It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened – probably somewhere between hour 60 and hour 70 – but I’m kind of sick of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good game, and I stand by including it in my list of the top ten games of 2014. There’s just so damn much of it that it’s hard – maybe even impossible – to maintain that initial level of affection for it through to the end credits.
As that happens, the little faults and annoying quirks start to stand out more. Why are the menus so obtusely designed? Crafting weapons and armor requires the player to jump into and then out of multiple menus in order to work out which upgrades will work with which items, which items are compatible with a certain character, and which characters actually can benefit from a particular piece of equipment. There’s absolutely no reason all of this information couldn’t be readily available on a single screen.
Thedas, the world of Dragon Age, is stunningly realized in the latest Frostbite engine. And yet the need to scour every environment for shards, mosaic tiles, collectible bottles of booze, 19 different herbs, various songs, and god knows what else means it’s impossible to really enjoy them as they were meant to be taken in. Rather than gawking at the amazing scenery, I’m often jumping around the corners of the level geometry wondering if I’m missing an invisible path to some MacGuffin.
None of this means Dragon Age: Inquisition is a bad game. I stress again, it’s a very good game. But it’s so over larded with systems that it’s just worn out its welcome a bit for me. At what point in the design process of an epic roleplaying game, for instance, did someone agree to hide a series of curtains for the player to find? Seriously, you can find and unlock new draperies, statuary, and banner styles for your headquarters — all of which are completely cosmetic.
Yes, yes, all of this stuff is totally optional. Even the titular dragons can generally be ignored as you progress through the main storyline. But that’s not how I play these things. I’m not going to finish a playthrough and then immediately start a new character, as much as EA may hope that’s what I do. There’s a ton of other stuff out there, and I want to get as much out of this one Inquisition playthrough as possible, and then move on.
This has been a problem developing in open world-style games for a couple years now. They’ll feature gigantic maps full of gorgeous terrain, which someone then proceeds to fill to the breaking point with stuff to do — the Far Cry series has races and hunting challenges, Skyrim is packed with NPCs needing you to find lost things, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has weapon and hunting challenges, and this iteration of Dragon Age has requisition officers who need you to collect five of some mineral, ten of another. There are fade rifts to close, elven artifacts to activate, shards that open doors in a particular dungeon, and “astrariums” that contain constellation puzzles.
It would be one thing if any of this stuff felt dynamic, if doing it felt like it made a real impact on the world and the people in it. But it doesn’t. It’s all just stuff that’s out there to do that’ll bug me if I leave it undone.
I will finish Dragon Age: Inquisition. But what’s sad is that this incessant need to give me things to do has just tired me out. It pins me between my desire to advance the game and my distaste for missing out on content. The end result is to reduce a lot of the content to the level of chores, and that’s pretty much the opposite of fun.