I adored Dragon Age: Inquisition—that much should be obvious from my review. I'd also be the first to admit it has problems; and in some cases, notable ones. The combat is weak, the UI obtuse, and key systems can be slow to reveal themselves. All are legitimate issues that could deservedly put players off.
This article isn't for the people affected by those flaws. This is for the people who played the first few hours and decided Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn't doing it for them. It's for the people who were shocked at the 'MMO-ness' of the quests, or who were worn down by a seemingly endless stretch of busywork. Put simply, it's for the people who never made it out of the Hinterlands.
Is that you? If so, I have an appeal. For god's sake, get out of the Hinterlands.
I don't often adopt the role of the apologist. I enjoy Inquisition, but I'm perfectly fine with the idea that you might not. I wouldn't normally go out of my way to persuade people to play a game they're not enjoying. The difference here is that the Hinterlands trap is a real problem that I've seen first-hand.
Our editor, Sam, was recently showing the signs—explaining how he'd spent a weekend pottering around, completing sedate, low-level quests. Our section editor, Andy Kelly, never left the area. Watching his appreciation for the game wane was like watching the moments before a car crash it's too late to avoid. "It's okay, I'm enjoying the Hinterlands," he'd say. Soon after, he stopped playing altogether.
It's heartbreaking to see it happen, because the Hinterlands are the antithesis to everything that makes Inquisition great. Abandoning the game because you're sick of the Hinterlands is like walking out of a restaurant because you ate too many breadsticks.
The problem isn't that the Hinterlands are bad; it's that they're vast but specific in scope. Inquisition is wonderfully varied, and filled with interesting scenarios and locations—most of them not a sort of dull green woodland. Outside of the Hinterlands is the Storm Coast, where you can watch as a dragon fights a giant. Or there's the Fallow Mire, an area built to hold a linear, standalone ghost story separate from the main campaign. There's deserts and beaches and snow and a sort of brighter, greener woodland that's much prettier to look at.
As the game's opening region, the Hinterlands fill a very particular role. They're filled with fetch quests and uncomplicated challenges—both as a way to easily teach the game's core combat and mechanics, and as pace-changer between the Big Important Shit found elsewhere in the campaign.
Inquisition's developers claim that the Hinterlands alone are bigger than the playable areas of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 combined. That's an awful lot of fetching to quest, and it's absurd to think you could do it all in one visit. Inquisition's locations are places to return to over tens, maybe even hundreds of hours. You're meant to get a feel for them and move on—coming back later as you hop around the world. You'll find surprising stories out there, but you'll also find objectives that you can build upon on each return. Trivial tasks that, when completed a bit at a time, provide a nice reward when they're finally pieced together.
If you haven't left the Hinterlands, you're not really playing Dragon Age: Inquisition yet. You're playing Dragon Age: Bunch of Chancers Who Aimlessly Wander About. You're not a cohesive unit, but rather a collection of bystanders embroiled in a potentially heretical order. The story has barely begun, and so there's little of import to do. The busywork is more frequent; the real meat of the game yet to be revealed.
The best advice I can give any new or lapsed Inquisition player is to not deviate too far from the main story until you've completed the mission In Your Heart Shall Burn. Inquisition's campaign is remarkable, and that mission in particular is one of the most memorable sequences in any Dragon Age game to date. It was the moment I stopped being married to the Inquisition out of obligation, and instead started to care about the characters I was leading. It re-contextualises the whole game. It would be a shame to miss it purely because you'd grown bored of collecting bear claws.
That I felt the need to write this highlights a major problem with Inquisition's opening, but also with the way RPGs have conditioned players to act in a certain way. Every other Dragon Age game—most other RPGs—would reward you for finishing up all of an area's business before moving on. Inquisition destroys itself.
This is my plea. Get out of the Hinterlands, and don't go back until you've experienced the scope of what Inquisition can be. Don't go back until you've seen new places and met new people. Don't go back until you've spent three hours battling against impossible odds and decided the fate of a goddamn empire. After that, by all means return. Lopping off a few bear claws can make for a nice change of pace.