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Have you ever wondered what it would be if Bioware properly ported Baldur's Gate to a 3D engine and gave it the same old Bioware treatment? You certainly would not get Dragon Age, I'll tell you that much.
Baldur's Gate, for me, always was about the exploration, finding new stuff to play with, new characters to interact with, and new loot to hoard. Whenever I'd get bored of that, there was always the story to fall back on, and what an epic story that was.
Dragon Age is a slightly different beast. There's still the epic story, new stuff, characters and so on. But what amazed me, truly, were the graphics. Multiple times I caught myself stopping in the middle of some area and looking around at the beauty and aesthetics of the world created by Bioware. And more times than that did I stop and look at my badass looking hero, with his massive two handed sword and epic looking armour. The visuals are something to cherish if you come from Baldur's Gate.
But something that Baldur's gate didn't quite have enough of, is the sheer amount of ways you can use your slowly rising status as a hero and death machine, or a silver tongued diplomat, to affect many of your encounters. I could not suppress a laugh or giggle often during the conversations in the game, where a party of elite enemies was about to attack me and my character went 'I have murdered hundreds before you, do you really think _you_ could take me on?', and suddenly, half the enemies jumped from a cliff to avoid fighting me, or simply ran away. The influence you can have on the story, the fights and your enemies through dialog alone is quite the impressive thing.
As a sucker for the lore, I very much enjoyed the tons and tons of info given to you in the Codex about various creatures, characters and locations in the game. Just like Baldur's Gate, most of it is simply filler, not key to the main story, but there are enough bits in the game where you can unlock very cool things and complete quests in different ways, by simply _reading_ some Codex pages you picked up. Not the infamous dumbed down quest logs that tell you everything to the last detail(though there are plenty of those, too), but sometimes, reading that book you just picked up can help you find hidden stashes, unmarked quests, or even boss level enemies. You'll know what I mean when you 'accidentally' summon one of the most powerful enemies in the game just because your 'gamer' sense tells you to squeeze the last bit of XP from an area.
NPCs and especially your party's characters are very, very well done. This is Bioware level character design. You may ♥♥♥♥ off one character, only to gain favour from another, and you may get into a heated enough argument to make someone leave your party permanently. Good old Baldur's Gate days. And since we're playing on the superior PC, mods are almost a must for this game. Fix the textures, get some new dialogue, and remove the silly loincloths that every character wears during your romantic scenes. Makes the whole affair a lot prettier to look at. The banter between your party on the road, mods or not, is bound to elicit a few 'Oh damn, you got told!' moments, especially if you have a certain witch in your party.
The origin stories are what everyone seems to talk about, so I will make it brief: they are nice. The best bit for me is that whatever story you choose, the other five still happen, but with different outcomes. It's a very impressive detail to have. The world is not dependent on what you choose, and that's how it should be.
The game also features the Bioware only feature of importing your savegames across modules and expansions, which is quite awesome to have. For one, the decisions you made in the previous 'game' will be at least mentioned in the expansion 'Awakening', and sometimes will lead to extra stuff to do. People actually remember what you did and who you are, which is always a nice touch to have. Romances also carry over somewhat, but only in very specific DLC sequences.
So far, this has been a glowing review. But this game is by far not perfect. Lets break down the main issues.
Loading savegames is a pain the longer you play, as you will notice the loading times increasing dramatically, due to the game checking all of your DLC packs and story progression. You will easily run into 30 seconds of loading on an _SSD_ by the end of the main game.
This might be because of a single mod that I have(JB3 textures), but the game starts to really slow down after three hours or so of continuous play, which almost requires a restart, which resets the game performance to a rock solid 120 FPS. There seems to be a memory leak issue.
The camera. Oh god I hate this camera. It absolutely loves the character you have selected to and will be overly attached to it no matter what you do. This makes casting AOE spells at longer ranges a massive pain, or simply giving a party member orders to attack a specific enemy from afar. Is the party member not close enough to see the enemy? Too bad! You'll have to waste valuable time getting said character in full view of the enemy. Baldur's Gate didn't have this obvious console limitation, and it would certainly make my life easier. Have to find a mod for that.
There is a gamebreaking bug close to the end of the main story in origins, and it involves disguises and guard armour. For the love of god, do not accept the disguise. You risk easily being stuck with unremovable, ♥♥♥♥ty, guard armour for the rest of the game, and all the stuff you had on you before, gone. This is a little spoiler, but this is very important IMO.
Some of the DLC is incredibly half arsed. Witch Hunt in particular is kind of really really quick and gives you no closure or explanation whatsoever, when it should do much more based on the appearing characters.
Golems of Amgarrak is an awesome combat oriented module, and provides a welcome, very hard, change of pace. You'll notice that when you begin the DLC and get five rocks thrown into your face. But as much as this is a nice combat/puzzle DLC, there is little to no story involved. Short intro to the background of the place, and a singular, non avoidable ending, with a lot of golems in between. As a lore and story freak, this is a little disappointing.
The problems I have with the game are not in any way gamebreaking and certainly not enough to condemn it. Is it a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate? I would say no, not really. It has the standard high quality Bioware RPG elements, but it's missing the same feel that Baldur's Gate has. As a standalone game though, this is an excellent, if somewhat buggy, product.