I’m not sure Mass Effect and Dragon Age are such good examples of games where you have to make decisions quickly, given that at any time, you can freeze the world to look around, target enemies, issue commands to party members, look through your inventory, etc. If you don’t do it that way, it becomes virtually unplayable, as your party members die within seconds of the start of combat. All the recent BioWare games are like this. Your choices are to play them as essentially turn-based games (except you decide when the “turns” happen and the AI fills in the gaps between them) or to crank down the difficulty such that you can just button-mash your way through them and not worry about actually making any important decisions.
Far Cry 2 is a bit more interesting as an example, but I’m not sure how relevant it is considering that what it tries to do is so completely different from what IF generally tries to do. Far Cry 2 does a pretty good job of modeling a realistic world, but the only things you can do in the game are basically running around and shooting guys. IF tends to model worlds in very abstract ways, but simulate a much wider variety of things that can happen in them.
Going back to the original question, that’s what interesting to me about IF as a gaming medium. In a modern 3D game, every additional element that you want to add requires a huge investment of resources. For every object or location, you’ve got to have a 3D model, textures, lighting, etc.; for every character you’ve got to have those things plus a voice actor, a set of animations, etc. Say you want the player to go to another planet; somebody has to design and model and paint that planet and populate it with architecture, people, and whatever else. If you want the player to be able to ride a motorcycle, you have to set up a new control scheme, animations, maybe a whole physics model. In IF, if you want the player to visit another planet, all you have to do is write a description of that planet; if you want the player to ride a motorcycle, you can just say he’s on a motorcycle. (This is a little bit of an oversimplification; obviously you still need to come up with interactions to make those situations interesting, but the amount of actual assets that need to be created is drastically reduced.) In a big-budget 3D game, it takes such a commitment of time and resources every time you add a new system that those games tend to end up being the player doing essentially the same things with slightly different window-dressing over and over again.
(There’s also the simple issue of controls – in the example mentioned before of an FPS implementing a scene of going downstairs and making breakfast, how does the player know how to open a cabinet, pick up a bowl, tear open the cereal packet, use a spoon, etc.? It’s not practical to assign a button/keypress to every possible action, so those would all probably end up being context-sensitive, which tends to feel like you’re not making any decisions, but just pressing buttons to advance through a scripted sequence.)
And, of course, there are some things you can do with text that just wouldn’t make any sense in any other medium. Games like Nord and Bert, Ad Verbum, or Earl Grey are good examples of this.
I also like that IF is narrated because it allows for deeper characterization. Everything you’re experiencing in the game is coming through the filter of a narrator or the player character him/herself, so there’s room to convey a lot of information through the way you tell the player about what’s happening. In graphical games the presentation is usually pretty objective and you can take it for granted that what you’re seeing on screen is an accurate representation of what’s happening. IF allows for an unreliable narrator or lets the author more easily pick and choose what the player gets to know about and what’s important to take notice of.
Not every IF game takes advantages of all those things, of course, but they can if they want to, and that’s the appeal of text adventures to me. But if you don’t like them, I don’t think anyone else’s reasons for liking them are going to change your mind.
I do think that’s is a little unfair. The independent game scene is thriving right now, moreso than in the past couple of decades at least. There are many, many well-received games out there that don’t fit that description at all.