While Assassin’s Creed: Unity may have face planted while free running across the rooftops of Paris, the week’s other major release debuted to a much warmer reception. Dragon Age: Inquisition has received sterling reviews, many of which laud the game for offering an overwhelming amount of gameplay.
It’s therefore ironic that that very feature – the promised 80+ hours of content – makes me far less likely to pay the game.
It has nothing to do with quality. I’d love to play Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’d also like to finish Dragon Age II while I’m at it, but neither seems likely to happen anytime soon. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favorite RPGs, a fantastic story told with panache and a wonderful sense of lore, culture, and dramatic stakes, and it would be nice to tie off some of the unresolved threads.
I just don’t feel like I have the time. I’m going to be spending the next few weeks in Paris and the Canadian arctic as I make my way through the latest double offering of Assassin’s Creed, and while a holiday spent in Thedas sounds appealing, I may use the time to catch up on the rest of my gaming backlog.
With every new game, I find myself doing a peculiar calculus. How many games can I play with X amount of time? For instance, I could play four 20-hour games (or eight 10-hour games) with the same 80 hours that’s expected for Dragon Age: Inquisition. More often than not, I lean towards the four because it represents a greater variety of content. I’ll be able to participate in more discussions and expand my knowledge base at a faster rate with the more diverse approach.
If the goal is to maximize my gaming vocabulary, there’s just not enough time for RPGs. That’s not intended as a critique of the genre. RPGs frequently tell more epic and ambitious stories while offering a unique brand of strategic gameplay that stands as an important contrast to more high-octane fare. I completely understand the aesthetic appeal of a good RPG, and the industry is better for them.
But you can tell a fulfilling story in 40 hours rather than 80, so that’s not what’s behind Inquisition’s robust expansion. Rather, EA has doubled down on length because RPGs still represent one of the best value propositions in gaming. If you’re only going to purchase one or two new games a year, you’d be hard pressed to find a better bargain than Dragon Age: Inquisition.
That’s also kind of the problem. Skyrim sold 20 million copies partly because fans knew that it would deliver more entertainment over time. Dragon Age will probably be a similarly massive hit. Like Skyrim before it, it’s the rare game with the resources, the talent, and the brand recognition to deliver on its ambitions.
However, those games are exceptions, and their enormous scope is precisely what makes them exceptional. Making a game with that amount of content is extraordinarily difficult. Even Skyrim has been known to periodically fall apart. Attempting to mimic that appeal is prohibitively expensive for most developers, particularly as we enter deeper into the new graphical generation. Being the top seller is a mutually exclusive proposition.
Unfortunately, the industry seems to have internalized a dangerous fallacy. Specifically, and it assumes that the things a vocal plurality wants are reflective of the things that everyone wants, a notion that completely fails to account for consumers with different tastes. The unique selling points of a small handful of games are applied as the standard against which all games are measured, as if size is the only feature that consumers want to read about on the back of a box.
I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense.
I’m not arguing against Dragon Age: Inquisition. It would almost certainly be at the top of my holiday wish list if I was in high school and my parents were still purchasing most of my games. I just wish there were more options that fit better with my current schedule. The features that are supposed to sell triple-A games – online multiplayer, massive worlds, and boatloads of optional content – assume that all consumers are overburdened with a surplus of free time, which simply isn’t always the case. I want to play Dragon Age because it’s good, not because it’s bigger.
At this point, a game marketed as a shorter, more concise experience is more likely to draw my attention. Would it really be that radical to produce smaller games on a cheaper budget that don’t need to sell ten million copies in order to turn a profit? Yes, you’d have to concede the top spot to Call of Duty, but with a properly managed finances that shouldn’t be an issue.
I guess what I’m saying is that game publishers need to stop chasing the Dragon (Age). There’s a lot of middle ground between all and nothing, and there’s nothing wrong with a less ambitious project that succeeds on its own terms. I’m sure Dragon Age: Inquisition is fantastic. I hope everyone enjoys it while I’m playing something else.