I recently played through the entirety of Dragon Age: Inquisition on PlayStation 4 again. I had never finished all of the expansions, and I had the urge to go back and see how it's held up after three years. When it first launched in 2014, I reviewed it and awarded it a 9/10. It was a high score that, at the time, made sense - at least to me. I thought it was the best role-playing game on Sony's console, so I gave it a score that reflected that. In short, I thought it was great.
But Inquisition is absolutely one of those games that you can look back on and pick apart all too easily. When I was actually playing it, I was loving the character interactions, the amount of player choice, and all the cool story moments. After I had finished it for the first time, all I could think about were the nightmarish fetch quests and maps stuffed with objective markers.
Skip ahead to August 2017 and I'm playing it again, only this time, I'm simply ignoring anything that sounds even remotely tedious. "The refugees are starving," one guy standing over a suspiciously full cooking pot tells me. "You can help them by gathering some ram meat." Yeah, I'm not chasing sheep across awkward terrain for 20 minutes for a slight experience point boost, mate, soz. The quest gets added to my journal, but it can get stuffed.
I played the whole game like this, and honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My second playthrough lasted about 30 hours less than my first, and that was with the final expansion that I hadn't played before. By cutting out all of the crap that doesn't actually matter, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a better game - a much better game. So why the hell is it packed with trash in the first place?
That's a question I started to ask myself, but I'm not sure the answer matters all that much. The takeaway here is that some open world games actively try to sabotage themselves. They tempt players into hunting down flavourless optional content, opting for quantity over quality. But the real problem is that all too often, we fall into the trap. We see an objective marker on a map, and we go to it. We check off lists of filler missions just so we can say that we've got 100 per cent completion. There's nothing wrong with wanting to see everything that a game has to offer, but when you're brainlessly hopping from one quest to the next with no enthusiasm and no immersion, it's best to stop and ask yourself if it's really worth it.
And this is what I like to call open world OCD - the compulsion to track down every little objective marker even though you stopped having fun ten minutes ago. Getting sucked into the side quest vortex is a dangerous thing, and it's something I mentioned in our Mass Effect: Andromeda review - another BioWare game that suffers hugely from having way too much fluff. Once you're down the rabbit hole and you're committed to clearing every point of interest off a map, it's difficult to just say no.
However, when you're purposefully trying to avoid whole chunks of a release just so that you can actually enjoy playing it, surely that means the game's overall design is seriously flawed to begin with. It's this acceptance of a title being poorly constructed that kind of made me stop caring. When I played Andromeda for review, I started off completing every side quest that came my way in the hope that the game would get better. If anything, it just made it worse, and once I convinced myself that no, I probably wasn't going to miss out on anything important by skipping all of these sh*t missions, it's like the shackles came off. Okay, so Andromeda still turned out to be pretty rubbish, but you get what I mean.
Now, this isn't to say that every open world game gets it wrong. Regular readers will have known this was coming, but The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, for me, the standout example in the sense that it presents its side content so well. I did absolutely everything in Geralt's adventure not to clear out every entry in a journal, but because I wanted to be a part of each scenario.
Ultimately, this is what it's all about. Open world games have to capture our imagination and make us feel involved, like we're a part of them. If a title's side content isn't able to help accomplish that goal, then I question its purpose. Sure, I think there's still something to be said for finding satisfaction in clearing a list of objectives, but for me, that kind of thing has the potential to really hurt an otherwise enjoyable experience. And in that sense, I'm glad that I've finally escaped the clutches of open world OCD.
Has open world OCD ever ruined your enjoyment of a game? Do you get sick of chasing down objectives across huge maps? Just enjoy yourself in the comments section below.