It's true: I could really use some elfroot. It's hard to find. Why is it so hard to find? Wait, is it hard to find? Have I just been looking in all the wrong places? Given its importance to this particular video game—you need elfroot for, like, every healing potion—I'd expect it to be more plentiful, the way ammo is in shooters. But it's strangely scarce, or at least it's eluding me. There was that snow-covered hillside I found it growing on the other day while my questmates and I were on our way to slaughter some Red Templars and their demon leader. I could return to that hillside. I could harvest some elfroot, fast-travel back to camp, travel back to the hillside for more elfroot, then back to camp, then back to the hillside … in like 45 minutes, I'd be flush with elfroot, and then—then!—I could craft the proper healing potions I'll need in order to defeat this dragon, the scales of which I'll use to craft some really sweet armor.
What does it mean that these thoughts have legitimately been keeping me up at night? That in a world of real-world ice storms and overdue electric bills, I have found myself preoccupied by the location of various ores and leathers, or by the tantalizing prospect of the killer ax I'm going to craft for my half-man, half-ram warrior, one of several members of my fighting party whose skills, armor, weapons, and even jewelry I am responsible for the proper maintenance of?
It means, for one thing, that I am once again addicted to Dragon Age: in this case, the third installment, Inquisition, released in November on Xbox (360 & One), PlayStation (3 & 4), and PC. That's right: November. On the spectrum of hot takes, this is a frozen TV dinner. To the professional video-game reviewers who rattled off the 250+ hours it takes to complete this game and write a timely assessment of its quality, congrat-u-fucking-lations. As for me, I've been playing Inquisition for going on four months now. I don't even care if it ends. I don't even care if it's good. All I know is I need more elfroot, dammit.
Alright, fine: Inquisition is good. It's the most sprawling and ambitious game in the trilogy, with more characters, missions, side-missions, and storylines than ever before. The levels you'll explore include everything from sand-swept deserts to fog-engulfed bogs, lush forests to tempestuous coastlines. For the uninitiated, the series falls into the category of role-playing fantasy adventure, which means, among other things, that the gameplay emphasizes the careful customizations of and interactions between its many characters, as opposed to going around shooting guys in the face. With an increasing number of games designed primarily around the multiplayer experience, this one is a relief because it requires—demands, really—that a gamer sit alone in a room talking to no one for weeks on end. (Trust me: You don't want to try to discuss dinner plans with your significant other whilst attempting to hurl pitch grenades at a dragon named the Highland Ravager.)
In Inquisition, I can plant my own garden, choose the curtains for my bedroom, and design my lead character to look like Ziggy Stardust, complete with glam-rock face paint and a shaggy mop of hair. And speaking of sexual progressivism, the game allows you to play as a guy or gal, straight or gay, with sexual encounters—the trilogy is known for its sexual encounters, and I am known for enjoying them—ranging from man-on-ram-man action to she-elf-on-she-elf Sapphic high jinks.
I wouldn't know much about that, however, because I have spent the majority of my time in the game spelunking caves and combing deserts in search of loot. While you can find various weapons and items by completing side quests and slaying bad guys, the best loot comes from crafting it out of materials and schematics you accumulate in your travels. Hence my ravenous search for elfroot: It's the key ingredient in all the best potions. Likewise, in addition to herbs, there are metals, leathers, and various textiles that you can use to forge swords, chain mail, etc.
Despite, or maybe because of, this complexity, Inquisition is not the most cohesive or satisfying from a narrative standpoint. The plot involves demons entering our world through portals and a villain in desperate need of some Neutrogena, and it's generally way too fantastical for me to not feel embarrassed articulating it in print in such close proximity to my name. Actually, most of this stuff is embarrassing. I'm a grown-ass man. How am I losing sleep over the lack of really awesome tonics in my inventory?
It's my lizard brain, dammit. Inquisition has rich characters, detailed levels, a sprawling story, and compelling combat mechanics. But it's the game's approach to character customization that makes it so addicting. Wanna get a really sweet pommel for your new greatsword? You'll have to collect enough Drakestone and combine that with a hilt schematic. Need to build some protective gauntlets to supplement your Heavy Vanguard Armor? Time to venture out to the Hissing Wastes and get yourself some Quillback Leather. The developers are counting on your lizard brain caring more about elfroot than a comprehensible story or dynamic combat mechanics, and that is a perfectly good way to prioritize things, because frankly mine does. This is Borderlands 2 over again, just with herbs instead of guns.
I mentioned up top that I have yet to finish Inquisition. This is technically true. For the last couple weeks, I have only to pay a visit to "the war room" and select the final-boss mission in order to finish the game. But I've avoided that, because there's still so much left to do. I mean, I haven't even had kinky sex with a dwarf. The décor of my castle is still lacking. I know there are better staves out there just waiting to be crafted. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm aware that the performance of these tasks falls less into the category of playing a game than it does indulging an addiction. Who cares, though? I can quit any time I want.
Image futzes by the author.
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