Off to a false start with Dragon Age: Inquisition

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.

I most looked forward to getting to know Varric, and even his discussions felt hollow.
I most looked forward to getting to know Varric, and even his conversations felt hollow.

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.”

I know what I'm doing so just...quit..staring!
I know what I’m doing so just…quit..staring! Jeez.

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.

No. Just fucking no.
No. Just fucking no.

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.

Not that he was an option for my character, but even the hunky Dorian fell flat.
Not that he was an option for my character, but even the pretty Dorian fell flat.

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.

And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

9 thoughts on “Off to a false start with Dragon Age: Inquisition”

  1. Stories like this kind of underline how important it is to have a good avatar in a game like this, don’t they? I’ve never really considered that lacking a connection to your own character would stunt theability to make connections to the NPCs, but it makes some sense after thinking about it. I wonder, were you playing your dwarf as their own character, or were they meant to be an extension of yourself? Are you playing your elf differently?

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    1. It’s funny that you mention that, because I was indeed playing my dwarf as if she had her own backstory, one that I had formulated for her back in Dragon Age: Origins. That could be why I never got very far with her originally, because I didn’t enjoy having to make choices as someone other than myself. That’s how I played my elf, and it’s how I’m playing her now. No external ideas in mind, just her as a “what would I do?” surrogate. And the game is flowing much better because I’m less caught up in making sure my character follows a made-up destiny and paying more attention to the story. I guess, for me and this game, having the right character really did make a difference!

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  2. I’ll admit that DAI is a little slow to start, but once you start getting out of Haven and into Skyhold do things start to pick up. Even a lot of the conversations don’t get interesting until Skyhold and beyond, although seeing Cullen flustered by my Inquisitor’s flirting at Haven was truly one of my favorite parts about being there. 😉

    I know you have mentioned before that nothing about your first character for Inquisition felt right and even reading about you using whatever world state the Keep generated for you felt hallow, but I really think it’s better for players to have played the previous games fully. It’s hard to be invested in Thedas and your Inquisitor’s plight if you don’t have any prior knowledge of the world of Dragon Age in general. Playing the first two and then diving into the third gives the game a much more personal feel and you care more about how you managed to shape your own version of Thedas up until this point. Hopefully by going with your own personalized version of the Keep, it may make your next round with DAI much more enjoyable. I’m almost done with the game and I already feel the urge to go back to Origins and DA 2 to get different results from Inquisition. Happy playing, Cary!

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    1. Thanks! 🙂 I appreciate the support. The game’s been going much better with my familiar elf. And it’s been really fun seeing callbacks, if minor, to the other games. Really makes the Dragon Age universe feel cohesive. I’ll admit that I’ve been staying away from most of the sidequests in favor of getting through more if the main story. It’s still slow going, but not as frustrating. And I’m letting the relationships happen a little more organically. Though I am having fun getting to know Cullen better. He’s probably my favorite companion so far, though I’ve still got a number of people yet to find.

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    1. Deal. 🙂 It might be awhile before I’m able to reformulate my opinions about the game. Thinking that I’ll probably jam through the main story with what time I have now, before some big Spring releases, and then return for side questing and such during the summer. Eh, we’ll see, I guess…best laid plans and all…

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  3. It’s always a bummer when a game makes it difficult for you to enjoy it. Whenever I start putting in that much effort in a game, that’s generally when I stop playing it. I hope things go well for you this time around 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I played a little bit more since writing this post, and things went much better, if slower. I’m taking my time in getting reacquainted with the characters in the game. So far, so good.

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