Less then the sum of its parts?!?!
About an hour into the game, however, I was shocked to discover that DA:O is nothing more then a very mediocre cross between KoTOR,ME, NWN and a pinch of The Witcher, which assembled the less successful elements of the aforementioned games and skipped almost everything that made them sand out. The result: an unoriginal, tried and true formula, poorly disguised to appeal to the masses, and without any substantial underpinnings of a revolutionary RPG experience. There are several major reasons why DA:O really disappointed me. Namely: mediocre graphics, boring/unoriginal storyline and DA:O universe, uninspired and repetitive combat, plot linearity and severe lack of replayability.
Sup-par to what you would expect in today's large-budget game. Character animations look very rough and unrealistic, almost like looking at an inflexible doll that doesn't know what to do with its hands when its not wielding a weapon. Facial animations are nowhere near the sophistication of those in ME. The world looks gray, dull and washed out, which amazingly does nothing to contribute to the atmosphere of the game (to make it gritty and mature) and just seems poorly implemented.
There is absolutely nothing here that hasn't been done before. You get standard human/elf/dwarf races that don't like each other very much and the Dark Spawn (orc/troll mix) who are bent on wiping out anything breathing just because they are too bada$$ to mind their own business, feels like standard Tolkien with a pinch of Sapkowski's The Witcher. The plot is very reminiscent of KoTOR and ME, in fact it is identical for all intents and purposes. You are a member of an elite peacekeeping organization tasked with an impossible task of stopping an invasion of evil of apocalyptic proportions.
At first combat is pretty fun with a nice variety of classes and spells at your disposal, however, about 5-10 hours into the game when you establish a strategy that works you realize that there is no need for 90% of the character abilities and you simply recycle the same pattern of attack in every single encounter. Moreover, some missions are so long that you get to fight the same mob of enemies up to 20-30 times so in many cases you start wishing that the level would just end instead of enjoying the game. The "programmable" AI functions are simply a lazy effort to make AI competent. Normally a well programmed AI should do all the strategic decisions on its own. The creators of the game saved time and money by making your companion AI dumb as a rock with a marketing face-lift excuse that it was done to empower the player to program their own strategies. Combat in general feels slow and tedious making it a filler instead of the hallmark of the game. Whats worse is that in most of the battles you are hopelessly outnumbered and if you don't have a large number of health potions your party can be eradicated in seconds by some random low level trash mobs. Thus, time and again I found myself exploiting the incompetent enemy AI by "pulling" the most aggressive mobs away from their indifferent companions and slaughtering them 1 by 1 in an adjacent room with almost no risk of being killed. What makes matters even worse is that the classes are severely imbalanced so you will typically end up having two tanks (warriors) a DPS mage and a healer at all times which makes other combinations strategically unsound at best.
Linearity of gameplay:
Most of the environments you will encounter are almost claustrophobic in nature, practically forcing you move from A to B. Welcome back the invisible walls, which I was hoping were a thing of the past after Oblivion came out. The major decisions are very restricting, without going into too much detail: some decisions are just not prudent to make since they take away key members of your team leaving you with nothing but a bed taste in your mouth. Therefore, in most cases you will only make the choices that please your companions. In most cases I caught myself saving then playing through both choices and loading the one that is most beneficial to me. Also, another feature that absolutely infuriated me almost every time is a random encounter in between the main areas. EVERY SINGLE TIME, when you are traveling form one world area to another, you get ambushed by a random gang of enemies, with no sense of purpose, this simply screams FILLER JUNK in your face.
This game practically has none to speak of. As I previously mentioned your major decisions aren't that "major" to begin with, the game remains the same in the long run, plus you will be tempted to always select some decisions and not others. Some levels are so scripted and linear that the only thing they are missing is a "one way" traffic sign. The "origins" add almost nothing to the game in the long run other then a few dialogue options and imho not even with wasting time on. The funnies thing is that just when you start the game with an "entirely new" shiny character and feel ready to take on the world all over again you realize that you already played every type in your first playthrough since you had full command of your companions.
Not all features in DA:O are bad. I must say the cinematics in this game are really breathtaking and worth watching over and over. I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the personalities of your companions. The dwarf is absolutely hilarious and it is a real pleasure to listen to him interact with other companions. The voice overs are excellent, however you get too too little of the really famous actors Kate Mulgrew had no more 20-30 lines in total. The character creation tool is pretty good, giving you the freedom to create the character which feels right to you. Additionally the game engine is very stable, and feels pretty polished. I experience no crashes/errors or even significant drop in frame rate during more than 40-50 hours of gameplay which is quite amazing. That said the game is surprisingly demanding in terms of you system specs so watch out if your machine is getting old, the eye candy comes at a hefty price.
In conclusion, DA:O has a lot of excellent elements in it such as pro voice acting, interesting/colorful companions and a solid character creation tool, however put together these elements simply don't make a interesting game. Calling it revolutionary is nothing short of laughable.