Hindsight: The tiresome busy work of Dragon Age: Inquisition

By Brenna Hillier, Friday, 16 October 2015 09:05 GMT

Dragon Age: Inquisition has been relegated to the ranks of Brenna’s more unfortunate dalliances.

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When I played Dragon Age: Inquisition over the holidays last year, I played it solidly, right through, in a gluttonous marathon. I gulped it down, putting in tens of hours of effort in my constant, driving ambition to bang Cullen as thoroughly as possible and change the entire god damned world in the process. The process of playing, not of banging Cullen – although I’m sure the earth moved for him.

I don’t regret my investment in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but with hindsight I can see why our relationship didn’t last. The incredible initial attraction, all those wonderful early memories – but the actual day to day of getting along together after that…?

I loved it. I loved it so much that when my brother spoiled the ending for himself I stopped talking to him and penned a furious editorial. It made me ask serious questions about how I live my life (poorly). I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.

Then I stopped. I didn’t even get one third of the way through my second playthrough, and I had planned to do half a dozen. This is an occupational hazard; it’s hard to 100% games when there’s another one crossing the threshold, or dropping into your inbox, every few days – and you have a Destiny habit to feed. I think I only tuned into the multiplayer two or three times, even though it was built on the same formula as my dearly beloved Mass Effect 3.

There were two major DLC drops in the nine months after release. I didn’t really have time for them, so I called a trusted friend and fellow BioWare nut for advice – would I be missing anything if I skipped them?

“Not really,” she said. Bear in mind this is a friend who, like me, believes in multiple play throughs of hundred hour video games in order to bang everyone.

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But then Trespasser was announced. If you’ve seen the ending of Inquisition, and if you cared, you no doubt had a very similar reaction to the ending of the trailer as I did – an instant rekindling of passion.

Unfortunately, I got about an hour into the DLC (having spent most of that time thoroughly enjoying myself doing nothing but talk to my party members) and had to stop. I couldn’t win the first battle – the very first battle. Despite meeting the level requirements my blows bounced off the baddies and my characters fell before the enemies like so many heads of grass.

After another hour of trying to pass this one fight, I gave up in disgust. For whatever reason, I struggled with combat all the way through Inquisition. If I turned the difficulty down I could win by holding one button, but if I left it at normal I was constantly being smashed. Clearly, I was misunderstanding something to do with character builds and crafting, but even though I normally love these features in RPGs, in Inquisition I just felt overwhelmed and bored by it.

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I make no bones about it: there’s some problem with me here. Nobody else I know struggled with combat. But I’m perfectly happy saying that the crafting and inventory menus in Inquisition are absolute bollocks and about as pleasant to spend time in as a shifting, gritty, hot wind. I’m pretty convinced the available abilities don’t support the strategic builds I came to love in Dragon Age: Origins, either; it’s just potion spam or grind.

Anyway: I’m terrible at Inquisition and I needed to do a lot of grinding to compensate for it. This is the trade off we accept with RPGs. But when I thought of going back out into the main game to do tens of hours of resource collecting and side questing and finding landmarks and fighting endless trash mobs I knew I couldn’t do it.

I like open world games – I really do. I like a big map full of stuff, and ticking all that stuff off. But Dragon Age: Inquisition is missing the sandbox and traversal elements that bring joy to games like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, InFamous and dozens more (I’d even include Mass Effect 1 in this, although opinion is divided on the Mako). You plod from place to place and battle trash mobs over and over again. The maps are simultaneously too large for easy travel on foot and too small to make fast travel loading times or the awkward mounted movement worthwhile.

And all those hours of content are just – busy work. Find this, kill that, collect 20 of something or other. There’s none of the charm, wit and humanity that makes the story content of BioWare games so engaging. Since I didn’t enjoy the combat, all that stuff just seemed like too much effort for little reward; even the banter runs out before you’ve scratched the surface of all the content that’s been packed in.

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I have frequently declared myself to be passionately in love with this or that video game because I have so many feelings. I call the time I spend focused almost exclusively on one game “affairs”. It’s an easy analogy: some last a little while, others may continue casually forever. Some you look back on fondly, and others you come to regret, wishing you could take back your investment.

I don’t regret my investment in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but with hindsight I can see why our relationship didn’t last. The incredible initial attraction, all those wonderful early memories – but the actual day to day of getting along together after that…? Dragon Age: Inquisition is the equivalent of that incredibly good-looking lover who steals your heart in an instant – but then moves in, makes a mess, expects you to do all the cooking and cleaning and needs endless emotional pandering.

Dragon Age 4 is clearly going to be a thing, according to my friend who has actually finished Trespasser, and I for one am very glad of it. I can’t wait to pick up where we left off, with a dramatic story, loveable characters and a feeling of genuine impact on an ongoing setting I’m heavily invested in. (I added up how much I’ve spent on Dragon Age comics and books over the years and – excuse me while I sob brokenly.) But I really hope EA and BioWare find some better way to balance the modern gamer’s need for masses of open world content with what we actually have loved about both BioWare games and classic party RPGs, you know?

Hindsight is a new, intermittent VG247 column in which our writers change their fickle minds.

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