While the game world is rather large, it is not one contiguous environment. Instead, there are several cities, towns, and other areas that you access using the world map. There is no consistent measure of time, so travel is essentially instant, save loading times. However, chance encounters may occur along your route, with anything from a traveling merchant to a group of ambushing assassins showing up unexpectedly. As the existing DLC proves, this disconnected manner of presenting locales makes it easy to add new, different locations, and is sure to be taken advantage of by modders.
There are plenty of items and equipment to trade in Dragon Age, many of which are sporting unique attributes and/or appearances. You gain a bonus for wearing a complete set of the same type of armor, such as chainmail or studded leather, while certain weapons have slots in which to place runes that will add bonus damage or other special effects. It’s very easy and worry-free, too, since it doesn’t cost any money to install a rune and you can switch them around as often as you like. You’ll also find various materials that are used to create potions, poisons, and traps by a character with the appropriate skill. Gift items are clearly labeled, and you should make use of them, but anything else that doesn’t seem to have a practical purpose can be sold to vendors for extra coin.
You are able to move about with WASD or by right-clicking on the ground, moving the camera around by holding the right mouse button. The default is a typical third-person “exploration view,” but you will find yourself sometimes wanting to zoom out to the isometric “tactical view.” From this RTS-like perspective, it’s easier to see enemy positions and formulate how you should proceed. Beyond that, you have the usual RPG fare such as a quickbar for easy access to skills and items, as well as various hotkeys to open menus like inventory, quest journal, map, character sheet, etc.
The Tactics Menu is used to assign directives to the AI that will be carried out when you are not in direct control of that party member. You specify a condition and the action that should be taken when that condition is met, i.e “use a healing item when your health drops below 25%.” It’s a neat idea, but you have only a limited number of tactic slots, as determined mostly by the Combat Tactics skill. This is a terrible thing, because you’ll often find yourself with fewer slots than abilities or other actions you want to assign to them.
By not allowing you to set as many tactics as you want, you’re forced to be more involved in micro-managing every character, or else you won’t meet your combat potential. You should be paying some attention to your companions, since there are some things you cannot tell them to do on their own. Some might say it’s fair to have to dedicate several skill points in order to effectively automate your allies, but on the other hand, shouldn’t the AI be doing such things independently to begin with, at least on lower difficulties?
Seriously, this game is PC-first, and it shows. The interface, the controls, the graphics… we even have quicksave! The only thing I noticed that was most likely inspired by console necessity was the in-game DLC and online profile management. This makes it very easy to download and install extra content without closing the game, though you will need to quit to the main menu. It would be better if you didn’t have to go to the website to redeem codes or buy silly points, but still.