The first time I knew something was not quite right with me and Dragon Age: Inquisition (DA:I) was when started exploring Haven after beginning “The Threat Remains” main story mission. Having options to now start talking with my potential besties and/or bedmates, I did just that. Only, I found the conversations to be rather, well…boring. But being so early in the game, I didn’t think much of it. With a game as deep as this one, I knew it might take several hours of getting to know people before deciding if I really wanted to get to know them.
The second time things went awry was when I got stuck in the Hinterlands, a huge and very explorable portion of Thedas. Not that I literally got “stuck,” but I spent two meaty sessions of play just setting up camps, helping out farmers, revealing shards and constellations, and stumbling across side quest after side quest. The game kept telling me to “return to the war room” (in Haven), but I was having a perfectly grand time collecting elfroot, fighting stray soldiers, and dealing with random encounters of one sort or another. By the time I actually made it back to Haven, I had pretty much forgotten all about the political intricacies and rift battles involved with the game’s primary story.
The third time DA:I proved frustrating was just the other weekend. Having laboriously just gotten my level into the double digts, my party and I were ambushed in the Hinterlands forest by three thousand bears and a million wolves. Or maybe it was three bears and a dozen wolves. In any case, it was a bad scene as the bears were nearly impervious to any attacks. And the annoying wolves cutting in to dance didn’t help matters any. I got incredibly frustrated and didn’t realize I was nearly crushing my controller in anger until it emitted a small cracking noise. It was definitely time to stop.
But let’s go back to the beginning, because things didn’t start maddening at all. When I first booted up DA:I, I made the conscious choice to start a fresh playthrough without importing my background info from The Keep. I wanted to see what the world of Thedas was like from a new player’s perspective, touched only by whatever elements the developers had seeded for those unfamiliar with the series. (And frankly, I wasn’t too far off there myself. Despite using The Keep, my memories of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II remain mostly fuzzy.) To that end, I “resurrected” a character I started but never completed in Dragon Age: Origins, a female, warrior dwarf. And off I went into the “unknown.”
DA:I’s story is rich and loaded with background fodder and social commentary almost to a fault. Because I both could and couldn’t remember the world state as I had left it in Dragon Age II, I thought it best to jog my memory by reading every last and lengthy codex entry I found. It was a dumb and horrible process that numbed my mind than I thought possible. The more I tried to read, the angrier I got at every last little line of fucking text that filled the screen. Add to this my general lack of interest in my teammates, and the game quickly devolved into little more than go-here, find-that, choose-option-A-or-B, go-there, repeat. I didn’t feel as if I had any stake in Thedas’s salvation or damnation. Instead, I just wanted to travel the world collecting herbs and finding caves, because at least that didn’t require sifting through tons of itty bitty words about what-the-shit-ever in order to decide with whom I should side.
But I kept pushing through, making choices without much thought. And as with games of this ilk, much of my initial work outside of the main story involved gathering team members. I managed to open a lot of spots in the Hinterlands and recruited former Gray Warden Blackwall. I went to Val Royeaux, where I eventually collected mage Vivienne and rogue Sera for my team. I traveled to the Storm Coast and made friends with Iron Bull, a well-spoken and fierce Qunari warrior. And I befriended the strange rogue Cole through a despicable dream sequence (goddamn damn damn if I don’t hate the Fade). With something of a formidable team, including original members with whom you started, Cassandra, Varric, and Solas, as well as my compatriots Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana, I now had a host of potential acquaintances awaiting conversation in Haven. So I held number of “getting to know you, getting to know all about you” sessions. The results? Zip. Zilch. Nada. I came out of those conversations feeling nothing. No connections, no desire to spend extra time with anyone. Not even the flirtatious options that popped up for the romanceable characters kindled the fire. As shallow as it might sound, when no one proved worthy of friendship, let alone fornicating, that’s when I knew something was truly wrong.
In both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, I spent considerable amounts of time conversing with my teammates in the “off hours.” Hell, in DA II, “hanging out” with my teammates was what made the game bearable. In DA:O, of course I romanced that sweet doofus Alistair, which was loads of fun before I fucked things up at the end of the game. But in DA:I, the issue of virtual sex placed a distant second to simply wanting to care about my teammates…and I just didn’t. I listened to their stories, and none of their words resonated with me. That’s when I stopped playing and started (over)analyzing the “why.” Me not fully enjoying DA:I stemmed from something quite different from Dragon Age II’s crappy, recycled environments or Dragon Age: Origin’s unpleasant combat system. And I came to realize that my lack of interest in my teammates, and by extension, Thedas’s fate generally, extended to my own character. For whatever reason, I didn’t bond with my warrior dwarf, and therein lain the heart of the matter. As long as I perpetuated that disengagement, everything about DA:I would remain meaningless.
So with around twenty hours of gameplay under my belt, I deleted my initial game and started up a new one. I went back to The Keep and reviewed not only my choices but also the story of everything that preceded DA:I. And then I imported The Keep for my new game. I also recreated to the first character I played in DA:O, a bow-wielding, female, rogue elf. It felt right returning not only to her but to a Thedas that was a bit more familiar.
At this point, I’ve only just replayed DA:I’s prologue with my new/old character. I don’t have the extended free time I had over the 2014 winter holidays to make any decent headway with the game (most of it might have to wait until later in the year), so this playthrough is going to be slower but, hopefully, more thoughtful and more decisive. Just seeing my familiar rogue making her way through the prologue proved much more positive, so if the experience ends up being more connective and meaningful, then all the better. But it’ll be awhile still before I know that for sure.