Thus far the game is excellent. I've gathered a party around myself consisting of Leilani the Bard, Shale the Golem and Morrigan the shapeshifting mage.
The early adventures have been a great mix of combat and story and thus far, I haven't felt like I got too much of one or the other.
This is good, because Mass Effect leaned a little too far in the story direction, giving you numerous characters to meet at the beginning, who all wanted to tell you their life story.
They were really well WRITTEN stories, I just occasionally wanted to tell incidental character voiced by Seth Green that when I asked him how he was doing, "fine" would have been a perfectly acceptable answer.
Along with parties comes more than stories though. New character abilities to learn and new mechanics to master (such as coordinating four fighters in combat, often against 8 or more opponents).
One of the ones I like best so far is the "party approval", which is definitely one place in which DAO hearkens back to its noble ancestor: Baldur's Gate.
For those not in the know, Baldur's Gate is a D&D rpg in which you could recruit followers of varying alignments, but whether they stayed with you was a matter of how those alignments meshed with yours.
For example, playing a Paladin, one of the first followers you can recruit is a Chaotic Evil thief. How do you guess that turns out? I say well! I'm an optimist!
Here though, things are more complex. There's no boiler plate alignment, just your choices as you play the game.
And frequently, two party members will like a decision, while one will hate it.
Something I like even better is that your party often chimes in, letting you know ahead of time that they will NOT be happy if you make a certain choice. This not only lets you get to know them a little better, it also gives you a chance to make a choice just to please a valued ally.
Of course, behavior is good, but bribery is better. You also find items listed as gifts, which have two purposes: you can sell them for cold hard cash, or you can give them to a party member to raise their approval rating.
How much of a boost you get depends on how much the party member will like the item in question, which gives you a tangible reward for getting to know your party members, so you can dole out the right gift.
Though sometimes its pretty clear, like when you find Alistair's Locket. Hmm, hey *I* know a guy named Alistair! Coincidence?
Other times, its just common sense. Giving ale to the bard? Ouch! Suddenly its the 90's and I'm playing Bard's Tale on the C64. Oh uh, I mean the Leilani the Bard loves ale.
Now, this sounds like a lot of work, so what's it worth? Well, if a party member's approval drops too low, they might just leave. And if you raise it really high, then you can get bonuses in combat.
And with some of the characters, you can get those (in)famous Bioware um... romantic... options as well.
The party is always an interesting facet of Bioware games. They're always stocked with interesting, well written and well voiced characters. But often, they follow whatever path the main PC lays out for them, going along whether he is good or evil.
While this is convenient, and even makes some sense, if you see the main character as a dynamic leader the system they have here is rich, deep and extremely interesting.
And of course, it gives you a reason to tinker, looking for a group that gels, or even a reason to play it again to see how different parties mesh.
More to come as I wind my way through this RPG epic!