This weekend, I divided my gaming time equally between Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bloodborne. It was an unexpectedly interesting juxtaposition.
I started off with Dragon Age and while I remember enjoying it at the time, on reflection, the experience ultimately felt…hollow. Like running on a treadmill; you feel like you’re accomplishing something at the time, until it’s over and you realize you actually went nowhere. It’s as much playing a game as it is marking things off of a checklist, especially given how relatively mindless the combat is. The only time a battle in Dragon Age felt remotely as fun as a battle in Bloodborne was against a dragon, and there’s only 10 of those. So, yeah.
Meanwhile, Bloodborne kept me up until 1 in the morning, and made me wish I’d started playing it that much earlier in the weekend. Even now, as I write this, the experience of defeating the Blood-Starved Beast is fresh on my mind. I’m thinking about what I want to do next in the game, where I want to go. I’m thinking about trying different weapon combination and different approaches to the same enemy and groups of enemies. It sounds more shallow than Dragon Age, but somehow Bloodborne is the one that sticks with me after I’m done playing.
I’m just not as invested in my Dragon Age experience, and I’m not really sure why. I know where I’ll go and what I’ll probably do next, but I’m not sure I care, beyond hoping to clear more tasks off of my quest backlog. The only area where it truly excels is in the characters and storytelling, but that’s a fraction of the overall experience. The problem is that, as a game, it often fails at being fun to play. Why would you fill 95% of your game with combat encounters that aren’t even that fun to go through? Why would you have groups of enemies constantly respawn when stopping to fight them is little more than a nuisance? Bioware, for some reason, still hasn’t realized that less is more when it comes to good combat encounters. It’s also probably my fault for playing on Hard, which Bioware interprets as ‘GIVE ENEMIES MORE HITPOINTS’, because grinding through larger health bars is just the best.
So why am I still playing it? That’s…a good question. Probably because I’m already 70 hours in, and part of my brain wants to finish off that checklist, while the other part wants to see where the stories and characters go. That’s a really depressing reason to play through something that’s supposed to be fun on its own merits, but perhaps the shallow entertainment it provides at the time is good enough.
If nothing else, maybe Dragon Age can be my safe, mindless happy place on those occasions when I rage-quit Bloodborne.