SummaryBeautiful world. Now for a story to go with it.
The GoodThe world - the first-person perspective, 3-D world with day and night, seasons, weather (it rains! it snows!) just blew me away. In the towns, I could see building reflections in the puddles on the street. Sometimes I'd just stay in one place and simply watch the world go by (best at night - what a busy sky!). After I lost interest in the plot, I continued only to see what different kinds of places the designers had come up with.
The BadThe plot - been there, done that. And while it is true that nothing forces you to do any particular thing, it's also true that the plot will not advance unless you accomplish certain specific goals in a certain specific order. And those goals are all the same goal, repeated eight times. If the game is played again from the start, the quest items will appear in different locations, but that doesn't make the game "non-linear", IMHO (or interesting enough to play again).
The endgame - that was easy. Did I simply have the best spell for that job? My character wasn't even the best spell user class!
The user interface - I'm not new at this kind of game, and I still died several times before I figured out how to even begin to defend my character against attack. And having to switch between several screens to review little pieces of information was a pain.
The riddles - the problem is not the riddles per se (some of which are quite fun), but that fact that if you can't solve one, you can't advance in the game. There's no way around needing what's behind the riddle-locked door. Another feature of linear game play.
The travel - why can't I walk from one town to another if I want to? There's inns, farms and dungeons along the way! That would be letting me do what I want, a feature of non-linear gameplay!
The bugs - once in a while the game would freeze up. Saving often helps here. The character status symbols aren't always current, which can mislead you into thinking your character is okay when s/he isn't.
The Bottom LineIt's as if, having come up with a rich, detailed fantasy world far beyond anything that had been seen before, the designers were at a loss as to what to do with it. The game itself is not nearly the quality that the environment is. The designers almost admit as much in the manual, writing that you don't have to pursue the quest if you don't want to, but can instead run around the environment killing the peasants or whatever. Maybe so, but that doesn't lead anywhere - what's the point?
Perhaps that's what they really mean by "non-linear".