The Game that Broke Me — Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

I used to play through just about every major game release that came out, and even some of the smaller ones. I was very good at blocking out the time, and getting it done. It was a habit left over from my time working as a game reviewer for a computer magazine.

Then Dragon Age: Inquisition happened.

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest Bioware fan, but I’ve loved most of their modern output. I played, completed, and enjoyed the Mass Effect Trilogy and the first two Dragon Age games. I even played all of Dragon Age: Awakening, the lengthy expansion for the first game.

Hopes ran high for Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was the latest attempt by EA to chase the Elder Scrolls dream. When Oblivion and Skyrim sold massive amounts of copies, other publishers were like “hmm! Maybe we need a big RPG thing!”

(EA attempted this earlier on with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and that was actually quite good…but that’ll have to wait for an Essential Games post).

Inquisition had a lot going for it. Bioware switched over to EA’s incredibly powerful in-house Frostbite engine. It offers highly detailed character rendering, support for vast environments, and some of the best sound in gaming, among many other things. Seemed perfect for an RPG. The game had an ample development time, and was slated to launch right at the same time as the two new consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One. It was going to be perhaps the most compelling launch title of the new generation. Fall 2013 was going to be great.

And then it got delayed by a year. Lame!

Delays were no stranger to the Dragon Age franchise. The first game was infamously delayed multiple times, and had so much content created for it that the huge expansion was possible. EA tried to spin Inquisition’s delay as a good thing, and for their part, they did use this time to add additional playable races to the game. This meant many more lines of dialogue and subtle tweaks to the writing, depending on the character race you chose.

However, the game is still full of weird technical inconsistencies and design choices…probably the result of shipping on three generations of hardware simultaneously. Inquisition hit Xbox 360/PS3, Xbox One/PS4, and PC with the high-end features to match, all on the same day!

The 360 and PS3 versions struggle to even run, with dramatically cut-down textures and jagged edges galore. Characters look like pale low-budget imitations of themselves…but the whole game is there! And playable. If you don’t mind a jerky framerate. And graphics that didn’t even match other Frostbite-powered games on those platforms.

Xbox One and PS4 fared much better, with results comparable to a mid-range PC of the time. The PS4 runs at a higher resolution. The framerate on both is locked at 30. It’s a good way to play the game.

On PC, you get lots of benefits. Texture resolution is higher. Framerate goes as high as your system can push it. Effects render with more detail and complexity. Tesselation is much more pronounced, lending environments a more realistic look. The UI is great too, with plenty of shortcuts and features that only a mouse and keyboard can take advantage of.

However, a bunch of weird nonsense persists even on the high- end platforms. Loading times are long. Really long. Really long. Even if you’re loading the game off an SSD on a fast computer, the load times are still in the top 10 percent of all modern games. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Many of the game’s animations are locked at 30 frames per second. This impacts PC most of all, where the game can regularly run faster than this. You’ll see jerky looking animations in the middle of your pristine, smooth gameplay. It’s not every animation either. The result is an inconsistent look. Clearly these animations were made to be seen only on consoles.

This technical weirdness is not what broke this game for me though; it’s a gorgeous adventure, and it runs just fine as long as you’re on one of the newer platforms.

No, the game’s biggest problem is that there’s too much of it.

I’ve played 100 hours of this game across multiple characters and never come close to finishing it. The first zone of the game is bigger than other entire games. There’s so much to do, see, collect, explore, and fight that it’s completely unfocused and ridiculous. The game just spits out quest after quest after quest and says GO NUTS, with no thought to pacing whatsoever.

It’s not possible to just stick to the core story, either. The game gates your progress by forcing you to do some side missions now and then, Saints Row style. Once you’re down the rabbit hole of decent-to-good side content, it’s too easy to forget about the main story and never see it again.

I am going to finish this game some day. It’s the game that broke my pattern. It took my nice little flow of playing all the big releases as they came out and smashed it into the rocks. I’ve never totally recovered, over two years later. I approach big releases cautiously now, and often I don’t finish them. I want to get my game-playing groove back. In order to do that, I have to overcome Dragon Age Inquisition.

It taunts me!

Also the multiplayer is a fun light-hearted hack-and-slash romp. I’ve played a bunch of it with friends. I don’t have any beef with that part of the game.

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