Don't be fooled by the six different origin stories, its still the same game when you get down to it.
Having read some reviews in advance, and having played previous Bioware games such as Neverwinter Nights, I felt fairly confident in what I was getting myself into. Unfortunately I was both right and wrong. During the initial Origin Story, you'll have no problem with the controls or the difficulty, even up through the first couple of missions in the primary campagin you'll breeze through most of the combat. Rapidly after that the game will quickly decay into a frustrating series of save and reloads.
The first problem that crops up is the camera controls. Most of the time the camera seems to be locked into whichever character you currently have selected and permits a very small radius in which you can freely move the camera. This is true until you seperate one of your characters from the rest of the party and move it far enough away that you can sometimes get the camera snap to break off your character and let you freely roam around the map. This can also happen at points where you don't want it to, such as in a particularly difficult melee where the camera snap will break causing you to run your character off the screen. This causes some difficulties when it comes to your playstyle, whether you wish to play with the over-the-back World of Warcraft style of gameplay, or the top down perspective of strategy games.
Indeed the entire game seems to be geared more towards a strategy game rather than an rpg. This falls flat on its face however if you choose to leave the combat up to the AI of your party and the Tactic system. If you have played Final Fantasy 12 at all you'll be familiar with the Tactics system for your party in Dragon Age. It boils down to an If Then statement. If X occurs, Then do Y. Sadly this system is painfully limited to the number of preprogrammed statements in the game, drastically limiting the effectiveness of such a system. Rather than actually being able to make your units flee into cover when under ranged attacks, your Then statements are limited to the avilability of items or skills you currently have; unfortunate considering Bioware went to the trouble to program terrain cover mechanics from ranged attacks into game. Further increasing the problems with the system is the fact you will have to unlock tactics slots via a combination of leveling up, talent trees, and the Cunning attribute.
Due to the poor AI and tactics controls, you'll frequently find yourself micromanaging each unit in a desperate bid to keep even one of them alive. Compounding this is the decided lack of information listed in the information boxes regarding both spells and combat skills. Few of the abilities say things along the lines of "Deals two hits at Normal damage" and not a single spell gives a value modified or not to the amount of damage it does. There's also little information provided about your character's combat readiness beyond your HP, MP, Armor, Defense, Damage, and Attack Ratings. No where will you find dodge, block, or any description of various other important values that could keep you alive. Granted that it isn't critical to gameplay and you can still finish the game without such information, there is little reason not to provide it beyond the potential it could make the game easier for players.
Compounding the problems in gameplay is a quick action bar that only permits you to place 19 skills at once. This isn't a problem with most of your characters, as they will have relatively few active skills to click on; unless you play a Mage, where you'll end up with a huge number of skills, all of which you'll want on the quick bar. There are only 3 classes in the game, with unlockable classes that each provide up to four additional skills to the primary class, allowing each character to choose 2 secondary sub-classes that are covered by the primary class (such as Assassin and Bard being sub-classes of Rogue). Sadly these secondary sub-classes are only availble after being unlocked, be it by purchasing overpriced tomes ingame or convincing other party members to teach you them. Possibly the worst feature of the game is the fact that many of the characters you pick up in your travels will already have talents selected, providing you not with the malleable blank slate that will let you adjust the gameplay to provide whatever needed class you might need, but a burden that will hamper your party until it can be leveled enough to obtain the necessary talents.
I should also take the time to mention that there is no quick menu or radial menu (such as in Neverwinter Nights) and no customizablilty in the interface what-so-ever, rendering that huge pool of skills you can't stick on your quick bar very pointless. Suprisingly enough, this doesn't detract from the game, as you will be so limited by your mana/stamina pool, you'll be chugging potions on your mage to keep casting spells since all your melee units skills with be on cooldown or they will have a depleted stamina pool, and you'll be micromanaging your mage as a healer/crowd controller anyway due to the huge number of enemies you'll be encountering. Even minor skirmishes will end up turning into a huge battle as you will ALWAYS be outnumbered in every fight without fail. If the sheer weight of numbers didn't overwhelm you, the fact that the computer controlled enemies are far better coordinated than your heroes likely will. On top of that there are elite and boss units occasionally stuck in with these huge groups of enemies each with the smarts and skills to distrupt your heroes and deal the massive damage.
Difficulty seems to be the goal with this title and it achieves it with banners flying and trumpets blaring.
Despite all the short comings in the gameplay side, the graphics and storyline are top notch, though at times you'll roll your eyes at the contrived plot devices and cliche story elements. The voice acting is top notch and features several well known actors. The story isn't nearly as dark and gritty as many reviews and promotions make out, with most distrubing material coming forth in back story or dialouge with NPCs, making it about as dark as the evening news for any major metropolitan city. Another frustrating aspect of the game is infact the dialogue options. Very few of them make any real impact on the events as they unfold, giving you little control over an already linear plot. So rather than uniting aversaries in the face of a greater threat which threatens both parties involved, so you'll typically end up erradicating enough enemies that could be put to use forming several divisions to fight the darkspawn.
All in all this is a decent game, nothing ground breaking, and nothing really deserving of praise. The downloadable content is also a bit of a joke, at 7 Dollars you'll obtain a single extra party member and about three extra maps all of which are fairly short, none of it adding real value to the game beyond a few experience point dumping grounds. It simply feels like Neverwinter Nights too much to stand out from any other game in its genre.
- Sloppy interface
- Poor AI / Tactics
+/- Typical story
+/- With lots and lots of plot and background
- Uncompleteable quests get stuck in your log with no way to be rid of them
- Quick Load isn't
+ Good voice acting
- Limited inventory space
Final Score: B-