[Blaugust Day 13]
As you might have noticed in the sidebar, I am finally getting around to playing Pillars of Eternity. The problem I am encountering though, is finding the motivation to play it for any particular length of time.
This is not an indictment of the gameplay or overall quality of the game necessarily. I loved the Baldur’s Gate series back in the day, and a return to isometric graphics is just fine by me. I’d say the most annoying thing I’ve encountered so far are all the useless Kickstarter NPCs which you can “talk” to but have nothing to do with anything. I have been trained by generations of RPGs to put a high importance on named NPCs, which makes these particular NPCs worse than useless. Luckily, I’ve finally recognized that these NPCs have a special colored nameplate and thus I can safely avoid being disappointed.
No, the primary problem is how… efficient I play games these days. If you present me with an isometric RPG map with a fog of war and a Tab key that highlights all the clickable objects, I am going to start at the edges and clear out the map 100%. I honestly don’t even feel like it’s a choice to do so – it’s a compulsion. What if there is a party member in that little patch of darkness? Or something to loot? Or some mobs I can kill? I’m not a completionist by any means, nor do I particularly care for achievements, but I just can’t seem to help myself here.
The end result is that I clear an entire map, face every possible encounter therein, and then head to a new one. And upon seeing that big square piece of darkness laying before me… I balk. “This is about as good a stopping point as any.” So I stop. Even if I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes.
As I mentioned, this compulsion seems unique to this type of game.
In my estimation there are a few likely causes that feed on one another. The first is basic min-maxing: there doesn’t appear to be respawns, so every missed encounter necessarily leads to a weaker party. No doubt there is more than enough mobs available to hit the level cap eventually, but I want to be more powerful now. The second is the fog of war mechanic itself, which is a pretty self-explanatory OCD itch to scratch. The third is actually related to the first, in that gold (or copper in this case) is a limited resource in a world without respawns, thus the majority of your gear will be found. Or missed, if one does not scour every inch of every map.
Breaking this habit will be tough, especially considering I did not even realize it was a habit until I starting playing Pillars of Eternity. Well, I knew beforehand that I dislike certain pattern-based puzzles simply because I can’t bring myself not to complete them in a ruthlessly logical (e.g. brute-force) way. If you show me something like the Minecraft crafting grid, I will start with one stick in the upper-left square, and continue moving that stick through every possible combination before adding two sticks, and so on. It’s like guessing luggage combinations by starting with 001 and working my way up.
Anyone else play games this way? And if so… how did you get yourself to stop?
Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 85
Completion Time: 40-90+ hours
Buy If You Like: Dragon Age, CRPGs, Bioware titles
Dragon Age: Origins felt like a seminal moment in computer gaming when it came out back in 2009. Here was an epic RPG written by Bioware that followed in the Baldur’s Gate style with all the conveniences of modern gaming. The lore was deep for a brand new IP, and turned many of the traditional fantasy tropes on their head (elves are actually slaves in the ghettos instead of immortal elites, etc). While certainly not the first title to do so, Origins also featured quite a few deliciously vexing moral decisions with no good answers. Although it stumbled here and there, the game nevertheless took me on a 100+ hour journey with characters I sorely missed after the ending credits.
Then there was Dragon Age 2. It went okay.
The first dozen or so hours in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt distressingly similar to Dragon Age 2. For example, combat remains more Action than Tactics. In fact, Bioware removed the pseudo-AI programming you could do in the prior two games and replaced it with… not much. The plot begins with a limp handshake via two factions warring that I care nothing about and no inklings that things will get better. In short, I was very, very worried.
Once I finally had a base of operations though… you know that feeling in the Mass Effect series once Shepard reaches the Normandy? Inquisition had that moment for me, and suddenly it felt as if my peripheral vision widened. The fun switch was flipped and stayed on for pretty much the entire ride.
The game feels massive. In fact, one of the big criticisms of Inquisition is that people end up staying in the first map (Hinterlands) doing quests for 15+ hours, long past the point when they could be exploring new lands. And I totally fell into that same trap myself. Honestly, Inquisition could easily have been the first draft of Dragon Age Online. It would not at all have felt out of place to see other Inquisitors running around, killing bears and closing Fade portals. Hell, the game already features a rather needlessly complicated and fiddly crafting system complete with dozens of resources nodes spread across the map.
Combat is much more like Dragon Age 2, as mentioned before, but gone are the magically spawning waves of enemies. As a result, most of the enemies you encounter feel as though they are actually part of the world you inhabit, and thus fighting them feels “real.” It also helps that there aren’t necessarily any prescribed “combat zones” – you could be fighting in the woods with trees blocking projectiles, or attacking up the side of a mountain, or using a boulder for elevation to trigger your Archery talent for bonus damage. Indeed, the sheer amount of verticality in the game is a huge triumph in making the world feel more organic.
In terms of plot, character development, and companion dialog, it is difficult to nail down my feelings on the matter in terms of whether it surpassed prior titles. I ended up playing Inquisition for over 90 hours, largely because I wanted to squeeze every ounce of party banter blood I could from even the stones of irrelevant sidequests. At the same time, most of the excellently written characters were from the first or second games (notable exception: Iron Bull), which feels like… cheating, somehow. Were they particular good in this game, or was I carrying over emotions from prior ones? Tough to say.
What is not at all tough to say is that I very much enjoyed my Inquisition experience overall, and am sad to see it go. I would not rank it amongst my favorites of all time, but Inquisition is the Dragon Age game we deserved after Origins. In short, it has renewed my faith and interest in the series as a whole, and was a joy to play besides. I am ready to follow Bioware into whatever form Dragon Age 4 takes.