Why DA2 is more addictive than DAO

So, I’m playing DA2 right after finishing some stories in DAO, and it turns out that DA2 has an addictive quality to it that DAO never had, meaning that it’s often hard to stop playing DA2 for the day, whereas it was usually much easier to do that for DAO. And the reason is because of the quest structure.

DAO was built around stories that took place in specific areas, with some backtracking occurring when later quests told you to go back to certain areas. Lothering is the prime example of this because once you leave Lothering the village is destroyed and you can’t go back there to finish up any quests that you didn’t finish. This fosters a playstyle where you follow a story thread to an area, do the story, do all of the sidequests you can along the way, finish the story, and then leave. Thus, you are encouraged to finish an entire full area while doing its story, and to not leave that area until you finish everything you can. Which also means that once you finish an area, it always seems like a good time to stop for the day.

DA2, on the other hand, doesn’t have those really big areas with their own self-contained story. For the most part, Kirkwall itself is roughly equivalent to one of those big areas, and the story always runs through Kirkwall and its environs. But Kirkwall is divided into a number of small areas, and there are more of these small areas than there were in any big area in DAO, and that’s even if you don’t take into account the fact that all of the city areas are duplicated at night and that there’s an outskirts to play with. Quests pop up in these areas at times and also move from area to area as you go along and resolve them. And since there’s a rough Act structure to the story, if you start the final story quests for that Act it’s like Lothering all over again; you simply cannot go back to finish quests that you started in the previous act. Thus, this structure fosters a playstyle where you start with an overall area — Kirkwall Day, Kirkwall Night, or Kirkwall Outskirts — and complete all of the Companion and non-story quests there, move on to the next area, repeat until all areas are clear of quests that don’t directly relate to the main story, do the next main story mission, see what non-story quests pop up, rinse and repeat until only the last main story quests are left, finish them, and finish the Act. Thus, the only natural stopping point is after an Act (and even there the game tends to dump you back into the middle of the action after the time jump so there are still things you can do and that the game encourages you to get on right away). But Acts are longer than most DAO areas, so you might not be able to play one through in one sitting, and the game structure gets you into a pattern where you start forgetting about time because it becomes so habitual to just hop to the next area and clear all of its quests until there aren’t any more to clear, and it’s only when you are pointedly reminded of the time or run out of quests that you realize that you’ve been playing quite a bit longer than you intended.

I really, really like DA2’s quest structure, and wish more games would do something like it rather than the “Run around looking for all the quests in a big area” thing that most do. DAI returned to DAO’s structure, but with bigger areas as they were trying to simulate the open world structure of Elder Scrolls games, and all it did was force me to grind out each area completely for fear that if I didn’t I wouldn’t have enough XP to do well at the next area. DA2 had that as well — there were a couple of shady quests that I skipped but worried that doing so would mean that I couldn’t get enough money to move on, although at the time of at least one of them I unknowingly already had enough money to move on (and the quest giver taunted Varric that I looked like someone who spent money rather than saved it [grin]) — but the quests were shorter and moved you along to different areas enough that it felt less grindy; I wasn’t doing all of them just so that I could move on to the next area safely, but to clean all of that up so that I could directly advance the story. Unfortunately, it seems to be the sort of thing that you can only justify with limited resources, because if you have the resources to build bigger areas more people will enjoy those, and it’s hard to see how to fit this sort of thing into those sorts of areas without turning it into DAI.

Still, it does mean that I play it a bit longer than I’d like to unless I have a specific appointment to push me to stop. I can’t say whether that’s good or bad [grin].

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