I felt as if I might throw down a few more thoughts on my stated feelings regarding Dragon Age in a slightly more expressive and cogent form than a status update. I will state for the record, that these are opinions and feelings that I have based on my own experiences with this product. It is by no means absolute; any feelings or opinions that differ on the matter I view as being valid points of discussion, and not violent assertions of my stupidity. All that I ask is this viewpoint be something participants in any ensuing conversation will agree to before engaging in dialogue.
The first statement I want to clarify are my feelings regarding the combat system. My issues with the combat system are by no means singular to Dragon Age: Origins. In fact, the combat system that exists in that game has been used in many of the games from Bioware for years now. When they say that this is a return to form, they are not incorrect. They are absolutely returning to a form that they have been using since the beginning of the infinity engine. I learned to enjoy the system after a little while, but as a person that engaged in the original SSI goldbox turn based combat system, I was also annoyed by it.
The core of my annoyance stems from the mish-mash of real-time and turn based mechanics, and the failure of the AI to engage in organized combat. You can pause the game and issue orders, but even if you supply a movement order, it is likely forgotten a few seconds later and all the characters on the map rush into a blob around a few characters. This conglomeration makes the management of battle problematic, especially when there is no clear end to a turn for characters, and once a command is complete they will return to a default state and likely move themselves back into harm's way before you can manage their turn. What we get is a system that is poorly tuned for good tactical management, and too slow for exciting real-time engagement. It is true that you can configure the AI to perform a set of tasks based on a situation, but I don't want to code a set of generic responses. I want good, manual control, over all the players on the field.
There have been games to implement a combat system like this before. Troika released The Temple of Elemental Evil, which is fairly broken, but the combat system worked pretty well. The original Fallout games also had a very good turn based system that allowed for much better strategic use of party skills, and movement. I suppose it's really the movement part of the equation that bothers me the most about Dragon Age. The amount of times I need to pause the game and re-issue orders to ensure they're being carried out is aggravating. Added into that, the nature of the combat also provides poor information feedback based on my actions. The circle beneath enemies, in reality, is actually probably the best method they could have come up with... but I still don't like it. Give me a grid based battle field, and turn-based mechanics please... or just develop your real-time combat system (which it looks like they're doing with Dragon Age 2. Perplexing... they pitch the original as this return to form. It sells well which gives them an indication this is what people want, so then they change it again to make it more like Mass Effect. Bizarre).
I'm also going to go on record about their characters. I feel this is fairly consistent with most of their protagonists in Mass Effect as well, but I am absolutely confused about the praise for their implemented voice actors. The delivery is all over the map. Some of the characters *are* actually pretty good in these games, but the main characters are usually bland and lack oomph. Beyond the delivery, the written dialogue is often incredibly corny, and the branched systems that play out are rarely believable.
"I'm going to kill you!"
"You don't want to kill me, that makes you a bad person."
"... You're right. I should go home and be a good person. Thank you!"
In a way this is an over-simplification of their dialogue, but strangely enough, I've had *many* encounters in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series that play out basically like that. Not only is the implementation not believable, to me it detracts from what it was they were trying to get across in their games. They want to give the player this idea of choice, and to an extent this is true. The end result of a situation is usually the same, but the means of getting there are different.
Good: "You know, you should just give me that thing I want because you want to be a good person. Like me!"
"You're right! Here you go. Thank you stranger! I'm going to remember this!"
Bad:"You're going to give me that thing I want because if you don't I'm going to murder you"
"Whoa ok! Please don't hurt me, here you go! I'm going to remember this stranger."
After awhile, all these interactions begin to feel like a distinct formula. Like there was a form a designer had to fill out with discrete fields that would provide the information each department needed to insert into a field in the code that allowed the conversations to play out in a standardized format. I can appreciate the complexity of the job, and recognize that if you're going to implement a system as large as it is in these games, that it almost becomes necessary. What I would argue than, is that this is similar to Bethesda's approach with The Elder Scrolls.
Each game in The Elder Scrolls series has become smaller in terms of the size of the world. The big jump from Daggerfall to Morrowind was the reduction in landmass, and the removal of randomized dungeons for better hand crafted spaces. I would assert that every time they have made their game smaller, they have made it better. I can appreciate why Bioware wants to make a game with a lot of dialogue and interactive sequences. I would make the suggestion to scale back their system, much like Bethesda did. Reduce the number of interactions and choices, but make them much better. It is *extremely* difficult to achieve this goal, but I would argue the outcome is better for the player in the long run. It might make it so that a lot of content will be locked off for an entire play through of the game, but what makes choice so good is that it has a real effect on your experience that you *must* live with. This was the big difference, for example, between System Shock 2 and BioShock. The latter let you make changes to your character almost on the fly, while the former forced you to make tough decisions and then live with the consequences for the duration of the game.
If you wanted me to be honest about it, I think Dragon Age: Origins is better than Mass Effect has been in terms of how your choices can affect the outcome of the story, but it still feels as if we are at this point in divergent storytelling that hasn't moved much beyond Baldur's Gate 2 (Heck... I might even argue Ultima VII). There are examples which show pockets of movement, but there is very little that I could hold up to someone and say that *this* is the one which pushes the idea of choice and character interaction beyond anything we have seen before. Maybe I'm waxing over something that has been really important, but I'm open to the argument if one wishes to make it.
The other issues I listed in my recent status update in regard to plain looking models and strange graphic choices I think are the low hanging fruit of the argument. Anyone can load up the game and see the low resolution textures, bland blood spatter texture overlay that is far too grandiose for a lot of the early battles with rats, and strange sense of scale (some of those door knobs are MASSIVE) deter from the graphic style. Beyond that, there is a rigidity in the design of the character models that has the effect of making most characters in the game look almost the same, with the same general lanky body shape. In all honesty, it wasn't too much of a detractor for me, but it was something that compounded along with all the other issues I had with playing this game.
That sums up a lot of my feelings on this topic. I certainly don't want to give the impression that I feel as if people who like this game are somehow wrong, or that this game is terrible. I do not think the game is terrible, but it *isn't* what I wanted out of a PC RPG that was claiming to be going back to a more hardcore set of rules.