My Open World Blues Playing “Dragon Age: Inquisition”

The past few weeks, I’ve sunk about 35 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition. I played the game before but never got even halfway. For Christmas, my boyfriend bought me a strategy guide for it, and it’s really helping me feel like I have a handle on the wide, wild world that is Inquisition.

That’s because Inquisition is the first Dragon Age game that features a limited open world. Meaning there’s not one big, seamless world to explore (a la Fallout or Elder Scrolls), but several open areas you unlock in the game. The game also shares many characteristics of open world games, such as an emphasis on exploration… and a whole lot of side quests.

I’m not against side quests in general. Mass Effect 2 is basically a game jam-packed with side quests. Almost all of your time is spent doing side missions to recruit and get to know your companions. There are only about three main quests the whole game. And I love that game, because the story feels rich every single outing, main mission or not.

I also love Skyrim for its exploration, because the main storyline is just one of many interesting quest lines you can pursue. The choice of what to do next is totally yours. Beyond that, the gameplay is varied and addicting. The result is that I feel like I’m crafting my own adventure as I follow side quests to breathtaking new places. In Skyrim, I get to be the storyteller.

But in Bioware games, Bioware is the storyteller. The Dragon Age series has always placed a lot of emphasis on story. Sure, the first two Dragon Age games boast some optional quests, but even those are meaty in terms of story. I’m not just wandering around looking for the next thing to do — I’m always in the midst of something important.

Inquisition, the third game in the series, takes a new approach. There is still a great story in there, but it’s very spread out. In between the handful (or two) of main quests, you explore and complete side quests to gain Power. Your character is the leader of the Inquisition, so achievements like closing Fade Rifts (they let the bad guys in from the other realm) give you a Power point here or there. If you’re lucky, you might earn two at a time for some random little fetch quest or combat. But to unlock the next main quest, you sometimes need upwards of 30 Power — and that means closing a lot of Fade Rifts.

Inquisition Fade Rift.png
Ooh, another Fade Rift!

The result is that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I can easily spend three to four hours running around trying to gain Power. My strategy guide helps by breaking down how many points I’ll receive for various activities, with a recommended path to leveling up that much — but it doesn’t exactly comfort me as I still have to do all of the things to get all of the points, and it’s going to take a while.

I just don’t have that kind of time anymore. I would gladly sink that time into an epic story. Even The Witcher 3, another open world fantasy RPG that balances story and exploration, manages to make the act of discovery feel exciting by building tales into many of the things you find on your travels. In that game, you’re not forced to amass points to unlock the next interesting quest — you just run into stories everywhere you go. Soldiers in the midst of arguments. Old friends to meet. Political quests to partake in. People in need of a monster hunter’s skills. And there are fascinating creatures to fight everywhere you go.

By contrast, Dragon Age: Inquisition leaves me feeling lost much of the time. (Sometimes literally — like when I can’t even get up a hill to arrive at my objective.) The side quests feel tedious — like chores I have to get through, with hardly any story attached to them. The enemies are not varied. I’m either fighting bears or demons that crop up from the Fade Rifts. And did I mention every Fade Rift is pretty much the same as the next? Same set-up, same baddies to cut down… It’s repetitive and, frankly, a waste of my time.

Another issue for me is that the gameplay in Inquisition isn’t all that compelling to me. It’s a lot of holding down a trigger button on my Xbox One controller. While there is some strategy involved — who gets the last health potion, which special power should to use next, where should I position Sera on the battlefield — it’s minimal and often optional (playing on normal difficulty, as I am). That makes the endless search for side quests feel even more tedious, since the gameplay isn’t adding a spark of interest to the activities the way it does in games like Skyrim.

Finally, an open world set-up can lead to confusion and frustration very easily. If you have a lot of patience, I can understand you may feel differently. But I have had a challenging time.

A prime example is trying to unlock any of the three specializations available to my mage Inquisitor, because this involves wandering around an area and killing enemies until they drop the items I need for the specialization. I have checked the strategy guide. I have looked at online maps. I have raced to discover new areas where the enemies are supposed to drop the needed items. But it is a ridiculous amount of work. It steals my time and wicks away my patience.

dragon age inquisition 1
Discussions at the war table? I like those.

Now, I don’t mean to be too hard on Inquisition, as I love the story and characters as much as I do those in other Bioware games. In fact, Inquisition has a far better tale than Dragon Age 2, in my books. But it’s so watered down amidst all of the tedious fetch quests and Rift-closing that I can barely feel it there. That’s sad to me.

Overall, I would still give Inquisition a good rating, especially seeing as so many people love open world games. But for someone who has enjoyed Bioware’s tight storytelling for a long time, it’s not the type of game that I would go back to again. I just don’t have the time.

— Ashley

6 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m not really a fan of open world games as a rule. Not single-player games, anyway. Works better in MMOs. I definitely agree with a lot of what you’re saying here, and frankly I wish they hadn’t gone the open world route with Inquisition.

    One area I’ll quibble a little bit is that I never found getting enough power to be a problem. Quite the opposite. Even on my second playthrough, where I skipped a huge amount of the optional content, I wound up with more power than I even knew what to do with.

    Note you can convert gold to power a couple different ways. I forget what the trigger is, but at some point an NPC shows up at Skyhold who sells items that give power and influence. He’s in the courtyard below Cullen’s tower. Also, if you have the Black Emporium and/or the Descent DLCs, you have easy access to vendors who sell most crafting materials, which can help you fill requisitions for more power.

    I would also be inclined to say I liked DA2’s main story better. Inquisition’s had great potential, but they wasted so much time on the side content it never got developed as much as it deserved, and the ending was a big disappointment. Though they redeemed themselves with Trespasser, which was the high water mark of the Dragon Age franchise to date, IMO.

    1. Oh interesting. I did like 2’s story but it was not well-told, to me. Inquisition kind of suffers that way too but in an entirely different way. It’s cool you never had issues gaining power. I find that every other main quest I seem to have to start from scratch, though I do spend points on other war table missions.

  2. pugsanddinosaurs says:

    I completely agree! I’m on my second playthrough of this game and couldn’t agree more. In fact, I didn’t even finish the first because I spent so long on side missions I completely lost sight of what I was doing. I’ve made different choices this time round, going for the Templars instead of the mages at the beginning and experiencing the Envy demon and it’s already proving better.

    I love Inquisition, the characters are just as rich and interesting as Origins but if I have to look for shards anymore to unlock things I might cry. I think I’m just going to avoid those sort of missions, focus on the bigger ones. I’m so glad someone else gets how I feel about open world games, me and Fallout just didn’t get on and no one I know understands why.

    1. Interesting, I’m glad someone else feels the same way too! I’m doing exactly what you’re doing, skipping a lot of the side quest stuff to focus on the main missions. Like you said, the story is so good! I just want to get to those parts.

  3. C. T. Murphy says:

    The single-player MMO approach never really seems to work. Final Fantasy XII was sort of similar too. It’s tough to strike the right balance between on rails and completely off, but off rails with a million sign posts that are constantly being pointed out to you isn’t fun to me.

    1. Yeah it’s true. I agree about Final Fantasy XII.

      Makes me curious to see how they handle Mass Effect 4…

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