Nevertheless, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have their challenges, and no matter which platform you choose, you can customize your cohorts' AI behavior to be more effective in battle. Using the tactics menu, you can set characters up to drink potions when their health gets low; have Morrigan cast helpful crowd-control spells when enemies are clustered together; and program sturdier characters to draw enemies' ire when more vulnerable party members are under attack. As you level up, you will earn additional tactics slots, allowing you to implement even more intricate actions. You can also apply basic behaviors to your team members, making them more aggressive or defensive, and you can switch them around on the fly if an experimental custom tactic isn't working as you intended. When things come together as you plan--such as when Morrigan freezes a hurlock in place and Alistair smashes it to smithereens--battles are even more rewarding.
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All of these elements coalesce wonderfully, making for a memorable and exciting adventure that keeps you on the move. The flow of loot and pace of leveling are both highly satisfying, and because you have four active characters to consider (in addition to others back at the camp), you spend a lot of time poring over armor and weapon choices. The tempo is even quicker than the Dungeons & Dragons games that preceded Dragon Age, thanks to important tweaks that minimize downtime. For example, you do not need to rest between encounters to replenish your health and recharge your spells. Instead, health and stamina are replenished quickly once the skirmish ends, allowing you to string encounters together without unwanted breaks in between. Should a party member fall during battle, he or she will be resuscitated once the battle has ended, albeit with a stat penalty applied (though it can be cured with an injury kit). These factors, and more, give Dragon Age an excellent sense of forward direction.
All the spells, tactics, and skills sound like a lot to organize, but the interface does a great job of helping you keep track of things. The PC interface is brilliant, letting you browse through your inventory and tweak your quickbars quickly and easily. The console versions do a surprisingly great job as well, making it simple to sort through your quests, and to queue up actions while battle is paused. One particularly useful feature is the ability to identify inventory items as trash and sell them all with a single button press once you're back in town. There are some console-specific interface irritations that could have been cleaner, however. For example, identifying new codex (that is, lore) entries can be troublesome, because the list doesn't scroll down until your highlight cursor reaches the bottom of the window. As a result, you can't always distinguish new entries from old ones, which is an issue that doesn't plague the fantastic PC interface. The consoles' radial menu, on the other hand, is an excellent way of letting you access every battle skill, and it works somewhat like the similar interface in Mass Effect--albeit with a few more layers.
The differences between versions aren't limited to the interface. Dragon Age doesn't look amazing on the PC, but it's an attractive game nonetheless. Zooming from an isometric view to a third-person perspective is slick, and while environments don't hold up quite as well when viewed up close, they're consistently lovely when viewed from above. On the flip side, the Xbox 360 version looks positively disappointing. Textures are highly compressed and colors are washed out, though the upside is that this version maintains a smoother frame rate than on the PlayStation 3, where things might get jittery when swiveling the camera around. The PlayStation 3 version features higher-quality textures than those on the Xbox 360, better color saturation, smoother facial animations, and shorter load times. Minor visual hiccups, like corpses that disappear and reappear, are a bit more common on the PS3, however. The PC version is the superior experience, but if you're choosing between the two console releases, the PlayStation 3 has the upper hand. Some minor glitches are shared between the console versions, however, such as rare occasions when the soundtrack or voice-overs disappear. We also ran into a few quest malfunctions that could be replicated on all three platforms, though they were relatively minor and did not interfere with the progress of the main quest.
No matter which version you choose, however, there are plenty of audiovisual details to note. In many ways, Dragon Age looks and sounds like other high-fantasy games, but while the towers, forest paths, and underground caverns are what you've seen before, the art style is attractive, and a few sights, such as an underground dwarven city, are particularly eye-catching. Character models don't exhibit Mass Effect-level expressiveness, but they look good and animate smoothly enough. Also of note are the splatters of blood that appear on your party members after battle. It's a nice idea, but the splotches look like they've been splashed across you with a paintbrush. The crimson stains are a cool thematic touch, however, because blood plays an important role in Dragon Age. The sound effects are excellent, console glitches notwithstanding, and the soundtrack, while typical for a fantasy game, swells and murmurs at all the right moments.
Few games are this ambitious, and even fewer can mold these ambitions into such a complete and entertaining experience. You might spend 50 or more hours on your first play-though, but there are so many paths to follow, so many details to uncover, and so many ways to customize your party that you'll want to play again as soon as you finish the first time. PC owners even get an extra dash of depth via the downloadable toolset, which lets you create new levels, spells, skills, and even cutscenes. But any way you slice it, here's the fantasy RPG you've been waiting for, the one that will keep you up late at night, bleary-eyed, because you have to see what happens next. Like the best fiction, Dragon Age will sweep you up in its world, so much so that when you're done, you'll want to experience it all over again.