which I love. The choices and characters were also more to my liking. I enjoyed the change in locals and many other aspects.
I'm not quite sure what it is that I enjoyed about the game. I can point out flaws for days but ultimately the game did have its own charm. The world and characters were mostly good or great. The gameplay took a bit of a back seat for more action and the map took a big hit.
Either is fine to start with, I think DA2 is a little more modern but it is worth starting from DAO if only to enjoy references and cameos of returning characters.
"We now have a dog and Alistair is still the dumbest one in this party." - Morrigan
I hate to do this but if you want writing, characters and story telling in a more modern RPG package that is similar to the older Bioware in quality I suggest Shadowrun Dragonfall.
If you get the Mass Effect: Genesis freebee comic downloaded, it will give you a recap at the start of ME2 that lets you make all the major choices of that game with a nice animated story summary so you don't feel lost or your character doesn't do something you wouldn't have. Easier to roleplay your shepard better.
ME1 was an ambitious and experimental thing when it came out, but it's really clunky and I found it boring when I played it. It has repetition problems.
ME2 is a very tight and cohesive experience, it felt very polished and well made for a PS3/360 game. It's even a little dated now, but it still holds up as a cinematic movie like game.
As for their other games, I'd vote nay personally with the exception of Boulder Gate 2 but you have to be into really old PC games for that to be viable. I know I couldn't handle it, too dated.
Dragon Age Origins was decent when it was released but I don't think I could play it after playing modern games. Similar to ME1, it's experiment and very clunky in some not so flattering ways (repetition problems). It has some really good tracks on the OST though, like amazingly good.
If you really don't want to do BG, then the 2nd best is KOTOR, as others have mentioned. KOTOR works, and then there's a great sequel afterwards (not Bioware, but builds on the themes in the first one).
I would personally avoid Neverwinter Nights -- unless you want to play the 2nd expansion pack: Hordes of the Underdark. Vanilla Neverwinter had a pretty terrible story. Hordes, on the other hand, still didn't have the greatest story but had a lot of really fun encounters, and kinda got better the further you went down.
I also don't mind Jade Empire, although it's short and the combat is...really hard to play nowadays. Still, kind of fun and kind of a unique game in their wheelhouse.
The combat is tough and complex compared to most modern games. That's what makes it a blast after all this time. A few tips:
Turn on auto-pause upon sighting enemy at first. Consider it a turn based RPG (which it sorta is) where you have to make the turns distinct with the pause key.
Positioning is key and use the map layout to your advantage.
Make sure you use detect traps in dungeons and have your thief play scout. Getting a spring on enemies will give you a significant advantage in most encounters.
People say that THAC0 is a pain, but it is really the sheer variety of counterspells. Learn them. You will need them.
Negative plane protection, cloud kill, and lesser restoration are useful.
Cheesing tough encounters when you are under levelled is a legit way to play.
Jan Jansen seems like the worst, but he is the best. He ate Biffle Chump, after all.
I would say:
Baldur's Gate 2
Dragon Age Origins
Mass Effect Trilogy
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.
- KOTOR2 (technically it's Obsidian, but whatever, only recommend Steam version on PC though)
and then come back to finish off ME2 and 3. That way OP gets to play a great diverse range of RPGs and starts off with top 5 RPGs (of any kind) ever made.
I dunno, getting used to low level D&D (2nd edition to boot) is kind of a tough thing for a lot of people. Also, BG2 is quite a bit better then BG1 any way you look at it. I'd say check out the story for BG1 on youtube/summary sites and then go play BG2 for anyone not used to older CRPGs.
I'd actually say go back to BG 1 and then simply play them all. They've all been worth playing, even Jade Empire.