Christ, what a mess.
I started Mass Effect: Andromeda last Friday with every intention of finishing it, or at least finishing the majority of it, by Sunday night. Based on my experience with other Bioware RPGs this seemed perfectly doable; my completion times for all three previous Mass Effects clock in at under 20 hours and I had nothing else to do that weekend, and they’d all at least been fun enough for me to blitz through them in a similar timeframe. It’s not Bioware, but when Alpha Protocol came out I completed it three times in a single week1. What I’m trying to say here is that I have absolutely no problem smashing my way through an RPG in a very short space of time, and I’ll usually enjoy doing it unless the RPG in question is Dragon Age 2.
On Sunday morning, faced with the choice between playing more Mass Effect: Andromeda and doing literally anything else with my time, I instead elected to clean my fridge. I took all of the shelves out, washed them in the sink, dried them, thoroughly wiped down the inside of the fridge to remove some pretty gnarly hidden stains, replaced everything, and then went on to clean the microwave and the easy parts of the oven for good measure. Doing a proper job of it meant enduring a couple of hours of the sort of mild intellectual tedium that accompanies all housework, but you know what? It was an infinitely, infinitely more thrilling and satisfying experience than playing Mass Effect: Andromeda.
I must admit to a spot of hubris upon seeing the intro paragraph to RPS’s review of Dragon Age: Inquisition. “I’ve spent almost sixty hours uncovering as much of Inquisition’s enormous open world and intricate story as possible”? Yeah, there was some eye-rolling going on when I read that. This is Bioware we’re talking about, who have cut and cut and cut at the core concept of the RPG until it consisted of nothing more than a dull series of linear dungeons propped up by their character writing, which is still consistently above average. There’s also the fact that games journalists are paradoxically terrible at actually playing the products they review for a living; as a general rule of thumb you can take any time they quote for completion of a game and cut it in half to get the actual length1. And after the debacle that was Dragon Age 2 I’d mercifully insulated myself from any further publicity for the series, assuming that Inquisition would at best be more along the lines of a semi-decent fantasy Mass Effect than a proper, meaty RPG. Eminently disposable, in other words. I thought I’d be able to blast through it in a weekend and then move on to the next item on the huge list of games I have to play.
Forty hours later, and I am forced to admit I might have been mistaken.
This is going to be split into two parts: non-spoiler where I talk about the mechanics of the game and how I feel it pulls them off in as vague a way as possible, and then another part where I go into slightly more spoily plot details. This is the non-spoiler half of the review, but please bear in mind I have to talk about some really, really general plot points like the basic premise of the game in order to explain how certain bits and pieces work. It’s only stuff that’s revealed in basically all the marketing material for the game, but if you’ve somehow managed to avoid that and want to remain unspoiled I’d stop reading now.
I do not understand this game. I do not understand how Bioware, a company known for make solid if somewhat unimaginative RPGs, let it get past the proof-of-concept stage. It’s the first significant deviation from the formulaic approach that has served them well in the past, and as a result it is dull as fuck.